The Abstract-Impressionism of Berthe Morisot and Joan Mitchell




Guest blogger Paula Butterfield’s novel about the life and work of impressionist artist Berthe Morisot, “La Luministe,” will be published by Regal House on March 15, 2019. She stops by to discuss the surprising similarities between Morisot and a much more modern female artist…






 The Abstract-Impressionism of Berthe Morisot and Joan Mitchell

As I researched Berthe Morisot for my historical novel, La Luministe, I saw elements of this Impressionist artist’s work that hinted at Joan Mitchell’s paintings, which would follow one hundred years later. (See the right side of Woman at Her Toilette, above.) The brushstrokes on Morisot’s unfinished canvases, in particular, look like the work of the Abstract Expressionists of the 1950s. As art critic Sam Smee has written, “In the 1880s, Morisot experimented with unprimed canvases and a lack of finish that looks radical even today — closer at times to Joan Mitchell than Paul Cézanne.” (Washington Post, August 21, 2018)

In turn, painter Joan Mitchell was labeled an “Abstract Impressionist.” It was a term coined by Elaine de Kooning, who conflated the Impressionists’ interest in the optical effects of nature with the Abstract Expressionists’ interest in the visual representations of emotional or spiritual states. Mitchell was compared to Monet in her use of watery surfaces and reflections of the sky. During the 1970s, Mitchell even lived in a house next to Monet’s former home in Vetheuil.

At first glance, Morisot and Mitchell’s lives had much in common. Both lived in France, both came from well-off upper-class families, and both were involved in difficult relationships with well-known artists—Morisot with Edouard Manet and Mitchell with Jean-Paul Riopelle. And each artist had great feeling for landscape, especially trees. Morisot, as one of the founding Impressionists, painted en plein air. She felt sustained by trees. The Bois de Boulogne, “the lungs of the city”, was her refuge from modern Paris, and the forested park provided the setting for many of her paintings. Mitchell felt an affinity for trees, as well. When she was in the hospital recovering from hip surgery late in her life,

“…they moved me to a room with a window and suddenly…I saw two fir trees in a park…and I was so happy. It had to do with being alive, I could see the pine trees, and I felt I could paint.”

(interview with Yves Michaud for catalog, Joan Mitchell: New Paintings, 1986)

Green blotches traverse a neutral background in both canvases. Although Morisot’s painting is, technically, realist—a recognizable house and figures appear in the middle-ground. The figure on the right serves as an accent comparable to Mitchell’s perfect fuchsia-colored accent in roughly the same position in My Plant.


Morisot painting                                       Joan Mitchell painting

HARVEST À BOUGIVAL (Morisot, 1880s)           GIROLATA TRIPTYCH (Mitchell, 1964)


Do you see what I mean? Here’s another example. In the paintings below, there are similarities in composition (emphasis in lower-left corner), brush strokes (as scumbled and breezy as the wind at the English seaside), and palette (muted blue-grays with accents of red, green, and blue):


seascape by morisot                                         abstract by mitchell

ENGLISH SEASCAPE (Morisot, 1875)                         MONT ST. HILAIRE (Mitchell, 1956)


In 2014, an untitled work of Joan Mitchell’s brought $11.9 million at auction, the highest price garnered by a woman artist to date—supplanting the $10.9 million brought by Berthe Morisot’s After the Luncheon in 2013. It’s appropriate that Morisot and Mitchell top the list of most valued women artists. Separated by a century, these two women artists shared not only lives lived in France and devotion to their art, but also a way of seeing.

Author Paula Butterfield taught courses about women artists for twenty years before turning to writing novels about them. La Luministe, her debut novel, earned the Best Historical Fiction Chanticleer Award. Paula lives with her husband and daughter in Portland and on the Oregon coast. Still committed to sharing women’s stories, she is currently working on her next book about rival American artists. You can find her at or @pbutterwriter.

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Dorothy Richardson, overlooked modernist writer

(Reblogging an older post, as “Dorothy Richardson: A Close Reading” is now available on Apple, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.)

Gabriella West

DRichardson Richardson was a pioneering modernist writer.

When I was an ardent young intellectual in the early ’90s, I took a class on Modernist Women Writers with the poet Kathleen Fraser at SFSU. One of our assignments was to do “a close reading” of our writer of choice. I chose to write about English writer Dorothy M. Richardson.

Richardson (1873-1957) was an unusual writer with an unusual career. She published her first book, Pointed Roofs, in 1917, when she was over 40. It was called the first “imagist novel” and her work was taken seriously by critics. Soon Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf, whose half brothers were Richardson’s publishers, joined the modernist “canon” and during the 1920s Richardson continued putting out volume after volume (there were eventually 13 seperate books in all) of her great novel sequence, Pilgrimage. But after her 12th book came out in the late…

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Upcoming in March: Read an E-Book Week, Followed by Guest Blogger Paula Butterfield

February has been shooting by, and I have not posted here, but let me remedy this before the month disappears completely into the rearview mirror!

8. spooky2019 - Read an Ebook WeekThe first week of March (March 3-9) is the time for Read an E-Book Week on Smashwords. I finally replaced the image on my blog from 2015 with one from this year–an improvement, I might add! Click the image at the right margin for a link to my book page on Smashwords.

Among many other bargains, I will have two books for sale in my LGBT romance Elsie Street series (Book 1 is free!). Both The Pull of Yesterday and Return to Carlsbad will be 50 percent off from 3/3-3/9.

A Goodreads reader called Jules from the U.K. gave Return to Carlsbad the kind of review that makes this author very happy:

Out of all the 3 books though, this is probably my favourite. There was at least some kind of relationship between two characters. There is at least, some kind of HEA. I think!!!!

It’s not that these characters are bad, it’s just they’re totally screwed up, by childhood abuse and self inflicted pain. They are all just messed up. AND…I COULD NOT STOP READING THIS BOOK. I could not put it down. It was like watching a train wreck, I was totally intrigued by what they would all do next and it was never what I was expecting. I also loved the author’s writing style, it flowed easily and I turned the pages pretty quickly. 

If you’re looking for something a little different and don’t mind poly relationships and possible cheating, then you’ll love this book.

Berthe Morisot book

Butterfield’s novel is now on pre-order and will be published in March.

Then in mid-March, Paula Butterfield has kindly agreed to stop by my blog with a guest post as part of the promotion for her deeply researched new novel about French impressionist artist Berthe Morisot, La Luministe.

A serious artist from a young age, Morisot fell in love with the married Edouard Manet, which I didn’t know. But Butterfield’s work also brings attention to Morisot’s groundbreaking work with light, which prefigured the work of the abstract expressionists. On this blog, she’ll write about the surprising links between Morisot and mid-twentieth-century painter Joan Mitchell.

I love 19th-century French art, and I love women who were ahead of, or outside, their times, so it’s a good fit!

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Connecting the Dots Published in Audiobook Format!

Connecting the Dots

Now out in Audiobook format!

Have you ever wondered whether you or a loved one might have ADHD? My little self-help ebook/memoir, Connecting the Dots: My Midlife Journey with Adult AD/HD, published in 2013, is now available in audiobook format, at a suggested list price of $5.99! It’s geared to younger and middle-aged women, as women tend to be undiagnosed sufferers with inattentive-type ADD since we don’t typically present with the same hyperactive symptoms that boys and men do. (Though some women do have the hyperactive form of ADHD; I just don’t happen to be one of them!)

Confession: I’m not an audiobook fan myself, despite loving listening to stories on the radio, but I know many people are and that some folks find it easier to absorb information in this format. I chose Findaway Voices as my distributor and the versatile Daniela Acitelli as my narrator. Take a listen to the sample on Google Play and see what you think!

Here are links to the first online stores who’ve listed the book:

Google Play:

Apple iTunes:

Rakuten Kobo:

Soon you should also be able to find the audiobook at multiple other venues, including and Storytel. You can also request it at your local library through Overdrive.

Bottom line: It has given me a real thrill to hear Daniela voice my words. I can see why putting one’s work into audiobook form can become quite addictive!

From a recent 5-star Amazon review by Oregon author Paula Butterfield:

In Connecting the Dots, author Gabriella West balances information from AD/HD authorities like Dr. Patricia Quinn, Sari Solden, Gina Pera, and Russell Barkley with her personal story: a family background that overlooked, if not exacerbated her symptoms, adult relationship issues, and career problems. This was a brave and apt choice, since women tend to connect through stories.

One of the biggest gifts from the author is her tip-off about how difficult the diagnostic process can be. That may not sound very positive, but when she writes that “you have to have a lot of initiative to make it through these early stages”, she’s pointing out the irony for people who suspect they might have AD/HD, that “their very disorder won’t let them act on what they know.” The same person who has trouble focusing is expected to storm the walls of the medical/insurance fortress. A woman who seeks help for this disorder will have to locate a psychiatrist or therapist to diagnose her, often waiting weeks or months for an appointment, only to find that a medical professional doesn’t take insurance or works only with children. Be warned, cautions the author: this will take longer and probably cost more than you’d like.

But persevere! With diagnosis and medication (not the caffeine and alcohol often used to self-medicate), you can achieve mental clarity for most hours of the day. Your doctor can also help you with the anxiety, depression, or SCT (Sluggish Cognitive Tempo) that can accompany AD/HD. You can fundamentally change your life.

UPDATE: You can now find Connecting the Dots on Audible! And I have a limited amount of promo codes which allow listeners to access the audiobook for free at Authors Direct. Contact me for a promo code!


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December Deals and Holiday Wishes

December is usually a slow month in the freelance world and in the book world, too. This year, I seem to have a lot going on with freelance editorial work (not complaining, this is nice!). Turns out I have some great indie book bargains to offer as well.


‘A Knight’s Tale’ has been called ‘captivating’ and ‘bittersweet’ and is set in Medieval England, mainly at Kenilworth Castle.

My contemporary gay romance novel Elsie Street is still free on Amazon, Apple Books, etc. Then on Dec. 24, Christmas Eve, I have a BookBub featured deal for A Knight’s Tale: Kenilworth! Pick up a copy of this captivating 13th-century-based MM historical romance for 99 cents, starting around December 20 on all ebook platforms, and running for about a week. Book Two, which follows Will and Stephen’s story in France, is available in all e-bookstores.

Other News

I will also be participating in the Smashwords End of Year Sale as well, which starts on December 25 and runs for a week.

And, on right now, use the new “Buy with coupon” button to pick up a copy of Connecting the Dots: My Midlife Journey with AD/HD for 30 percent off through the end of the year. This short, practical memoir/self-help book about women’s specific issues with ADHD has been well-received, and should be widely available in audiobook format within the next month or two (on platforms like Kobo, Apple, Scribd, Downpour, Hibooks, many others), narrated by the brilliant Daniela Acitelli. It would make a good Christmas purchase for any woman who feels like either she or a loved one might have the disorder and wants to learn more about symptoms and/or getting diagnosed!

lit candleFinally, Happy Holidays to everyone. The season soon gets quite hectic, though I am enjoying the peace that follows Thanksgiving. Having dealt with the loss of an old family friend from cancer earlier this month, I am just trying to take everything day by day. For me, both happiness and sadness seem more intense in winter. At least there is a mix, I remind myself often…

Since darkness comes early, I like having a pillar candle at hand around this time to light when I feel the need. Whatever makes your heart lighter around this time, I encourage you to do it.

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Review: Becoming Mrs. Lewis

cover136553-mediumPatti Callahan’s just-published novel (Thomas Nelson; $25.99) is a fictional take on the story of Joy Davidman (1915-1960) and CS Lewis. I had previously seen and adored the film Shadowlands, so I came to the character of Joy Davidman informed by Debra Winger’s strong performance. Winger was actually very good, with not a lot of background information to go on, but Joy Davidman comes fully to life in this novel. Patti Callahan gets inside the head, heart, and psyche of a brilliant, unfulfilled woman poet who had already transitioned in her life from young artist/Communist in the 1930s to unhappy Christian wife married to an alcoholic fellow writer in upstate New York, and mother of two boys.

The literal and emotional journey Joy takes is quite remarkable, since it involves years of increasingly warm and intimate friendship in England in the 1950s with CS Lewis, an Oxford don and author of the Narnia books, as well as books on Christianity. But Joy wants much, much more from “Jack.” The tragedy of the story is that just as she gets what she wants, Lewis’s commitment and declaration of love, she is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Her ultimate fate is to be erased, albeit in a loving way. His protective shadow blurred her brilliance. Callahan sees some of the irony here, I believe, but also traces a beautiful and shatteringly real love story that changed both of these figures irrevocably. She restores something to Joy Davidman that had been lost to time.

The novel was published by a Christian press, but Joy’s edges and relatable struggles have thankfully not been softened. The snippets of her love sonnets that start the chapters (which, amazingly, were only rediscovered a few years ago!) are harrowing and beautiful windows to her soul. Callahan takes on the role of a literary daughter here, illuminating Joy Davidman Lewis as only a daughter could.

(I received an ARC from the publisher in return for an honest review.)

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Return to Carlsbad Out Now on Amazon!

And now, back to book news!

Return to Carlsbad will be published October 9.

Preorder now!

The third book in my Elsie Street contemporary gay romance trilogy, Return to Carlsbad, is done! It was released today on Amazon. On Smashwords, and the other stores like Apple and BN, it comes out by the end of the month.

This is the first trilogy I have ever completed. It’s been satisfying to put the characters through important transitions and growth opportunities, and give Aaron’s story, in particular, a happy ending. For once, a HEA 🙂

Update: Return to Carlsbad is now available for sale on Google Play!

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A Laugh on Brett

After this highly emotional week, let’s all have a laugh, courtesy of Matt Damon and Saturday Night Live:


(Needless to say, I believe Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.)

And on a personal note, it still freaks me out that these are contemporaries of mine!!


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Girding Up for Fall (With a Free Book!)

Fall promises to be hectic: We have less than sixty days left before the midterms. Looking at my wall calendar, election day is November 6. I expect to be working in a Bay Area Vote by Mail unit around election time, a seasonal job that I would actually enjoy and find worthwhile. Our American democracy is pretty fragile at this point, and we need to be super-vigilant about our voting systems. I hope that if there was any voting irregularity this time in an important race, it would be discovered pretty quickly… but who can be sure? I am also looking forward to Bob Woodward’s new book, Fear, though because so many excerpts have been released, I feel I’ve read it already…

Two writing/publishing projects are in the works for me. I have never turned any of my books into audiobooks, but Findaway Voices makes this easy now. The book is one of my shortest, my self-help memoir Connecting the Dots. I’ve narrowed down my choice of a narrator to one very talented person and just want to hear her read a section of the book to be sure it’s a good fit. If all goes well, it’s likely that the audiobook will be out by Christmas! Since this is my first go-round, I’m going to make it available on as many outlets as possible (and there are many!), and charge $5.99. Keep an eye out for it.

Return to Carlsbad will be published October 9.

Pre-order now!

My other news is of a pre-order. Return to Carlsbad, book 3 in my MM contemporary romance Elsie Street series, is available to purchase now for $3.99 and will be released October 9! Look for it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, and Kobo. (I might release it on Google Play a little early, just for fun.)

Haven’t read Book 1 yet? Just to make it a little easier for folks to try the series, the first book, Elsie Street, is now free at virtually all stores in ebook format!

In this final book, dramatic changes come to Aaron’s and his older sister Tessa’s lives as they both finally move on from the past, though in Aaron’s case healing comes from confronting the past and returning to his childhood home in coastal Southern California, where so many of his early experiences with loss and trauma took place. But it’s not entirely a sad book: there’s a passionate love story in there too. Marc, Aaron’s former therapist who has issues of his own, is an understanding lover who offers Aaron both sex and friendship. Aaron’s challenge, though, is to feel worthy of it.

It’s the first evening of the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival here and I am going to go eat a moon cake.

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July Summer/Winter Sale Starts Tomorrow!

Phew, it’s hot! Smashwords holds its monthlong Summer/Winter ebook sale starting tomorrow and running through July 31. It’s a great opportunity to pick up new reads.

Visit my book page to see my bargains. A Knight’s Tale: Kenilworth is free, and its sequel, A Knight’s Tale: Montargis, is 50 percent off. My ADHD memoir, Connecting the Dots, is a whopping 75 percent off, as is the Elsie Street follow-up, The Pull of Yesterday.

These discounts are only available on the Smashwords site. They’ve been in business for ten years, and I think that’s something to be celebrated.

Fellow writers, you can add your books to the promotion by visiting the home page at any time.

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