The Wet Nurse: Berthe Morisot

The Wet Nurse: Berthe Morisot

The Wet Nurse is an 1880 painting in the Impressionist style by the leading female French artist Berthe Morisot. This work is located in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The Wet Nurse Analysis

The Wet Nurse (1880) by Berthe Morisot shows a young woman right of center, the wet nurse, holding a chubby toddler (left of center) on her knees.

The original French title tells us unambiguously who the two girls are: “Julie Manet and Her Nurse”. The young child is, therefore, Berthe Morisot’s and Eugène Manet’s own daughter (b. 1878). Growing up, the child would feature in several of Morisot’s paintings, as well as those of her father and of Pierre-Auguste Renoir. She herself would go on to marry a painter, Ernest Rouart.

Morisot positions the wet nurse and the child in such a way as to make them appear as mother and child were it not perhaps for the evident young age of the woman. The classical motif that easily comes to mind is that of the Madonna with Child. In that sense it would conform to the less frequent representations of that motif in which the ‘mother’ is somewhat detached from the child but still doting on it through her gaze.

Morisot’s execution is Impressionist by technique, though the scene is clearly indoors and set up as a portrait. There is no doubt that the subject is the child itself, whose features are attentively accomplished even as all else, most clearly the lower parts of the two figures’ garments, is merely sketched with bold and sparse dashes of the purest white.

The wet nurse’s face is almost elided by the indistinctness of her lineaments and her namelessness as a character in this scene. We may espy in this lack of interest in the Other a certain class distance between the two women, the painter and the wet nurse.

The Wet Nurse Location

This work is located in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen, Denmark.

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