We are sharing the experiences of some of our volunteers in a series of blogs by the team behind the Memories from Carrickfergus exhibition and film. This week we hear from Aimee Palmer;
The Courtaulds project has been an interesting and enjoyable project to volunteer on, from the initial research stage, to learning about the history of the company and all the factories they had. The information we gathered as a group helped us to create a short film, booklet and online exhibition, and I especially liked that we got to interview former employees about their stories and experiences of working at the factory.
Before interviewing the former employees, we had to do a photo call at the Ulster Museum to help us gather a response. Thankfully, there was a lot of interest in it and past employees were eager to come forward to tell their story. I interviewed a man called Billy; he started off as an apprentice, working in the painting and decorating department. It was great hearing his stories of his time there and how he looked back on his apprenticeship with such fondness.
Volunteering has been a nice way to connect with people during the pandemic. Our weekly Teams meetings kept us all in touch with one another, and it was good to work on something with the other volunteers and also to collaborate with staff from National Museums NI to complete the project.
Valerie Wilson, Curator of Textiles, provided us with fabulous examples of Courtaulds products within the collection held at the Ulster Folk Museum which were a great inspiration to us.
The project has pushed me out of my comfort zone by reaching out to the public and interviewing people, which is something I have never done before, so I feel that I have gained new skills from the process. It has also given me more confidence for any future volunteer projects like this one.
(Image: purple and white tank top of acetate and polyester, made by Courtaulds’ CELESTA brand around the mid -1970s)
We are sharing the experiences of some of our volunteers in a series of blogs by the team behind the Memories from Carrickfergus exhibition and film. This week Joanne White tells us her story;
The opportunity to become involved as a volunteer for this project came out of the blue and at a strange time, in the middle of a global pandemic. I received an unexpected email from National Museums NI in November 2020 seeking volunteers for ‘an exciting project’ to carry out research into Courtaulds Ltd, a UK based manufacturer of fabric and clothing, who had a site in Carrickfergus. I was vaguely aware of the factory building having worked in the local area, but I knew very little of its history or that of Courtaulds, other than it had an art gallery in London.
My first task as a volunteer was researching the history of the Courtaulds factory at Carrickfergus. This included locating local news stories, film archive footage and the products made at the factory. For the newspaper stories, I was asked to concentrate on the 1970s-1980s. It became apparent that I was reading about the steady decline of a factory and industry during this period. The confidence that the Carrickfergus factory had when it first opened in 1950 was gradually overtaken by job losses, competition from overseas markets and ongoing trading difficulties.
Once our research was completed, we decided to focus on producing a film about the factory at Carrickfergus consisting of interviews with former workers and their relatives. This was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the project. I was fortunate to be able to meet with Bill, Dot, Robert and Brendan. Although the factory had been closed for forty years, I was struck by the affection they retained in working for Courtaulds. A repeated phrase during the interviews was ‘factory family’ and former employees highlighted the opportunities which they had been given such as to live locally, earn a decent salary, gain qualifications or apply for promotions.
To accompany the film, I participated with the other volunteers in writing a booklet entitled ‘We are Courtaulds’. The title was inspired by the people we had interviewed for the purposes of making the film. We decided early on that we wanted the design of the booklet to have a 1950s style to it which was inspired by the adverts for Courtaulds’ clothing from the period. These adverts were distinctive in their use of bold primary colours. I was also interested in their use of contrasting images set alongside each other such as the evening dress and car tyre (both produced from Courtaulds’ factory materials). On content, we all agreed that the booklet would concentrate on three main themes: place, people and product.
For me, listening to the stories of the people who made Courtaulds’ products, getting a glimpse into their lives at the factory and the friendships they made, was the most interesting part of the project. Whilst the remnants of the factory might not be around forever, I hope that the film, booklet and online exhibition all contribute towards telling the history of Courtaulds Ltd at Carrickfergus.
Over the coming weeks we’ll be sharing the experiences of some of our volunteers in a series of blogs by the team behind the Memories from Carrickfergus exhibition and film. This week’s story comes from Rachel Sayers;
Throughout 2021, I have found volunteering for the Courtaulds project at National Museums NI immensely enjoyable, as not only have I met some wonderful people through the project, I have also enhanced my knowledge of textile and fashion production in Northern Ireland. Researching, finding, and discussing our research has been incredibly exciting as we delved further into the people, place, and products that made Courtaulds Carrickfergus. Learning from one another every week during our digital meet-ups has afforded me new skills in using newspapers, advertisements, and other first-hand sources in historical research whilst also gleaming invaluable skills in team work and volunteering, albeit digitally!
A particular highlight was interviewing the oral history participants and hearing their wonderful stories and insights into their working lives at Courtaulds. One of my interviewees, June, lives in British Columbia but through the power of Zoom, we were able to record an interview with her – one of the benefits of the 2021 lockdown! June regaled me with her experiences of working at Courtaulds, particularly how she met her husband and trained to work in the accounting office.
June had an excellent time working for Courtaulds and made life-long friends, with one friend being her bridesmaid at her wedding in the early 1960s and regularly visiting one another in both Canada and Northern Ireland. The emphasis from all my interviewees was the comradery between workers, particularly the people you worked closely with, and a happy balance between work and play – especially the famous Christmas party held every year for staff and residents of Carrickfergus!
As someone who is interested in local dress and textile history, the stories of textile production from the interviewees and from our research greatly enhanced my own knowledge of textile production across Northern Ireland. I read with interest how rayon, nylon, polyester etc. produced at the Courtaulds factory at Carrickfergus was used in 1950s Dior inspired dress, 1960s Mary Quant style miniskirts, and the famous flares of the 1970s and worn by people from across the world. From local to global, Courtaulds-produced material was utilised by designers, dressmakers and shops across the world to produce high-quality products that started life in Carrickfergus.
Volunteering has been a wonderful highlight of my year, which has been difficult for many. Even though meetings have been conducted online, we have managed to collate interesting information into a wonderful booklet, film, and an online exhibition. The emphasis has always been on the place, people and product, which I feel is reflected in all our outcomes and I look forward to hearing feedback from our participants. I hope in the future to volunteer again with National Museums NI as the experience has been brilliant.
(Image of Courtaulds employees in their own wonderful fashions, courtesy of Frances O’Brien)
To celebrate the Monet in Mind exhibition at The Ferens, on 10th June Dr Karen Serres joined the Future Ferens to discuss the exhibition, Monet’s practice and approaches to curating Monet’s Antibes. You can now view the recording of the event on The Courtauld’s YouTube channel and Karen has also written this guest blog to share some lesser-known facts about Impressionism.
The term was originally an insult.
The group of artists we now know as the Impressionists came together to show their work in Paris in 1874, after having been rejected from the annual state-sponsored exhibition where artists’ reputation had typically been made. They wanted to promote a new way of painting and rented a small studio to display their work. Critics initially dismissed it as unfinished and too sketchy, giving only the impression of things, and not a finished, accurate depiction. This is in fact what the painters sought to do, with Monet calling one of his paintings Impression, Sunrise. The artists adopted the insult as their own and organised seven more ‘Impressionist’ exhibitions over the next decade.
A simple technical innovation made the movement possible.
Up until the middle of the 19th century, artists were a bit stuck in their studios because the paints they used had to prepared right before they started to work (many artists had assistants do this, mixing ground pigments with oil to create a thick coloured paste). The invention of the small tin tube allowed oil paint to be stored without drying and squeezed out in small quantities as needed. Paint could be carried around easily, thus allowing artists to leave the studio and work out of doors. They could also use many different colours at a time.
Working out of doors could be challenging.
Painting landscapes was an important part of the Impressionists’ mission. It enabled them to study the changing light on the same feature at different times of day for example, or to render reflections on the water with their characteristic short brushstrokes. Earlier painters had made sketches in nature but finished their landscape paintings in the studio. The Impressionists most often painted theirs entirely outside; bits of sand or insects are regularly found embedded in the paint. Monet even had a small boat fitted as a studio so he could paint views of the river. He was also one of the few Impressionist painters who continued to paint outside in winter, creating beautiful snow scenes.
The Impressionists were excited to represent modern life.
In their formal training, painters were usually taught that certain themes were more worthy of being represented than others. These included religious or historical scenes (preferably from ancient Rome) and portraits of statesmen for example. The Impressionists argued that life around them was more interesting and set out to paint their surroundings and their friends, documenting the exciting developments that Paris was experiencing in the late 19th century. New cafés and places of entertainment were opening, department stores encouraged a new society of consumers, people spent more leisure time in parks, along riverbanks and on the coast, which they could reach thanks to the expanding railroad. Paris was an exciting place to be at that time, although the Impressionists also painted those exploited by this boom, such as impoverished factory and service workers.
England played an important role in the development of Impressionism.
In 1870-71, many French artists settled in London, fleeing the Franco-Prussian war that had left Paris isolated and starving. In London, they were able to start painting again and expand their networks. It was in London for example that two Impressionist painters, Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro, met the French dealer that would become their champion, Paul Durand-Ruel. Thanks to him, Impressionist works were regularly exhibited in London throughout the 1870s and beyond. However, no gallery was buying these works and it wasn’t until the 1920s that Impressionism was properly represented in public collections in the UK, thanks to Samuel Courtauld’s purchases and support.
As galleries across the UK look at how to operate within new social distancing guidelines, The Harris has taken a new approach to encouraging visitors to make their own drawings inspired by The Artful Line exhibition. In this guest blog, Holly Nesbitt tells us more about how and why they had to change their plans.
The Artful Line is an exhibition that explores drawing in all its forms. We have a wide range of drawings on display, including four loans from The Courtauld Gallery and rarely seen works from our own collection.
We were very keen on involving visitors with drawing in the gallery. So we had a table with lots of drawing materials (including sketchbooks, paper, different drawing pencils and coloured pencils) and some drawing activities to do in the space, as well as ones to take home. Visitors could also send their drawings to us via email, social media or they could hand them to a member of staff and they would be put on a tv gallery in the space. This was really popular with visitors, especially families during the half-term holidays.
Just before the building closed due to Covid-19, all of the materials were removed from the space. When we reopened in July, the current guidance meant that we couldn’t have the materials back in the space. In spite of this, we still wanted to involve visitors with drawing.
To do this we created art packs that people could take home from the gallery. They include some different coloured sugar paper, different shade pencils, a rubber and an activity created by Gavin Renshaw and The Courtauld Gallery Learning Team. This was completed during lockdown and was released as a part of the online exhibition for the Artful Line. Gavin Renshaw was one of the artists commissioned to create a drawing for the exhibition, he created four drawings entitled Caliban, which he refers to in the activity.
Also in the packs is a sheet telling people where to find other resources. During the Artful Line online exhibition, we commissioned other artists to create drawing activities and resources for people to do at home. One of these was done by Kathryn Poole, another of the artists commissioned to create a drawing for the exhibition, and another resource was created by Oxheys, an independent artist collective, who created the activities that were in the gallery before Covid-19. For the online exhibition they created video versions of the activities. All of this can be find on our Artful Line exhibition page, which the sheet details. Visitors still have a chance to have their drawings featured on the tv gallery if they send their drawing to us.
Find out more:
An online tour of the exhibition, learning activities and details about how to visit The Harris in person can be found on The Artful Line webpage.
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.
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.
As part of our ongoing series to celebrate the collections of our partners and the Courtauld Gallery, this week Anna Liesching, Curator of Art at Ulster Museum, chooses works by two outstanding female artists working in male-dominated movements in the early 20th century.
As part of the Courtauld Connects project I was lucky to visit the Courtauld works on paper store to spend the morning with Dr Ketty Gottardo, Martin Halusa Curator of Drawings. The main purpose of my visit was to select work for our upcoming loan, but like any curator visiting another collection’s store, I could not miss the opportunity to see the range of work held and hear from Ketty about the collection and her work.
My main take away from the day was the sheer range within the Courtauld collection. Like many, I associate the collection with the Impressionists, so it was wonderful to see the breadth demonstrated through works by Rembrandt, Michelangelo and Dürer. I have returned to my photographs of the visit many times. The significance of that day has also grown, it was three weeks before lockdown (what feels like a lifetime ago) and was actually the last time I was in any kind of collection store!
I keep returning to this work by Helen Saunders, and my delight to know that Courtauld still actively collected. This was something of which I was not aware, that I see now should not have been surprising. So when asked to take part in this blog series I wanted to select a piece to highlight this contemporary collecting.
I was vaguely aware of Saunders existence, mainly that she was a member of the Vorticists and that was only through my particular research interest in the work of women artists.
Helen Saunders was born in 1885 in London. She studied at the Slade, something recognisable in her figurative work. I always think you can spot a Slade student from that time because so much attention was put on study in the life room. She then went on to the Central School of Art and Crafts. She exhibited widely in her early career and was one of only two women who signed the Vorticist manifesto, Blast 1, in 1914, along with Jessica Dismor.
I have always been drawn to the Vorticists, and the fact that they were such a brief movement. Only really flourishing between 1912 and 1915, it still had an impact on the artists involved and many since. I’m particularly captured by art movements that have reacted to wider moments of change in society, and that set out to agitate and rail against the structure of the art system. Vortisicm reflected the energy of the modernist era, working in abstraction, often taking inspiration from machinery. It could also be considered that Vortisicm foreshadowed the impending violence of the First World War in the violence of some of some of the work produced.
However this work is not from that time. It is, in fact, a portrait of Blanche Caudwell. Though it is a figurative work, it still reflects her use of shape from her Vorticist days. Following her involvement in the movement, Saunders’ style moved towards the figure and landscapes. Saunders met Blanche Caudwell in 1933 and they shared a flat from the mid-1930s until Caudwell’s death in 1950. Caudwell frequently sat for Saunders during this time.
As I primarily look after works of art on paper, and fine art by local artists, I wanted to choose something from the Ulster Museum collection that I do not often get the opportunity to write about. I have selected this piece by Mary Martin, another woman who was a member of a male dominated group that innovated artistic practice- the British Constructivists.
Born Mary Balmford in 1907, she studied at Goldsmiths’ College and then at the Royal College of Art. She exhibited with the Artists International Association, whose membership was 40% women, from 1934, mainly as a still-life and landscape painter. It is interesting to note that because the gallery and academy system was so closed, many women artists exhibited as part of groups as this was often they only way they could get their work seen. You will often find that exhibition groups had large proportions of women members.
Mary Martin was one of the most influential Constructivist artists of her generation. The British Constructivist Group often created work that centred on the ‘act of assembling’ and saw an importance in the form and aesthetic of mathematical principals and geometric composition. Similar to the Vorticists, the British Constructivists were concerned with new principles of design and environment, but possibly in a more conceptual and reimagined way and less reactive to their current environment. Also similar in how the Vorticists were reacting to European Cubism and Futurism, the British Constructivists were creating their own vision and revival of a movement that derived elsewhere (though 30 years before) Russian Constructivism.
Martin often used natural elements as inspiration and developed from that, specifically the idea of natural elements moving away from a central force – dispersal. For example, Dispersal on Black uses half cubes arranged to combine reflections and open planes. The mirrored shapes are not clustered together in the centre, but disperse towards the edges. She often described this as a ‘super-pattern’. She used drawings to create ‘workings out’ in order to decide on the final construction for a relief piece, these drawings were often displayed alongside the works.
Mary Martin is often associated with her husband Kenneth Martin, also a member of the British Constructivists. They often worked together collaboratively, most notably on the Environment section of the ‘This is Tomorrow’ exhibition the Whitechapel gallery in 1956.
I am also drawn to this piece knowing of Martin’s link to Belfast. The screen she was commissioned to design for Musgrave Park Hospital in 1957 placed her vision of a new era within my own built environment.
Find out more:
An example of Saunder’s Vorticist work from the Courtauld Collection is currently on show in the Artful Line virtual tour, curated by the Harris Museum, Art Gallery & Library.
The collections of Ulster Museum, including other works by Mary Martin, can be explored through their website.
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.
Samuel Courtauld was a man of many talents, as chairman of Courtaulds Ltd he was an important industrialist and government advisor, and as a philanthropist and art collector he helped to establish the Courtauld Institute as well as contributing to the collections at the National Gallery. His devotion to sharing art was also a significant inspiration in developing the Courtauld National Partners Programme. To celebrate his birthday on 7th May, Karen Serres, Curator of Paintings at the Courtauld Gallery, shares some insights into the character of this fascinating and influential man.
1. Despite his wealth, he considered himself a bit of a maverick and an outsider.
Although Samuel Courtauld was, thanks to his family business, part of the wealthy middle class, he was proud of his independent spirit. This applied to his taste in art of course: his niece recalled how shocked his friends were when he started buying Impressionist paintings and hanging them in his elegant 18th-century townhouse. However, it is also evident in the way that he viewed his role in the Courtaulds company. Unusually amongst industrialists at the time, he wanted workers to have large shares in the company so they could reap the profits of their labour. He also promoted education, childcare, sick leave and pension benefits among his employees, and lobbied the government to extend them to other businesses.
2. He never went to university.
Born in prosperous family, Samuel went to a prestigious boarding school. He did not go on to university, unlike his siblings (including his sisters, a rare occurrence at the time). Instead, he became an apprentice in textile factories in Germany and France, which enabled him to learn the family business. He then joined one of the Courtaulds textile mills in Essex and rose through the ranks. He became chairman of the company in 1921.
3. His wife, Elizabeth, bought their first works of modern art.
In 1901, Samuel married Elizabeth Kelsey, who shared his passion for art. A patron of music and progressive benefactor of social causes in her own right, Elizabeth is the one who initiated their purchases of French modern art. In 1922, she bought two recently painted works, Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Woman Tying her Shoe and Saint-Paul, Côte d’Azur by a young artist in the Cubist vein, Jean Marchand. Her taste seems to have been more avant-garde than Samuel’s. For example, she loved Picasso, which he didn’t.
4. He exhausted his friends going to exhibitions.
Samuel and his wife Elizabeth were avid travellers: they went to Aix-en-Provence to trace Paul Cézanne’s footsteps, met dealers, artists and collectors all over Europe and America, and visited many exhibitions. One of their friends commented on Samuel’s endless energy for looking at art: ‘pictures excite Sam so much that he spends sleepless nights, he visited … Degas, Braque and Constantin Guys’ exhibitions [in one day]’.
5. He wrote poetry about works of art.
Poetry had always been an important part of Courtauld’s life but it was only after he retired that he was able to fulfil his long-standing desire to publish his own poetry. Entitled Pictures into Verse, the book of poems showcased Courtauld’s responses to old master and Impressionist paintings that he loved. Two paintings in his own collection were included, Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s La Loge (The Theatre Box) and Spring, Chatou. Courtauld was proud of the volume and sent it to friends and correspondents in the art world. He died a few weeks after its publication. One of his friends said that Courtauld had been ‘a businessman with the soul of a poet’.