Claire Richards reviews the latest developments at the Picture Gallery

Berthe Morisot: Shaping Impressionism

The first major UK exhibition of Morisot’s work since 1950, this is a feast not just for the eyes, but for the mind. It is an intelligent and thought - provoking exhibition, curated by Dr Lois Oliver. Far from being a fringe member of the Impressionists, Berthe Morisot was a leading light, a catalyst and an influencer.

Yes, we are surrounded by the beautiful pastel - coloured images that we associate with the Impressionists, but this is uniquely a woman’s perspective. The exhibition lays bare so many of the challenges faced by Morisot. As a woman, she was not able to paint freely outdoors like Monet and Renoir, as this attracted unwanted male attention. Consequently, she had to resort to painting very early in the morning, to painting while sitting in a boat on the water, or to simply painting the view through her own drawing room window. She was not able to paint street scenes, cabarets or music halls. Instead, she was obliged to focus on scenes of domestic life: a child chattering to a maid, her niece painting, her sister watering a plant. And social convention prevented her from painting men, though her own husband was an occasional and reluctant sitter.

Of course, paintings of women were, fortunately, in vogue, but Morisot’s perspective differs hugely from that of her male contemporaries. Her female models dress in front of a mirror and admire themselves; we do not feel them to be the object of an intrusive male gaze, as we do with Degas. Her sitters clearly share intimate bonds with each other and with Morisot herself and she paints them, their relationships and their daily lives with sympathy and understanding.

This exhibition not only shows us Morisot’s own work, but juxtaposes it with the eighteenth - century paintings which inspired her. Like so many artists, she spent hours growing up, copying masterpieces in the Louvre (with a chaperone, naturally!) and as a mature artist she continued to admire Fragonard and Boucher. Honeymooning in England, she became familiar with Reynolds and Gainsborough - and the Dulwich Picture Gallery exhibition displays examples of these. It is fascinating to see an eighteenth - century portrait ‘translated’ into the Impressionist style and to consider how its subject matter and stylistic presentation influenced Morisot.

Fascinating too to see a small but skilful painting by Morisot’s older sister, Edma. The girls grew up sharing drawing lessons and exhibiting their paintings together, but, despite her remarkable talent, Edma eventually abandoned art for the more traditional path of marriage and motherhood. Berthe, on the other hand, staunchly resisted having her wings clipped and when she did eventually get married, it was to Eugène Manet, younger brother of the famous painter Édouard, who keenly supported her career as an artist.

Congratulations to Dulwich Picture Gallery on a beautifully curated exhibition!

The Launch of Osiris

The Gallery’s ambition to support health and healing through art took a step forward in March with the official launch of a stunning new sculpture commissioned by the Gallery and the NHS South East London Integrated Care Board in the garden of the Tessa Jowell Health Centre.

The sculpture is named Osiris, after the Egyptian god of life, the afterlife, reincarnation and agriculture, and is the creation of local artist Rafael Klein. Klein is known primarily for metal sculpture and Osiris is laser cut from steel. Like all his public sculptures, it is the result of a collaborative project with the local community. Through this approach, Klein aims to foster a sense of community ownership of the resulting artwork, rather than exclusively imposing his own ideas. In a series of workshops at Dulwich Picture Gallery, local people produced drawings inspired by landscape paintings in the Gallery’s collection. The human figures, animals and plants drawn were then incorporated in miniature into the sculpture, creating a living world, teeming with life.

Many stories are attached to Osiris in Egyptian mythology. In one, the god is murdered by his brother, but his wife, Isis, searches for him and eventually finds him embedded in the trunk of a tamarisk tree. Klein’s sculpture combines this story with the idea of rebirth and renewal in nature, resulting in an uplifting and completely unexpected work of art. The lower part of the sculpture is a rich warm brown, mutating gradually to green higher up, as life springs up and spreads out from the central human figure.

The transparent form cleverly allows us to see the courtyard garden, complementing the view of the plants without obscuring them. The work is partnered by 4 translucent vinyl images of landscapes from the collection at Dulwich Picture Gallery, placed in the staircase window, and further miniature sculptures.

This is certainly an artwork which invites contemplation. With so much detail to be found and so much meaning to be derived from it, how appropriate to place it outside the window of a doctors’ waiting room! It is a genuinely optimistic work for those who have time to look and think, because they are waiting.

Looking to the Future

The Gallery has submitted an application to Southwark Council to develop its outdoor space. As well as converting the Gallery Cottage into a family café and lunch room for school parties, a new Children’s Picture Gallery will be built and the under - utilised meadow will be landscaped to create a sculpture garden. The addition of over 150 new trees, new hedging to create wildlife habitats and hidden boreholes, providing ground source heat to the Gallery, will all play their part in enhancing this amenity. Further details are on the Gallery website, together with a feedback form, should anyone wish to comment on the designs and plans.