Jeune femme relevant ses cheveux is a tender, intimate portrait of a young girl by Berthe Morisot. Painted in 1894, the picture reveals the great talent of one of the few female Impressionist artists: despite leaving the setting of the picture undefined, Morisot was able to capture a teenager’s deep, dreamy absorption in her own thoughts. Unaware of the viewer, she absently arranges her hair, while two fans on the right form an unusual abstract pattern next to her. Jeune femme relevant ses cheveux deploys the light palette characteristic of Morisot, while also exemplifying in its immediacy the gentle, empathic regard with which the artist portrayed women throughout her career.
In 1894 – at the time Jeune femme relevant ses cheveux was painted – Morisot was going through a mournful period of her life. In 1892, her husband Eugène Manet – Édouard Manet’s brother – had died, leaving Morisot alone with her thirteen year-old daughter Julie. The following year, Morisot’s beloved sister Yves succumbed to cancer. In reaction to her personal grief, Morisot threw herself into her work, expressing herself broadly in painting, watercolours and drawings. Within this context, Jeune femme relevant ses cheveux could almost be perceived as Morisot’s moving reflection on the carefree tranquillity of youth in a moment when herself was tasting the bitterness of adult life. The sitter in the picture may be Morisot’s daughter, whom the artist portrayed frequently in those years. A few months after Jeune femme relevant ses cheveux was executed, at the beginning of 1985, Morisot herself passed away, after catching a flue while taking care of Julie, who was also ill. Her last thoughts were for her: ‘My little Julie, I love you as I die; I will love you even when I am dead; I beg you not to cry, this parting was inevitable’ (quoted in M. Shennan, Berthe Morisot: The First Lady of Impressionism, Stroud, 1996, p. 277). Delicate and restrained, Jeune femme relevant ses cheveux appears as a sensitive, meditative tribute to fleeting youth and beauty.