Light and Soul at Cooper Gallery

This summer, immerse yourself in nature and the landscapes of 19th century France through a captivating new exhibition at the Cooper Gallery in Barnsley.

Light and Soul: Early Impressions of the French Landscape will be on display until Saturday 7th October. The exhibition brings together paintings and drawings by pioneering artists who experimented with subjects, texture and light and whose influence shaped the work of generations to follow.

On display will be works by 17 artists who were inspired by the ancient Forest of Fontainebleau, the coastline and beaches of Normandy and rural life in the valleys, mountains and plains of France. See pieces by the prolific and influential Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, the most famous female painter of the 19th century, Rosa Bonheur, and the mentor to the young Claude Monet, Eugène Boudin. 

Many of the artworks in the exhibition are part of the permanent art collection at the Cooper Gallery. Natalie Murray, a curator at Barnsley Museums, has been researching the Gallery’s French drawings and paintings thanks to funding from the Headley Fellowship through Art Fund.

The research project presented the opportunity to explore each artwork and artist in detail and to find out more about their individual stories and the connections between them. What emerged was the intense scrutiny they made of nature – the effects of the changing seasons, the shifting light over rivers and seas – and the emotional connection they felt with their natural surroundings.

Many of the works in the exhibition have been conserved to enable their display after decades in storage. Les Patineurs by Johan Barthold Jongkind is one example to have undergone specialist treatment to both the painting and its frame. The surface dirt and yellowed varnish were removed from the painting, revealing a crisp winter’s day from beneath what appeared to be a hazy, muted landscape. The research on this work uncovered how important Jongkind’s luminous and freely painted scenes were in influencing the group of young Impressionists.  

The Cooper Gallery artworks are accompanied by several paintings on loan from other museums and galleries including Sheffield Museums, Leeds Museums and Galleries, York Museums Trust (York Art Gallery), the Bowes Museum and The National Gallery, London. This unique exhibition brings together these beautiful works for the very first time, including some which have never been on public display before. 

There will be a whole host of activities taking place as part of the exhibition including the construction of the Gallery’s very own ‘Forest of Fontainebleau’.  A haven for young children, this will be a treat for all the senses and inspire creativity.

Not to be missed is Light and Soul: The Next Generation, a truly wonderful display of the artistic talent of Barnsley’s young people. Fusion, Barnsley’s local cultural education partnership, worked with Barnsley Museums to launch an art competition for schools, inviting children to create their own works inspired by nature. From a fantastic 170 entries, artworks by 15 winners will be on display with every entry available to view digitally on screen in the gallery and also online.

There’s plenty more to enjoy including films on artwork conservation, curator tours, sketchbook workshops, and a full exhibition catalogue available to purchase from the gallery shop.

Find out more about this free exhibition at