Berthe Morisot: Shaping Impressionism
Cézanne. Monet. Degas.
It’s easy to get the impression that the Impressionists were all male.
But opening at Dulwich Picture Gallery this weekend is a new exhibition spotlighting Berthe Morisot; an influential 19th century painter who was part of the movement from the beginning, and who was (along with Marie Bracquemond and Mary Cassatt) considered one of “les trois grandes dames” of Impressionism.
Around 40 of Morisot’s expressive paintings have been gathered from collections around the world to give you a picture of her distinctive style, in the first major exhibition of her work to be staged in the UK in nearly 75 years. Some pieces have never been on display here before.
Morisot enjoyed considerable success during her lifetime; remarkable in an era in which women were so rarely admitted to professions or allowed to join the public sphere. Her career was launched when she exhibited at the prestigious Salon de Paris in 1864, but a decade later she began exhibiting annually with the ‘rejected’ Impressionists (a group which included layabouts like Cézanne and Renoir) – only skipping a year to have a baby. She garnered considerable critical acclaim, although naturally her work was praised for its “feminine charm”. Meanwhile, Morisot wrote privately of her desire to be treated as an equal to her male counterparts.
Being a woman, however, and therefore unable to run about town unchaperoned, had a considerable impact on the subject matter Morisot painted. She had a true talent for elevating the mundane and the private, and this exhibition provides an evocative snapshot of 19th century domestic life. Morisot’s skill in rendering quick sketches and studies of her subjects allowed her to capture fleeting moments – a nanny rocking a cradle; children running through a garden; ladies fixing their hair – but also the lingering sense of ennui which pervaded the lives of middle class Victorian women. She continued to experiment throughout her career, often working with three different media on the same canvas, and later even allowing the unprimed canvas to show through, giving the images a transient, ethereal quality.
Tracing the development of her talent, on the other hand, is no easy feat; Morisot was a tough critic and destroyed most of her early work. She was also denied formal training, instead studying under the tutelage of individual artists. However this exhibition brings together new archival research to help build a picture of the movements and earlier 18th century artists who inspired her, so you’ll also see paintings by greats like Reynolds, Gainsborough and Morisot’s distant relative Fragonard. These pairings give an informative context to Morisot’s work, but also throw her unique style and ability into greater light.
And that really should leave a lasting impression.
NOTE: Berthe Morisot: Shaping Impressionism is at the Dulwich Picture Gallery from 31st March – 10th September 2023. Tickets cost £16.50 with donation, and you can book HERE.
Berthe Morisot: Shaping Impressionism | Dulwich Picture Gallery, Gallery Road, SE21 7AD
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