Après le déjeuner is an historic painting by Berthe Morisot, considered by many of her contemporaries to be 'l'impressioniste par excellence' (Ph. Burty, 'Les acquarellistes, les indépendants et le cercle des arts liberaux', La République Française, 8 March 1882, reproduced in R. Berson, The New Painting: Impressionism 1874-1886: Documentation, Vol. I, Reviews, San Francisco, 1996, p. 382). That opinion was voiced in one of the reviews for the Seventh Impressionist Exhibition, held in 1882, the year after Après le déjeuner was painted; it appears that this picture was the most important of Morisot's contributions to that show, where it featured under the title A la campagne and attracted the praise of a range of reviewers. The picture later featured in the posthumous retrospective of Morisot's work, organised by her young daughter Julie Manet. Having belonged to an important French collector, Henri Vever, it was later acquired by Joshua Montgomery Sears, a member of one of the families known as the 'Boston Brahmins' and a supporter of Impressionism; Après le déjeuner then passed through the hands of several of his descendants before being acquired by Mrs Albert D. Lasker, the third wife of one of the fathers of modern advertising. Mrs Lasker was instrumental in encouraging both the philanthropy and the collecting habits of her step-daughters, her husband's children from his first marriage, one of whom married Leigh B. Block and another Sidney Brody, whose collection came to include Pablo Picasso's Nu au plateau de sculpteur (also known as Nude, Green Leaves and Bust), a 1932 picture of his lover Marie-Thérèse Walter which was sold for $106,482,500 in Christies in 2010.
Après le déjeuner appears to have been painted in Bougival, where Morisot and her husband Eugène Manet, the brother of the celebrated painter Edouard, had rented a house. Featuring a large garden, the house at 4 rue de la Princesse was a perfect environment for Morisot's painting and a spacious home for the family - their daughter Julie had been born only three years earlier. The Manets would return to Bougival at this time of year several times in a row, beginning in 1881. It was conveniently located close to Paris and also close to many of the other Impressionists and artists of the day, not least her brother-in-law Edouard, who was staying in Versailles (see M. Shennan, Berthe Morisot: The First Lady of Impressionism, Stroud, 2000, p. 203). Pierre-Auguste Renoir was also nearby; indeed, that year he painted En déjeuner à Bougival, now better known as the Le d©jeuner des canotiers, the masterpiece now housed in the Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.
Morisot painted a string of works in Bougival, several featuring either her daughter or her maid, or other figures such as her husband and a woman named 'Marie'. It appears that it is 'Marie' who is shown in Après le déjeuner, according to a letter from Eugène in which he appears to refer to it as 'your picture of Marie on the porch' (Eugène Manet, quoted in D. Rouart (ed.), The Correspondence of Berthe Morisot with her family and her friends Manet, Puvis de Chavannes, Degas, Monet, Renoir and Mallarmé, trans. B.W. Hubbard, London, 1986, p. 121).
Morisot's pictures from this period combine an apparently free handling of the paint, obtaining the rich variation of brushstrokes of the alla prima techniques so revolutionarily espoused by Manet, with a sophisticated mastery of colour and tone, visible here in the skilled use of greys, greens and purples. These all complement each other and also serve to push to the fore the incandescent burst of colour of the flowers in the background as well as the delicate skin tones of the subject, who appears almost to engage the viewer, and in her turn before us, the painter, with a thoughtful gaze that recalls the woman in Manet's Le bar aux Folies-Bergères, which was painted around the same time. There is a shimmering vitality to this painting which is only heightened by the flicks of colour that Morisot has employed to build up this rich tapestry of colour. Bougival was to be the setting for a number of acclaimed pictures by Morisot. A contemplative note similar to that achieved in this vibrant image is present in her painting of her maid Pasie sewing, Jeune femme cousant dans un jardin, now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Pau. Meanwhile, the elegance of Après le déjeuner is given a domestic spin in her picture of her husband and daughter, one of her few male portraits, from the same year, now in the Musée Marmottan, Paris.
Eugène Manet et sa fille dans le jardin de Bougival, as the picture of her husband and daughter is now titled, was one of the works included in the Seventh Impressionist Exhibition, which was organised by Paul Durand-Ruel. This was a return to form for the Impressionists, as they were able, partly due to the guidance and energy of Paul Gauguin, to focus on the core of the group rather than those who had been introduced by Edgar Degas. While many were upset by Gauguin's tactics and by Degas' departure from the group, the exhibition nonetheless represented an impressive cross-section of this important avant garde, hence the wealth of press attention it garnered. From the descriptions in the press and in Eugène's letters, it appears clear that Après le déjeuner was one of these works.
At the time of the preparations for the exhibition, Morisot was in Nice; Eugène had headed back to Paris in part because he had a position in the civil service. He was therefore able to manage Morisot's contribution. He found that he was none too early: the other Impressionists had already begun the hang of the show by the time he arrived, and initially it seems that Après le déjeuner may have been the only work on display, only later joined by others which he retrieved either from storage in Bougival or from her dealer Alphonse Portier, who supplied this work. (Intriguingly, the 1997 catalogue raisonné of Morisot's works is one of the few publications which does not include Après le déjeuner as being in the 1882 show; they however do refer to the portrait of Eugène and Julie under the title A la campagne and cite it as number 92 in the exhibition despite contemporary reviews referring to that work as an image of a girl with foliage in the background. Several of those reviews also described it as being the largest and most important of Morisot's contributions to the show; see the various texts reproduced in Berson, op. cit., 1996, pp. 379-413).
Eugène wrote extensively to his wife, describing the different ways in which Après le déjeuner - or 'Marie', as he referred to it - was hung, as its initial spot had bad light. Eventually, he was able to send the much-sought-after opinion of his brother to share with Morisot: 'Edouard who came to the exhibition this morning says your pictures are among the best' (Eugène Manet, quoted in Rouart, op. cit., 1986, p. 124). In the same letter, he explained that Duret had also congratulated him on his wife's paintings before listing the prices he was demanding - with this work listed as the most expensive, a mark of its quality.
In 1896, Après le déjeuner was one of the works selected for the posthumous retrospective of Morisot's works held the year after her death in the Durand-Ruel galleries. This exhibition was in part organised by her teenaged daughter Julie, who fortunately was ably assisted by some of her mother's friends, including Degas, Renoir and Claude Monet; the preface for the catalogue was written by Stéphane Mallarmé. In her journal, Julie wrote about Degas' arguments with the others during the hang of the exhibition, as he intended it less for the public than for her friends. Monet and Renoir, however, prevailed. Julie was enchanted with the result: 'It's a paradise, with feminine delicacy combined with the power of the drawing. Ah, Maman, what talent! Your oeuvre has never to me seemed as beautiful as it did today; its the reflection of a pure soul!... What a difference it makes for me to mourn Maman surrounded by all these things which she created and which embody herself' (J. Manet, Growing up with the Impressionists: The Diary of Julie Manet, trans. R. de Boland Roberts & J. Roberts, London, 1987, p. 90).
After being owned by Portier, Morisot's dealer who had begun selling paint and ended up being an important art dealer and promoter of the Impressionists and also an early supporter of Vincent van Gogh, Après le déjeuner was acquired by the celebrated collector Henri Vever. A wealthy jeweller who assembled an impressive array of works, Vever had become interested in Impressionism partly through his fascination with Japanese art, and had been introduced to Monet for this reason. The sale of his collection at the Georges Petit galleries in 1897 included works by Corot, Daubigny, Degas, Monet, Pissarro, Sisley and others beside (see S. Monneret, L'Imopressionisme et son époque: Dictionnaire international, Vol. II, Paris, 1987, pp. 70-71). The picture then appears to have entered the collection of Joshua Montgomery Sears, a wealthy financier and important American patron of Impressionism from one of Boston's most respected families. Sears and his wife came into contact with Impressionism through their friendship with Mary Cassatt, one of the other great female members of that movement. One of the labels on the reverse has Sears' name, rather than that of his wife, who is mentioned in much of the literature, implying that the picture had entered his hands before his death in 1905; the picture then passed through several generations of his family through his daughter, who had married James Donald Cameron Bradley, another member of Boston society whose house in Southborough, MA has been declared a national landmark.