We are thrilled that Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s masterpiece La Loge has gone on display at Ulster Museum, Belfast, for the first time as part of a new exhibition – Renoir and the New Era: Impressionist works from The Courtauld.
The exhibition, which is open until 11 April 2021, features a series of Impressionist works from The Courtauld’s collection with La Loge (1874) as its centrepiece. Renoir and the New Era looks specifically at the 1874 ‘First Impressionist Exhibition’ that featured La Loge and how the painting itself, and the Impressionist movement, represented the emergence of democracy within culture and a new era of thought around art, politics and representation.
Accompanying works on paper by Berthe Morisot, Édouard Manet and Camille Pissarro, also from The Courtauld’s collection, raise the subjects of the portrayal of women in Impressionism, new approaches to drawing the figure, and depicting daily life.
For those lucky enough to be able to visit in person, tickets can now be booked online through the Ulster Museum’s website.
The exhibition can also be viewed digitally through the SmARTify App, and a series of online events in 2021 will share the exhibition with audiences throughout the UK and beyond – check back for further announcements!
We’re pleased to announce that the Artful Line exhibition at the Harris Museum, Art Gallery & Library has now reopened, and the loans from the Courtauld Collection have been extended until mid-October. We hope this will give people an additional opportunity to see this fantastic exhibition that was only open for a short time before it closed in March.
Featuring works from the 17th century to the present day, the exhibition includes drawings from The Courtauld’s collection by artists including Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Frank Auerbach, William Henry Hunt and Helen Saunders. Drawings by William Blake, Angelica Kauffman and Deanna Petherbridge are also on display.
To celebrate the history of the Courtaulds Ltd factory, Preston artists Gavin Renshaw, Kathryn Poole and Anita George created new works for the exhibition, inspired by the history of the site, now Red Scar Business Park, and the people who worked there.
To ensure social distancing guidelines and local restrictions are met, The Harris requests visitors book one of two time slots to visit the museums and galleries: 11:00 – 13:00 and 13:30 – 15:30, and only visit with members of their household or social bubble. Tickets and further information are available through their website: https://www.theharris.org.uk/product/book-your-tickets/
In a guest blog, Alice Hellard from the Courtauld Gallery gives us a behind the scenes look at the production of our new resources for schools and young people.
When the exhibitions at the Harris Art Gallery, Museum and Library and Braintree Museum moved online in May a great opportunity opened up to create some focused learning resources that captured some of the learning work we had planned to deliver in schools.
In March, artist educator Nadine Mahoney and I delivered a number of sessions at Braintree Museum for both primary and secondary schools. Focusing on Paul Gauguin’s four woodcut prints on display at the Museum, the sessions aimed to develop students’ understanding of Gauguin’s printmaking techniques and ideas around myth making. In the learning resources we again wanted to encourage close looking, interpretation and technique, this time focusing on two of the prints, Te Po and Manao Tupapau (1893-94).
In Preston, I was due to run school workshops in April and May with artist and Illustrator Gavin Renshaw. In January 2020 Gavin was commissioned by the Harris (alongside artists Anita George and Kathryn Poole) to create a work in response to aspects of Courtaulds Ltd heritage. Researching the brief, Gavin discovered the story of Caliban, a Courtaulds Ltd steam engine, and made a series of drawings that capture aspects of its renovation. For the online exhibition at the Harris it seemed natural to develop a practical drawing resource for secondary students that explores drawing as an approach to capturing narrative, and to talk to Gavin in more detail about his approach to drawing and heritage.
I was also delighted to have been able to reprint (with kind permission from Courtauld alumna Alma Zevi) a fascinating interview with Frank Auerbach as part of the Harris’ online programme. Auerbach’s drawing Study for an Oxford Street building site (1958-59) is in The Artful Line exhibition, and the interview gives some fascinating insights into the role of drawing to his process.
We are thrilled that our friends at the Research Forum have announced their online series Open Courtauld Hour is back for a series two! Here are the details and links for booking:
This online mini-series will provide one-hour packages of pop-up talks, performances and in detail object study sessions that explore and celebrate our collection, research in art history, curation and conservation. Magnifying contemporary thinking in society through the field of art history, these episodes will platform new perspectives, new ways into art practice, looking at art and reading its history via themes that impact us all.
Week 1: From subject matter to statement, it is no secret that food and feasting have played a fundamental role in art for millennia. Eating and food preparation have taken on a new significance during this global pandemic — in the UK we have seen an overwhelming and renewed appreciation of our key food production and supermarket workers, food trends such as banana bread and dalgona coffee have taken over our social media feeds and spaces of feasting, communal eating and experiencing food and art together have been closed or disallowed in lockdown. In this session join, cook and eat with Tasha Marks (Founder of AVM Curiosities, Food Historian, Artist, Confectioner, Perfumer and Lecturer at The Arts Society), Sussan Babaie (Lecturer on the arts of Iran and Islam at The Courtauld Institute of Art), Lisette Auton (Disabled writer, activist, spoken word artist, theatre maker & creative practitioner) and Fozia Ismail (Founder & Researcher at Arawelo Eats) to dissect food and art through the ages! https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/open-courtauld-hour-the-art-of-feasting-tickets-107708334528
Week 2: With pubs being the first places to be closed, and most likely last to be opened, in the UK’s approach to tackling Covid-19, this episode begins and ends by delving into the life of London’s favourite artwork and the Courtauld’s most iconic painting, Édouard Manet’s ‘A Bar at the Folies-Bergère’. Often considered a pivotal work in the depiction of modern life, this work has taken on new signification in this age of social distancing and isolation. In this session we will consider the relationship between art and social scenes — the role of the pub in arts subject matter, it’s genesis and as a site of art historical dissemination and learning. With the help of our curator Karen Serres (Curator of Paintings at the Courtauld Gallery), specialists in the field such as Matt Lodder (Senior Lecturer in Art History & Director of US Studies at University of Exeter specialising in art history in the pub and the history of tattoos as art) and Florence Ostende (Curator at the Barbican and of the show-stopping exhibition ‘Into the Night: Cabarets and Clubs in Modern Art’) and drag artist Asifa Lahore (Presenter and Britain’s first out Muslim drag queen) we will reinstate the pub as a both a site of social interaction and creative practice, historically and now in 2020. https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/open-courtauld-hour-past-orders-art-and-social-scenes-tickets-107708635428
Week 3: In this final session of the series we hand the microphone over to four familiar faces — poets, writers and performers who have previously contributed to live Open Courtauld events. Dean Atta (Author of The Black Flamingo and winner of the Stonewall Book Award), Cat Hepburn (Performance poet, Scriptwriter, Educator and Co-host of Sonnet Youth), Nadine Jassat (Author of Let Me Tell You This) and Andres Ordorica (Scotland-based Queer Latinx Writer) will each react to an artwork of their choice from The Courtauld Collection. Poetry about art has been a core element of our Open Courtauld programme — allowing new perspectives, histories and windows into artworks and art history. Join our poets in rethinking, reframing and reengaging with iconic pieces of art in our collection in this poetry special of Open Courtauld Hour! https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/open-courtauld-hour-new-takes-on-the-courtauld-collection-poetry-special-tickets-107709514056
In the latest blog celebrating collections around the UK, Adam, Visitor Services Assistant at The Harris Museum, Art Gallery and Library, discusses three fantastic works on show in a current exhibition.
The Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston, has a long connection to the Courtauld Gallery, as Courtaulds Ltd. formerly had a large factory in the city. The Artful Line exhibition at The Harris is the latest fruit of this partnership, and explores the process of drawing from a variety of angles.
My choices are all from this exhibition. I have not had the opportunity to visit the Courtauld Gallery in London and view the artworks there in person, and I believe it is impossible to fully appreciate a piece of art unless you have stood in front of it. I also had to include three pieces as favourites, as they are presented as a trio in the exhibition, and their thematic links would be lost if one was sidelined.
The earliest drawing of the three is Architectural Fantasy, from the school of Giuseppe Galli Bibiena, drawn in about 1740. The piece is an imaginary interior – possibly of a palace or a public building – whose architecture is extravagant to the point of absurdity. Clusters of Corinthian columns shoot upward to bulbous balustrades and Baroque cartouches, while two staircases lead to destinations unknown, but surely magnificent – a tree can be glimpsed behind one, suggesting an idyllic landscape. Yet a close inspection reveals all sorts of imperfections, from wonky urns to inconsistently-spaced flagstones. The contrast between the far view and close inspection enhances the sense that this was intended to be a whimsical drawing, more concerned with fancy than absolute precision. It is a pleasing contrast to the Harris building, which is a polished work of Victorian
On the right of the group is Helen Saunders’ Vorticist Composition. A portrait by Saunders has already made an appearance in this series, but this piece was created at the height of the Vorticist movement. It is a small drawing, yet the confidence and boldness of its lines immediately draws the eye. The drawing has a strong sense of movement despite not being identifiable as any particular object; the influence of the Cubists is apparent, but the angularity and completely abstract nature of the piece sets it apart. A close examination
reveals that the hatching, while roughly done, is grouped into distinct blocks, giving a sense of order amid the overall disorder. I knew nothing about the Vorticists before the exhibition opened, and its inclusion has encouraged me to explore more of the works of this dynamic but brief movement.
Preliminary Sketch for ‘A Broken Set of Rules’ is the final drawing. It was created by Deanna Petherbridge as part of her 1984 commission to design the sets for the Royal Ballet production of the same name. Its large size and stark lines give it a commanding presence, but one which harmonises with the drawings that flank it. Petherbridge’s style combines the assertiveness and abstraction of the Vorticists with the keen eye for detail of the Architectural Fantasy, and the result is a disordered jumble of columns, architraves, and pediments, all jostling for position and teetering on the edge of collapse. I’m a particular fan of the semi-transparent column in the centre of the drawing, which passes through another in a way M. C. Escher would have been proud of.
When taken together, the three paintings form an interesting response to the values of classical architecture. Architectural Fantasy undermines the seriousness of classicism, related as it is to the theatrical illusion and impermanence. Broken Set of Rules takes this further, distorting the familiar elements of classical architecture and encouraging the viewer question the values such architecture often projects – power, confidence, and tradition. Finally, Vorticist Composition rejects tradition entirely, and presents a fresh way of viewing space. As The Harris itself is a classical building these responses are particularly pertinent – many recent developments in the building have focused on making its austere Victorian spaces more approachable for modern visitors, while at the same time its self-assured exterior has become an iconic feature of the Preston skyline.
Before working at The Harris I had not given much thought to the process of curating when visiting galleries, and this exhibition has given me a small insight into the work that goes into creating meaningful relationships between artworks. At first glance these drawings did not seem to have anything in common with each other, and it is only after contemplating them that I began to understand why they had been hung as they had. All
in all, I’d go so far as to say The Artful Line is the first exhibition I’ve understood, rather than simply looked at.
Samuel Courtauld was a big fan of the work of the artist Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), in fact the Courtauld Gallery is one of the best places in the UK to see a range of work by the artist, so to celebrate the connections between Courtauld and his home in Essex, a selection of prints from Gauguin’s Noa Noa series are included in Braintree Museum’s Courtaulds: Origins, Innovation and Family exhibition. This week we take a closer look at some interesting facts about the artist and these unusual prints.
1. Gauguin was mostly self-taught and didn’t become a full-time artist until the age of 35 – before then, he worked as a stockbroker.
2. Gauguin moved around several times trying to find a more authentic and timeless place away from modern civilization. He worked at Pont-Aven, an artists’ colony in Brittany, and with Van Gogh in Arles in the south of France, as well as further afield in Martinique, Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands.
3. The Noa Noa prints, four of which are currently on loan to the Braintree Museum, represent Gauguin’s first foray into woodblock printmaking, and only his second attempt at any kind of printmaking.
4. The prints were created as illustrations for Gauguin’s memoir of his time in Tahiti, but rather than depicting daily life or actual Tahitian stories they were products of the artist’s imagination.
5. The prints on loan to the Braintree Museum weren’t printed by Gauguin himself, but by his son Pola (also an artist) more than fifteen years after Gauguin’s death. The blocks’ surfaces are so complex that it took Pola two years to figure out how to print from them!
Find out more:
The Courtaulds: Origins, Innovation and Family exhibition, including the four prints from the Noa Noa series and a selection of resources about them, is available on the Braintree Museum website.
The Courtauld Gallery has a lot of information about Gauguin online, including an in focus feature on one of his most famous paintings and a short film with Curator Karen Serres about his work. You can also watch a recent talk by Dr Rachel Sloan that explores these works as illustrations on YouTube.
In the latest instalment of our National Highlights blog, featuring works selected by staff and volunteers at our partner organisations, Roma Piotrowska, Curatorial Officer at Wolverhampton Art Gallery, chooses two very different works that both have a personal connection.
It is very difficult for an art professional to have a favourite work of art. There are pieces that I am proud we have in the collection because they are by artists whose practice I follow and admire, for example works by Richard Billingham, Siobhan Hapaska, Lubaina Himid, Keith Piper, Larissa Sansour, Yinka Shonibare and Gillian Wearing.
Sometimes items that may seem to be less interesting, become fascinating in the right context. We have for example a collection of memorabilia connected to Royal Weddings, which normally wouldn’t be of my interest. We wanted to represent different stages of family life in relation to our Wolverhampton and Me exhibition, so we chose objects connected to Royal Weddings, such as stickers, commemorative beer bottles and ‘Charles & Diana’ brick. It was fascinating to learn more about those quirky objects and display them in a completely new context of an exhibition about family ties.
I’ve joined the team quite recently and still don’t know many of the objects in our collection, which I am hoping to learn about in the near future! These two works by Keith Piper are close to my heart as they were exhibited in the first show I curated at the Gallery. The black male and female figures are presented naked and with only part of their heads visible, suggesting an incomplete identity. The text around each of the figures describes notions of fear and desire. The portraits explore power relationships and the objectification of the black body – themes that were to recur in Piper’s work over the following decades.
It was also very difficult to pick just one work from The Courtauld Gallery’s collection since you have so many amazing pieces. I love your Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collection, for which you are of course the best known. It gives me this wonderful feeling of nostalgia, taking me back to my teenage years when I started being fascinated by art. Paintings by Edouard Manet, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gaugin and Vincent van Gogh were my starting points for further exploration of art history, which subsequently led me to study it at a University. I was not only captivated by paintings themselves but also by bohemian lives lived by the artists, often reflected in their art.
For this blog, I’ve decided to choose A Bar at the Folies-Bergère by Édouard Manet as my favourite work of art in your collection. It is one of your highlights, but I also have a personal connection to it, as I remember studying it carefully as a teenager. Manet’s representation of a bustling café bar influenced my teenage imagination and transferred me to 19th century Paris. It was the time when people’s lives shifted from home life to a more social environment of cafes, restaurants, art galleries, theatres and cabarets. It was the start of cultural life as we know it today. The cultural life I miss in the current unusual Covid-19 circumstances.
Find out more:
The Courtauld Gallery website has a page dedicated to A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, including talks, films and the latest research.
The Wolverhampton Arts and Culture website has more information about Keith Piper’s Body Type 1 & 2, including the recent exhibition, as well as opportunities to explore their collections virtually.
The Courtauld Gallery is currently undergoing major refurbishment and is due to reopen in 2021. With this exciting future in mind, we decided to share some of the fascinating history of the gallery building and its home at Somerset House.
2. It has been a home to royalty
There has been a Somerset House on the site since 1547, this older version of the building was built by the Duke of Somerset and was even home to Elizabeth I when she was still a princess from 1553 to 1558. The current building was begun in 1775 and took 26 years to complete.
3. It has held exhibitions for 200 years
The first institution to move into the new Somerset House in 1779 was the Royal Academy of Arts, they were quickly followed by the Royal Society and the Royal Society of Antiquaries. Until they moved to new premises in 1837, the RA held their annual exhibition in the Great Room, including works by the most famous artists of the day and presided over by Joshua Reynolds.
4. Somerset House brought the Courtauld together
In 1989 the Courtauld Gallery and Courtauld Institute moved into the North Wing of Somerset House. Prior to this expansion had left them been spread across several building at Portman Square with some of the collection on display at the Warburg, things were so cramped a temporary hut was built in a garden for students. This was a huge move for the Courtauld, opening up the collection to a much wider public and bringing together the teaching, research, collection and gallery into one space.
5. Courtauld Connects will transform the gallery spaces
The current refurbishment project, Courtauld Connects, will bring a new chapter to the long history of this important site. Honouring the past, the great room that once housed the RA exhibitions will be reopened into one large display space, but looking to the future the project will also increase accessibility, create a new learning centre, and provide state of the art studios for conservation. Find out more on the project website: Courtauld Connects
Over the next few weeks we’ll be sharing some of the fantastic research and expertise at the heart of the National Partners Programme with short articles introducing fun facts about key elements of the history we share with our partners – this week we take a look at rayon.
During the 1920s and 1930s, rayon was a wonder product that allowed Samuel Courtauld, chairman of Courtaulds Ltd, to amass the fortune he would later spend on the Courtauld art collection. The story of Rayon production is also a key part of the history of many communities across the UK and throughout of the programme we have been working with volunteers to capture the memories of those who made rayon and other cellulose fibres for Courtaulds Ltd.
1. It’s made of wood!
Although lots of chemicals are used to make rayon it isn’t a synthetic fibre because the core ingredient is natural cellulose which comes from wood pulp. Cellulose is harvested from the wood before being chemically converted and processed into a viscose liquid (which is why rayon is also called viscose), and spun into different solid fibres.
2. It used to be explosive!
In 1832 Henri Braconnot first discovered a process to break down cellulose using nitric acid but this created an unstable explosive chemical. The viscose process used to make rayon was refined by English chemist Charles Edward Cross in 1894 and Courtaulds Ltd bought the patents and licenses to this process for £25,000 in 1904.
3. It is the sister of cellophane!
Clear plastic wrapping and colourful textile rayon might not seem to have much in common but they both start life as viscose produced from wood pulp. So, it is unsurprising that Courtaulds Ltd also had a stake in British Cellophane Ltd which had plants at Bridgwater and Barrow-in-Furness.
4. It contributed to the war effort!
Viscose fibres are very versatile and can be made into a wide range of very useful products. In WW1 Courtaulds ‘artificial silk’ rayon was used in the production of parachutes and their research lab was involved in developing new fabrics that were better than the German ones. By WW2 industrial strength high-tenacity rayon was being used in the production of tyres and strong utility fabric was being used for everything from clothing to wrapping for heavy gun charges.
5. It hails from Coventry!
Courtaulds Ltd opened the first purpose built rayon factory in Coventry in 1905 soon after they had purchased the patents to the viscose process. This was the first of many factories in the UK and abroad, and viscose fibres continued to be the primary product of the company until the mid-20th Century.