This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

A Female Impressionist Makes a Demographic Impression

Today's Washington Post carries a very interesting story about a female Impressionist painter from the 19th century with whom I was not familiar--as the writer assumes most of us are not.
Berthe Morisot painted women, mostly, and adolescent girls. Her delight in the way blades of light were scattered by their pinafores and ribbons, pounced off furniture and coaxed bright color from flowers could not mask the sense she developed — and kept close, like a secret dispatch — of life’s brutal transience.
It’s easy to overlook how radical Morisot’s apparently nonchalant brushwork was in the late 1870s. Her work’s lack of finish conveys, like no other Impressionist, a sense of evanescence. We do not live long, her paintings attest. We hesitate, like teenagers, in thresholds. We know almost nothing.
She was an incredibly talented painter in a world that had very little interest in or tolerance for female artists. So, the gender equity issues are very strong in this story. But the other demographic impression the writer wants you to get from this article is the role in life still being played by high mortality as recently as the late 19th century.
Conditions in Paris were harsh. Morisot’s health suffered, and at the end of 1870, she contracted pneumonia. Her studio was destroyed by the Prussian bombardment, which may well have concentrated her mind: Mere months later, as the Paris Commune was getting established, Morisot confessed to Edma that painting was now “the sole purpose” of her existence. Finding buyers for her paintings, she wrote, was now all she cared about.
The years passed, but the shadow of death never lifted. Morisot lost her father in 1874 and, over the following decade, her mother, two brothers-in-law, her mother-in-law, a close confidante (the female sculptor Marcello) and the man one feels sure she loved above all others, Manet.
In 1895, Julie [her daughter] became ill. While caring for her, Morisot contracted pulmonary congestion. “My little Julie, I love you as I die,” she wrote in a farewell note. “I will love you when I’m dead; please don’t cry. . . . I would have liked to survive till your wedding. . . . Work and be good as you have always been; you haven’t made me sad once in your little life.”
For young people growing up in the 21st century this may all sound like ancient history, but in the scope of human history Morisot's life haunted by gender inequity and death in 19th century Paris was only a short time ago.  We have come a long way since then.

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