Tessa, Looking At Mother’s Beauty


Berthe Morisot, Lady At Her Toilette (1875)

A woman unpinned hair high
and stately at a mirror
so infused ethereal colors
in amorphous blue and gray
softened by a bare shoulder
in a drop of sleeve in white
dress emitting radiance
in the pearlized air.

Soon hair would fall about
her face and my father would be
dreaming, imagining this as
a paean to mother’s beauty
delicate as the porcelain
figures gracing dressing table
and the jewelry hidden within
drawers that slid out.

I, the daughter, saw that
beginning in the photographs
early in their marriage–the pink
satin of bedsheets, the embroidered
pillows–then the black crop of
hair on my infant head, and mother
beside in a nightgown wrapped
in a pre-eternal glow.

Prompt: This painting by Berthe Morisot belongs to a popular genre depicting women sitting at their dressing table, or toilette which is the French term which makes me think of perfume (don’t ask me why). It seems related to the voyeuristic genre of paintings of nude ladies bathing or drying themselves. I read a critical passage which explained that in this genre, the mirror would reflect the woman’s image but in Berthe’s painting this expectation is subverted. There is no reflection of the woman. Instead the mirror reflected the cosmetic container and powder puff on her dresser and some flowers. I like that Berthe’s work is subtly subversive. I also fell in love with the colors and impressionistic brushstrokes. Berthe has been called the “most impressionistic of the Impressionists.” This painting had received high critical acclaim.


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