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Berthe, Mary and the child...

September 15, 1884

Dear Mary,

If you have, in recent days, heard unknown voices whispering news about your friend Berthe, don't worry, it's completely normal.

I have indeed often thought of you. I have just about finished a canvas which represents Bibi holding her favorite doll in her arms.

Maurice Denis. Portrait de famille. 1902. Collection particulière
Berthe Morisot.Child and doll. Around 1884. Collection particulière

So you can easily imagine the difficulty I encountered in keeping Bibi quiet. With such a model, I have to be very patient, at the risk of compromising all freshness and spontaneity. As the work progressed, I seemed to see the magnificent picture you painted almost 6 years ago being superimposed. Your subject seems much more docile, like the little dog facing her.

When Eugene (1) saw his daughter's face, he pointed out to me that it looked like the doll's. That pleased me. Two touches of red, two black dots, like Édouard (2) who we miss so much...

And then, I liked the scarf that wraps around the waist of "your" daughter so much that I decided to use the pattern for mine's dress! You don't blame me, do you?

Catherine de Gillès. Sur le meuble, la tasse du tableau et sa soucoupe. © Fabrice Roy
Mary Cassatt. Child on a blue armchair. 1878. National Gallery of Art Washington DC

When will you visit us in Bougival, dear Mary? I miss you, you know, just like that grumpy Edgar (3). Tell him when you see him and watch his reaction, please, to write to me. I wait greedily.

Your friend


Fabrice Roy. Letters they could have written. © 2023.

(Berthe Morisot Manet never wanted the "child with a doll" to be exhibited during her lifetime. Her daughter Julie, known as Bibi, loved it so much that she hung it above her bed... )

(1) Eugène Manet, husband of Berthe

(2) Édouard Manet, brother of Eugene

(3) Edgar Degas

In his art history lectures, Fabrice Roy combines the past with the present, in a poetic and playful evocation of the French 19th century...


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