The Psyche mirror: Berthe Morisot

The Psyche Mirror: Berthe Morisot

The Psyche Mirror is an 1876 painting in the Impressionist style by the leading female French artist Berthe Morisot. This work is located in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid, Spain.

Analysis of Morisot’s The Psyche Mirror

With the art world full of female nudes under the male gaze, it is refreshing to see the female perspective on a similar subject. In The Psyche Mirror also known as The Cheval-Glass by Berthe Morisot, a woman is undressing in front of the mirror.

Morisot does not erotize this act. For her, it was painting something she had lived through. It may be her contemplation is being portrayed here. Possibly, the woman is untying her corset. Another thought is that she is admiring her figure, holding her dress back as if she was wearing a corset.

The name has a double meaning. The type of mirror in the painting is called a Psyche in French. Psyche is also the name of the Greek goddess of the soul. She was Eros’s lover and was known for her beauty which rivaled Aphrodite.

The vanity motif is throughout art history. A mirror is usually paired with a Venus or a Greek goddess figure. Morisot focused on the subject of the feminine world during the Victorian age as this was her world. In the same year, she painted The Psyche Mirror, she painted three other paintings about women in their toilets.

The figure is in contemplation while she is undressing. When Morisot painted this, she was recently married to Eugene Manet, brother of Eduard Manet. Along with The Psyche Mirror, Eduard Manet showed Nana, a scandalous painting showing a courtesan powdering her face. Edgar Degas also showed a few pieces of girls dressing in front of the mirror.

Morisot believed that women could portray the female psyche better than men. In her diary, she wrote, “The truth is that our strength lies in the feeling, in intuition, in our gaze, which is more delicate than men’s. We can calculate anything, as long as we don’t spoil everything with clumsiness, pedantry, and sentimentality. I would like to continue working until I die. I wish others wouldn’t give me such a hard time”.

Mary Casset, another female Impressionist, was so moved by this painting she eventually became the owner of it. Even Morisot’s male peers admired her painting. Art Critic, Emile Zola said, this year, Psyché and Young Woman at her Toilette are the two gems, in which the greys and whites of the textiles perform a very delicate symphony.”

Her style is loose and light brush strokes that are blurry. Particularly, the background is out of focus. She was known to sketch but to paint immediately from life. This created this “unfinished” look. The mirror in the background creates another frame within a frame.

Berthe Morisot showed why she was one of the three great ladies of Impressionism with The Psyche Mirror. She embraced feminine topics that were lacking in the art world. She showed a deeper side of a topic that could easily just be for titillation. She expressed her voice through her art as any great artist does.

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