Berthe Morisot is perhaps most celebrated for her sensitive mother-and-child paintings, but like the other impressionists she also frequented the small, sleepy towns dotting the Seine; her brother-in-law, Édouard Manet, from whom she had learned a trick or two had in fact been one of the first artists to do so. In these towns, everything was in place for the motifs that had become so popular: simple slice-of-life depictions of how la vie moderne unfolded on the banks of the river, with the constantly shifting sunlight reflecting from the water.
Located just outside of Paris, Bougival was the site of choice for many plein-air painters, and Morisot herself stayed there several summers from the early 1880s on. In this picture, painted one summer morning, she has placed herself in a boat out on the Seine. Her daughters have positioned themselves behind the railing on the quay and are watching her in rapt attention. Large portions of the wall and the stairs down to the river still lie in the shadows. The water level is low, with green algae adding a touch of chromatic verve to the grey-blue water, while the row of houses in the background is already bathed in the incoming sunlight. As though to quickly preserve the immediate vibrancy of this moment, the artist uses rough, hasty brushstrokes – she was known for using her brush in a rougher and freer manner than her male colleagues. Soon, the dawning sun will alter and renew the scene.
Berthe Morisot was long overshadowed by her male colleagues, but she began to receive increasing attention from the 1920s on. The Friends of the National Gallery acquired The Quay of Bougival from the Berlin-based art dealer Alfred Gold and donated it to the National Gallery.
Text: Nils Messel
From "Highlights. Art from Antiquity to 1945", Nasjonalmuseet 2014, ISBN 978-82-8154-088-0