A Mother, a Daughter and a Cemetery in Paris

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Pathway at Passy Cemetery, Paris

Reflections about mothers and daughters and earthly remains have been on my mind and my heart lately, since my mother’s death less than three months ago.

In what strikes me now as a profound, intentional occurrence gifted by a merciful God or Universe – or maybe by my loving mother herself – it was only hours before I received the call telling me my mother had died that I read Julie Manet’s diary entry about the death of her mother, French Impressionist Berthe Morisot.

Morisot’s untimely death (from pneumonia) occurred when she was 54 years old. Julie, her only child, was but 16.

Berthe Morisot, ‘Julie Manet et sa levrette Laerte’ (1893), Musée Marmottan

A Daughter’s Grief

On 17 April, 1895, Julie wrote, ‘Oh, what sorrow! Since I last wrote in my diary, I lost Maman. She died at half past ten on Saturday, 2 March. I cannot even describe my grief, the depth of my sadness. In the space of three years, both my parents have left me [her father, Eugène Manet, died in 1892] and now I am an orphan …

‘Oh God! Help me to bear this loss, sustain me, you alone can help us in our adversity, and, if I’ve lived thus far, it’s only by your grace. Yes, dear God, you are infinitely good; make sure Maman is happy at your side.’

The words of this young woman spoke to my heart. I felt the depth of her grief and marvelled at her maturity, eloquence and faith. And I lifted a prayer of thanks that I’d been so blessed to have my own mother for so many years.

Twelve hours after reading this, I received the call that my mother had died. A month or so after that, after I’d returned from the events following her death, I finished Julie’s diary.

Julie lived until 1966. I knew the earthly remains of her parents were interred at Passy Cemetery. A quick internet search confirmed that Julie’s remains, and those of her husband, artist Ernest Rouart, along with several of their family members, are also interred there.

Clive and I had visited this cemetery several times before. I knew I wanted to return, to see Berthe Morisot’s grave again and find her daughter Julie’s.

Visiting Paris Cemeteries

It may seem an odd activity to do in Paris, but Clive and I have enjoyed visiting several cemeteries. Most Paris guidebooks, and even a few Top Ten lists, mention Père-Lachaise, the largest, where we’ve taken lovely walks and most recently paid respects at the grave of French writer Colette.

We found the grave of the de Camondo family in Montmartre Cemetery, and were surprised to come across Monsieur and Madame Pigeon fully-dressed and in bed at Montparnasse Cemetery.

M et Mme Pigeon, Montparnasse Cemetery, Paris

The cemetery at Passy is one of Paris’s smallest, located at the Place du Trocadéro (across the street from my beloved statue of Benjamin Franklin).

Berthe Morisot’s grave at Passy Cemetery

Berthe Morisot spent most of her life, except for summer sojourns to the countryside outside Paris, in the Passy quartier.

If you didn’t know that she and her husband, Eugène Manet, were buried here, it would be easy to miss their names and dates, which are engraved on the tombstone beneath a handsome bust of her brother-in-law, renowned artist Édouard Manet (1832-1883).

Much has been written about the connection between Berthe Morisot and Édouard Manet. He was married to a Dutch woman, Suzanne Leenhoff; Morisot married Manet’s younger brother, Eugène, when she was 33 years old and a successful artist in her own right. The remains of all four are buried in this gravesite.

Bust of Édouard Manet at his gravesite, Passy Cemetery

I was distressed to see that Morisot’s granite stone was covered with leaves and dust, no doubt exacerbated by the current heat and dry weather in Paris, but still looking neglected. I hadn’t remembered Morisot’s grave this way at all. With my hand I brushed away some of the debris, then was squinting so hard to read the faded gold lettering that I neglected to take a photo.

You can see just the top part of Morisot’s stone beneath the Manet bust.

Top edge of Morisot’s tombstone beneath the bust of Édouard Manet

The engraving on the flat stone – when you look really closely — reads: EUGÈNE MANET, 1833 – 1892; BERTHE MORISOT, VEUVE [widow of] EUGÈNE MANET, 1841 – 1895

I told Clive I was tempted to return with a dust brush. He didn’t share my enthusiasm for this task, but neither did he discourage me, bless him.

A Peaceful Place for a Cup of Tea

Pathway and glimpse of Eiffel Tower at Passy Cemetery, Paris

We strolled along the pathways, admiring some of the graves (and the occasional glimpse of the Eiffel Tower), while also keeping an eye out for a gravesite with Julie Manet’s name on it. No luck. We had noticed a man behind a desk in the small office at the entrance on our way in, and figured we could ask him for Julie’s grave location when we left.

At a shady intersection, we came upon a couple of benches that seemed perfect for a rest and a nice cup of tea – thanks to Clive, who had all the necessary supplies in his backpack, including our trusty thermos.

A peaceful place for a cup of tea in Passy Cemetery

A few people walked by and one woman nodded with a slight smile when she noticed us sipping. No-one seemed to mind (we’ve done this in Père Lachaise as well). I think everyone was enjoying the cemetery’s peacefulness and blessed shade.

I savoured my cup of tea, but was disappointed at the faded lettering and unkempt state of Berthe’s grave stone. And where was Julie’s grave?

Unfortunately, when we left, the man we’d seen in the office was deep in conversation with another man. He locked the door and together they walked up one of the pathways.

Julie Manet’s grave and Famille Rouart Manet at Passy Cemetery

Two days later, I returned to Passy Cemetery, making sure to arrive well before closing. In my bag I carried a dust brush and a small bouquet.

My first stop was the office, where the man we’d seen locking up on Sunday was at his desk and available.

He searched on his computer for Julie Manet and Ernest Rouart, jotted down the grave location and guided me to a huge wall map. The site was very close to where we were standing, just up a flight of stairs from the entrance circle.

Gravesite of Julie Manet, Ernest Rouart and family

After reading Julie’s diary so recently, finding her gravesite really moved me. It’s located at the end of a row, in a completely different section from her mother’s. And unlike her mother’s, it’s well-marked and cared for, with more recent engravings that are distinctive and easy to see and read.

Famille Rouart Manet – the remains of Julie Manet, her husband Ernest Rouart and two of their three sons (and several of their family)

I stayed here for a little while, contemplating the fleeting passage of time, the gift of closeness between mothers and daughters and the lives of Julie Manet and Berthe Morisot, to whose grave I headed next.

Julie Manet’s gravesite, Passy Cemetery, Paris

Mourning and memories

Julie visited her mother’s grave at the one-year mark of Berthe’s death. She wrote, ‘Today is the anniversary of that dreadful day when Maman suffered for the last time … I am alone and still mourning, but nature itself is cheerful and sunny … There is something reassuring about this place, which seems to whisper to me that Maman is happy.’

I brushed the leaves and dirt off Morisot’s grave as best I could; the letters remain nearly impossible to read as the stone really needs a power wash and refreshed or restored engraving.

Nearly impossible to read: faded engraving on Berthe Morisot’s grave stone, Passy Cemetery

Berthe Morisot’s grave stone, as clean as possible with a dry dust brush

Perhaps I can figure out a way to have Morisot’s gravesite improved once my coordination of my own mother’s engraving and cleaning work on her gravesite is complete. I would love to see a bust of Morisot added to her gravesite in Paris. As the only woman in the original group of Impressionists and one who successfully balanced her professional work with marriage and motherhood, Berthe Morisot deserves as much recognition as the great male artists who were her contemporaries.

My little bouquet was somewhat swallowed up by the tombstone’s expanse of grey. Next time I’ll take an armload of flowers.

My little bouquet under Morisot’s engraving, Passy Cemetery

A Memorable Mother and Daughter

If you’re interested in Berthe Morisot or Julie Manet, I highly recommend Berthe Morisot, by Anne Higonnet (1995) and Growing up with the Impressionists: The Diary of Julie Manet, translated and edited by Jane Roberts (2017).

I also recommend visiting the Morisot collection at the Musée Marmottan, from where you can take the 32 bus directly and only a few stops to Trocadéro and Passy Cemetery. And of course you can view her work at the Musée d’Orsay; I can’t wait for the Orsay’s Berthe Morisot Female Impressionist, 18 June – 22 September 2019.

Berthe Morisot, [Julie in the] ‘Bois de Boulogne’ (1893), Musée Marmottan

On the third anniversary of her mother’s death, 19 year-old Julie visited Passy Cemetery.

She wrote in her diary, ‘Whenever I go to the cemetery, behind the big cyprus tree which shadows my parents’ granite tomb, I see the blue sky, which seems to whisper to me: “Those for whom you mourn are happy.” Oh Maman, please tell me if I am going the right way in life … Maman, whom I loved so much, please inspire me!’

Julie was an excellent artist herself, though she never received great fame for her work, some of which is displayed at the Musée Marmottan. She and Ernest raised three sons, helped organise many art exhibitions, and painted nearly every day. Ernest died in 1942; Julie remained surrounded by her children and grandchildren and died peacefully in 1966.

I think Berthe Morisot would have been deeply proud of her daughter, and I admire them both so much for the way each one lived her life.

Berthe Morisot’s grave, Passy Cemetery, Paris

Blessings and merci for reading. À bientôt, until next time.

 

10 Responses

  1. Another lovely and informative post, Carolyn. We plan to visit the Passy Cemetery soon! It’s been a scorcher here today in Paris.

    • Thank you, Linda! Hope you enjoy it and look forward to your photos. Cheers and have a ‘cool’ week ahead.

  2. Lovely reporting CDBR…

  3. Hi Carol,

    How fortuitous that I have just come home from The Clark museum in Williamstown, MA, having seen two great exhibits; A City Transformed – a photographic study of Paris in late 19th century to the Paris Exposition, and Women Artists in Paris, 1850 – 1900. Of course Morisot figured prominently so everything in this post prompted vivid visuals. I will add the Passy cemetery to my different places to explore for my fall trip.

    As always, I love reading your reflections and observations.

    Randi

    ________________________________

    • Randi, merci and that’s so cool you saw the exhibits at the Clark!

      I am envious — bought the ‘Women Artists I Paris 1850-1900’ book (from amazon) last year but that’s as close as I’ll get. The photo exhibit sounds fantastic, too.

      Excited about your upcoming trip — looking forward to your beautiful photos and know you’ll have a marvellous time.

  4. I love visiting cemeteries …that sounds strange. I like to wander around and wonder who, what why and when. Its a time of reflection. I must put this one on my list to visit when I next visit Paris. Thank you so much for this post. Bree the youngest sister

    • Bonjour Bree 🙂 and merci for your comment. Not strange at all — it seems we have a lot of company and I hope you have a lovely walk in Passy Cemetery and other ones in Paris.

      I look forward to reading your blog! Cheers and happy travels to you and your sisters.

  5. Thank you for this post. Prayers for you and your family as you grieve for your dear mother. I’m living in Zurich, and will be in Paris in the fall. I will be following your tips and footsteps, to learn more about this family and their art.

    • Susan, thank you and how wonderful to be in Zurich!

      I appreciate your kind words and wish you a fabulous time in Paris in the fall. Bon voyage and have a great trip.

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