Gallery of Fine Arts
Both located in the south-west of their respective countries and sharing a history as colonial ports, Bordeaux and Bristol were twinned over 70 years ago. While the two cities have pursued numerous exchanges over the years, the Bristol School of artists, which has gone largely unexamined in France, has never been celebrated to date this side of the English Channel.
This exhibition then promises the first collective showing, in France, of the singular artistic phenomenon that was the Bristol School. The School was an independent artistic movement, but even more so an informal group of artists, mostly portraitists and enthusiasts including critics, patrons and writers, a reflection of the artistic realities observed in the first half of the 19th century. From sketching parties in the Bristol countryside to gatherings in the homes of the various members, the unity of the group was well cemented during the period 1820-1830. The Bristol School explored and indeed revived a wide range of genres: paintings of city life and genre scenes, seen through the prism of the social transformations of the time; landscapes, inventing a highly original form of idyllic and suburban views, and fantastic art, tackled with a hitherto unseen passion. From 1800 to 1840, Bristol was a breeding ground for high-value talent who, in the case of some, would earn a reputation as far as London and to the point of influencing the development of artistic creativity in the British capital. Artists we can cite include Edward Bird (1772-1819), Francis Danby (1793-1861), Edward Villiers Rippingille (1798-1859), Samuel Colman (1780-1845), Samuel Jackson (1794-1869), Rolinda Sharples (1793-1838) – a female artist who enjoyed a brilliant career to the point of earning a living from her craft - and William James Müller (1812-1845). Müller, who produced a gripping painting recording the riots that erupted in Bristol in 1831, will be shown for the first time alongside a well-known contemporary, William Turner whose powerful watercolours depicting the English Houses of Parliament on fire, an incident that happened three years later, will be on show to admire.
The Museum of Fine Arts will receive around 80 artworks most of which are on loan from the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery (65 watercolour and oil paintings), shown alongside several loans from the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath, the Tate Britain in London and the Louvre in Paris.
The show will be punctuated by entertaining and educational exhibits along the visitor journey, including a presentation of the tools required and the steps involved in producing a watercolour painting; a game area where visitors can play a round of Painters ‘Pursuit, a board game about British culture, and a reading area stocked with British publications, in English and in French, for adults and children
Francis Danby, Une scène à Leigh Woods (A Scene in Leigh Woods), 1822, Bristol Museum & Art Gallery.
William West, The Israelites Passing through the Wilderness, Preceded by the Pillar of Light, 1845 © Bristol, Bristol Museum & Art Gallery.