La Luministe

Written by Paula Butterfield
Review by K. M. Sandrick

Berthe Morisot meets Édouard Manet at age 17, while she and her sister are copying master works in the Louvre. This begins and an on-and-off again relationship with the artist as his model, lover, and student of Impressionism.

Berthe is driven to be an artist in her own right and capture natural light on canvas, landscapes as they appear to the naked eye, and domestic, private activities such as women at their toilette. So much so she balks at societal norms, resisting marriage until Édouard urges her to wed his brother Eugène.

Though Berthe is able to display her paintings at Salon de Paris and attract the eye of a private dealer, she is an exception. Author Paula Butterfield reminds readers that women have limited artistic opportunities in late 1800s Paris. They can take up arts as a pleasant pastime until they marry but have little hope of gaining entry to salons or getting commissions on their own unless they use a male pseudonym.

Butterfield provides more than surface brush strokes, adding exquisite details of Parisian and Berthe’s life, the view from an artist’s eye, and the eruptions of techy temperament. This is an impressive debut novel for Butterfield, who builds on her experience as a teacher of women artists to develop a multi-dimensional painter of the light, la luministe.