Brief Report

The picture was painted in the little town of Villeneuve-la-Garenne, about six kilometres from Paris, unmistakable thanks to the bridge, which Morisot captured in another comparable work painted in 1880, Pont sur la Seine [Morisot 2002, pp. 197f.; Clairet, Montalant 1997, CMR 93]. Mary Cassatt, Morisot’s fellow artist and friend, was the first owner of the picture, which remained for a whole century, until 1984, in the possession of the Cassatt and Stewart families. This is presumably also the reason why the painting was not mentioned in the first catalogue raisonné of Morisot’s works [Bataille/Wildenstein 1961], but only in the 1997 revision [Clairet, Montalant 1997, CMR 84]. The picture was painted on a very fine, commercially pre-primed canvas such as we often find in Morisot’s work [cf. Morisot, WRM FC 710 and 602]. The exact stretching of the canvas is no longer evident, as a result of far-reaching restoration measures; however there are clues, which curiously point to a fastening within the area of the picture (figs. 5, 6). The underdrawing was presumably carried out in two stages. Microscopic examination reveals partial accumulations of black, charcoal-like particles in the paint, which, while we cannot reconstruct a specific line from them, could point to the use of charcoal for the first lay-in of the picture (fig. 8). It would seem that the unbound charcoal particles were smeared by the subsequent applications of paint and diffusely embedded in the paint-layer. This first drawn lay-in was presumably followed by a rapid, in places semi-transparent brush-drawing in black paint (fig. 9). The following applications of paint are likewise overwhelmingly semi-transparent, applied wet-in-wet, with numerous places where paint was not applied, so that underlying layers are visible (fig. 10). In contrast, the areas where there was an admixture of white in the sky and the row of houses are denser and more impasto (fig. 4). Various more or less trivial alterations during the painting process can be detected, including not only colour corrections, but also the partial mechanical reduction of paint-layers already applied, as for example in the light-blue reflections in the water (fig. 12). The signature was only added afterwards in semi-transparent green paint on the already dry surface, which seems already by then to have suffered some abrasion due to handling and storage (fig. 7).

Berthe Morisot
Boats on the Seine, c. 1879/80, oil on canvas, 27.0 x 51.9 cm, WRM Dep. FC 615

Berthe Morisot

born on 14 January 1841 in Bourges,
died on 2 March 1895 in Paris

Brief report with complete data as downloadable pdf-file

Further illustrations:

Fig. 02


Fig. 03

Raking light

Fig. 04

Transmitted light

Fig. 05

UV fluorescence

Fig. 06


Fig. 07

Detail, signature

Fig. 08

Fine charcoal particles point to a first underdrawing in this medium, microscopic photograph (M = 1 mm)

Fig. 09

Black line of the brush-and-paint underdrawing in the bank on the right, microscopic photograph (M = 1 mm)

Fig. 10

Wet-in-wet paint applications in the vicinity of the bridge, microscopic photograph (M = 1 mm)

Fig. 11

Detail, row of houses, corrections in the roof region

Fig. 12

Detail, surface of water, partial reduction of the pale-blue paint while still wet or at least still soft