The first exhibition since 1950 of one of the leading lights of the French impressionist movement has arrived in London, promising a long overdue reappraisal of the artist.

The reappraisal because the artist, Berthe Morisot was a woman, at a time when women were often looked at as inferior to male artists, even at the time of her last major exhibition in post-war London. I mean, Manet himself once said of Berthe and Edma Morisot, What a shame they are not men,”

To be fair, it was because he was concerned that the male dominated establishment would overlook them and that would be a bad thing as he thought the sisters were excellent artists. He would know, as he was their brother-in-law. Edma gave up painting shortly afterwards, leaving her sister Berthe to go on to become a well-appreciated, but not well enough appreciated artist in her lifetime.

What’s doubly unusual is that Berthe hardly ever painted the usual topics of the time — men and landscapes — and much more often painted women indoors instead.

A classic contrast being an 1879 painting of a young woman in a ballgown, shown singuarly compared to conventional paintings of the time that would show a crowded ballroom full of action. When it was first shown, Philippe Burty wrote “Madame Berthe Morisot handles both palette and paintbrush with truly surprising delicacy. Not since the eighteen century, not since Fragonard have such pale colours been applied with such boldness of spirit”

Presenting 40 of Morisot’s most significant works, all drawn from international collections, this exhibition is a gallery of light and pale colours that show off her paintings in a collection rarely seen together before.

There’s a range here, augmented with a few works by other artists dotted in the display, that shows Berthe’s wide range and transition over the decades of her work from early watercolours to the later oils and drawings.

Some small texts explain some of the background to the sitter or the setting for the painting, but it’s very much left to you to decide how you want to look at each of the paintings on display.

That can make it a bit harder to understand why this collection is so special though – other than the topics and the artist, what are we supposed to notice? I know curators say that signs detract from the painting, but I often understand the painting better with a guiding hand in the description.

The exhibition, Berthe Morisot: Shaping Impressionism is at the Dulwich Picture Gallery until 10th September 2023.

Adults: £15 | Children: Free | Concessions/Art Fund: £8

People aged 18-30 who sign up to their young persons scheme get 50% off ticket prices.

You can reserve tickets here, or pay on the day.

One thing to note.

Exhibition brochures come in two flavours.

One educates you why the art and the artist are so important and what to look for in the art. You put the book down feeling cleverer than when you started

The other type is written for experts in an academic language and assumes you already know a lot about the artist. You put the book down feeling that you might be too stupid to try and understand art.

Sadly, the brochure this time is a bad one. The sort of brochure that used to put me off going to art galleries as I was clearly not intelligent enough to understand the art.


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