Zadie is writing a book that’s going to blow the international art world apart.
She claims it will prove that an illicit affair between artists Eduoard Manet and Berthe Morisot actually occurred... But she can't find the letter that proves her theory.
Writer of 'Between The Streetlight And The Moon', Melita Rowston, has taken this story and turned it into a show. Is there proof? Where can it be found? Here, Melita pens an open letter ahead of the show's world premiere.Melita Rowston - Image © Dave Quinn
“'The living sometimes touches the waiting imagination of the dead.' – John Berger.
Art critic John Berger once suggested that paintings put us in communion with the dead. I love this idea. It speaks to exactly how I felt one crisp winter’s day when I entered the Musée D’Orsay in Paris to see Édouard Manet’s painting of Olympia for the first time. But it wasn’t Manet’s Olympia that stopped me in my tracks. Instead, a tiny painting hidden in the corner jumped out at me. The painting’s sketchy brushstrokes depicted a woman looking at the viewer through the spokes of her fan.
Painted by Manet in 1872, it was brash, modern and intimate – nothing like Manet’s other pictures. I felt as if this woman was looking into me. Her gaze was electrifying. There, frozen in her face yet so alive to me, was love. Big love. Delirious, messy and powerful love – despite the fact she’d been dead for over 100 years.
I discovered this mysterious woman was Impressionist painter Berthe Morisot. Manet painted 11 portraits of her, each one more charged and complex. There was no doubt in my mind that these paintings charted a turbulent affair. When I dived into the archives, I learnt Manet was married while Morisot married his brother Eugene in 1874. I couldn’t find any trace of an affair. Yet the paint tells a different story.
I did discover that Manet and Morisot wrote many letters to each other, which they burned the night before she married. What were they hiding? I began to wonder, ‘What if one of those letters wasn’t burnt? What if someone found it? What would that letter say?’
My play 'Between The Streetlight And The Moon' goes on a journey through the art galleries, archives and studios of old Paris in search of the answers. It explores the idea that as artists and lovers, sometimes we settle for the streetlight instead of aiming for the moon.
Do I think Morisot and Manet had an affair? Can I prove it? As generations from both families pass, more information is coming to light, but nothing has been proven – yet. However, during the process of writing this play I’ve realised that there is something strangely satisfying that comes from ‘not knowing’. Manet’s 11 paintings of Morisot are so complex, they spur further investigation and imagining.
Instead of closing things down they open us up to life’s infinite mysteries and possibilities. Which is what art should do.
That’s why I’ve called the play 'Between The Streetlight And The Moon'. Because sometimes it’s the spaces in-between that are the most exciting.”
– Melita Rowston
'Between The Streetlight And The Moon' plays Kings Cross Theatre from 5-27 May.