The French Impressionist Berthe Morisot (1841-95) will be the subject of a major London exhibition next year that will explore how a honeymoon trip to England left a lasting impression on her work.
As well as focusing on the impact that 18th-century French artists such as Jean-Honoré Fragonard and Antoine Watteau had on Morisot’s work, the Dulwich Picture Gallery show will be the first to explore the important influence of English painters like Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds.
“She was unusual [amongst the Impressionists] in that enthusiasm,” says the exhibition’s co-curator Lois Oliver. Morisot “was particularly excited by Gainsborough, Reynolds and [George] Romney. And there was very little of that available to see in France”. Morisot encountered works by the artists during a single trip to England in 1875 for her honeymoon. Following her marriage to Eugène Manet (brother of Édouard Manet), Morisot and her new husband visited London and the Isle of Wight, including the Cowes sailing regatta, as well as the Goodwood horse races (“all the fashionable summer things to do in England”, Oliver says). A portrait of Manet painted during the trip, Eugène Manet on the Isle of Wight (1885), will be one of the highlights of the show.
The couple spent much of August that year in London, visiting the National Gallery and the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum) as well as private collections. “She said that everything she saw made her want to become thoroughly acquainted with English painting,” Oliver says.
Morisot was the only female founding member of the Impressionist movement and has long been overshadowed by her more famous male counterparts. “She was one of the most significant Impressionists [and] was involved in organising all of their exhibitions,” Oliver says.
The Dulwich exhibition will be the artist's first in the UK since 1950, “which is kind of astonishing when you think how important she was for the Impressionist movement”, Oliver says. It is being organised with the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris, which holds one of the most important collections of Morisot’s work. The Dulwich Picture Gallery holds key pieces by many of the 18th-century French artists who influenced Morisot and it will be the first time her work is shown alongside paintings by artists such as Fragonard and Watteau.
Many of the paintings in the show have also never been exhibited in the UK. Among the highlights of the will be Apollo revealing his divinity to the shepherdess Issé, after François Boucher (1892), recently acquired by the Marmottan at auction, and Julie Manet with her Greyhound Laerte (1893). The latter features the artist’s daughter as well as a Louis XVI-style chair, one of several pieces of 18th-century furniture that Morisot owned, which appear “quite often in her paintings”, Oliver says.
A recent Morisot survey that toured museums in Dallas, Philadelphia, Quebec, Madrid and Paris, has helped the artist is gain renewed and deserved attention. Oliver agrees that this UK exhibition is “long overdue”. “She was one of the most original of the Impressionists and this will be a really unique angle on her work,” she adds.
• Berthe Morisot: Impressionism and the 18th Century, Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, 5 April-10 September 2023