Art Matters Lecture: Mary Hunter

Expert Hands, Infectious Touch: Painting and Pregnancy in Morisot’s The Mother and Sister of the Artist

Mary Hunter
Associate Professor, Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University

When Berthe Morisot asked Edouard Manet to have a look at her recently completed portrait of her mother and pregnant sister in the days before the 1870 Salon, she did not expect him to completely repaint the depiction of her mother. “[I]t isn’t possible to stop him,” she wrote in distress to her sister. “He moves from the petticoat to the bodice, from the bodice to the head, from the head to the background.” While Morisot sought Manet’s expertise, she feared that the painting’s public display would ruin her reputation as an independent artist as his heavy hand left too obvious a mark on her canvas.

This paper explores the gender politics of occupational expertise – artistic and medical – through an analysis of Morisot’s The Mother and Sister of the Artist. Firstly, it considers the significance of hands and touch in Manet’s and Morisot’s work. Secondly, it examines how the hands of male experts ‘infected’ female spaces, including paintings and pregnant bodies.

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