Art History for All with East Sussex College

In February 2020, Courtauld Educator Dr. Julian Freeman led an Art History for All workshop with East Sussex Coast College, which included a visit to Hastings Contemporary. Julian invited Ben Fairbrother – who took part in our programme at the college in 2015-16, and now works at Hasting Contemporary – to work with this year’s cohort.

In this blog post, Ben Fairbrother shares his experience of the day, and highlights the impact that our programmes have had on his progression to university and subsequent career


In January I gave a tour of Hastings Contemporary to a group of Access students from East Sussex College, as part of the Courtauld’s Art History for All outreach project. As a former student of the college I attended the project in 2016, so I jumped at the chance to help deliver it in 2020.

The Art History for All outreach project was for me, an introduction to The Courtauld and an invitation to take part in a working world I had previously seen as off-limits. The experience was one of multiple factors that encouraged me to pursue Art History at further education and beyond.

When I started the Access course in late 2015, I had no intention to take up Art History. I knew I wanted to be back in education and had picked a broad course to find my way there, but I had no real plan beyond it. However, within the Access course references to visual artefacts were regular and I was beginning to understand the wealth of information offered by paintings, pots, walls, and other artefacts.

The Courtauld came to the college in early 2016 running workshops in class and visits to galleries. An early workshop had groups design an exhibition using print outs of several paintings and another of a floor plan. It was a simple task, but each group had a unique arrangement and a solid explanation for it. This was an encouraging exercise in curation; however, the real benefit of these informative and accessible activities came later when the college visited the Courtauld. The previously imposing environment that a distinguished institution could present was now paired with a positive local experience and a friendly point of contact.

This was my first visit, which began with a tour of key works from the collection and ended with the imposing task of presenting a painting to the class and to any other visitors passing by. In a pair I presented Cranach’s Adam and Eve (1526), now one of my favourites within the collection. It was a flustered affair, but it provided an opportunity to participate where I would otherwise have only observed, engaging with a gallery in a new way.

Ben delivering a presentation on Cranach’s Adam and Eve at The Courtauld Gallery

I was encouraged to return for Insights into Art History, another day of workshops and conversations at the Courtauld. Here, I was able to spend time with pages torn from Turner’s sketchbooks and led through a contemporary exhibition, ‘Soaring Flight – Peter Lanyon’s Gliding Paintings.’ I had started the session unaware of the landscape paintings of John Constable but ended it thinking about how both his work and Turner’s related to Lanyon’s, all with the support and enthusiasm of those leading the sessions.

Ben took part in our Insights into Art History Programme in 2015-16

Much like Access was a crash course leading into higher education, the Courtauld workshops readied me to interact with art institutions with a new confidence I might otherwise only have gained after graduating. At university I drew upon these experiences in essay writing and research and ventured into multiple galleries, on foot or by email, asking for opportunities whether advertised or not. It was generally successful and always met with a pleasant response.

This beginning culminated in a successful stint studying art history at university and employment at a local gallery, where I have been since August 2019. Here, I am able to give tours of current exhibitions to the public and most recently, to the Access students.

Ben leading a tour of Hasting Contemporary to this year’s Art History for All participants from East Sussex College

The chance to deliver a tour similar to one I not so long ago received is a wonderful bookend to my early foray into Art History. It is also evidence of the ongoing support I have received from those working in the Courtauld and East Sussex College.

The aim of the tour, as it was when I was a student, was to illuminate some of the ways one can investigate a historic or contemporary artefact. Sometimes this requires participation as well as observation, perhaps questioning an authority such as a curator or artist. I wanted to stress the versatility of a gallery space and therefore, the scope of questions the students might ask, and their ability to ask those questions.

Written by Ben Fairbrother, Hastings Contemporary


Summer University 2019

Art History Summer University is a free week-long course for Year 12 students who are interested in Art History and thinking of applying to university. Over five days, 30 young people from non-selective state schools and colleges took part in lectures, seminars, and gallery visits to broaden their understanding of Art History as a subject, engage with the resources and expertise offered at The Courtauld Institute of Art, and have an introduction to university life.

With our site at Somerset House currently closed for refurbishment, this year’s Summer University was hosted at our Vernon Square campus in Kings Cross. The theme our young people explored over the course of the week was Art and Identity.

Thanks to the efforts of our Young People’s Programme Manager Helen Higgins and Dr Katie Faulkner, a wide-ranging and busy timetable was devised to ensure the students gained a real insight into what it is like studying Art History at The Courtauld, and the diverse areas of study and research students can pursue.

Katie’s introductory lecture What is Art History – Art and Identity? set the scene for the coming week, and further inspiring lectures and seminars followed, including an introduction to Islamic Arts and object handling session with Dr Sussan Babaie, an investigation of the Royal Academy’s surprising global links during the Eighteenth Century from Dr Esther Chadwick, a visual analysis session with Dr Jo Applin focussing on artists Howardena Pindell and Frank Bolwing, and an exploration of the changing face of Kings Cross through a walking tour of the area with Dr Emily Mann.

An object handling session with Dr Sussan Babaie, introducing students to Islamic Arts
Dr Emily Mann leading an exploration of the changing Architecture of Kings Cross

Students were also set a research project on the theme of Art and Identity, which would be presented to the rest of the group, their families and teachers at the end of the week. To gain an insight into curatorial practice, the students went on a variety of gallery visits. This included a tour led by Dr Karen Serres, Curator of Paintings at The Courtauld, of key works from The Courtauld Collection, on display at The National Gallery while The Courtauld Gallery is being refurbished. Courtauld alumna Suzanna Petot also led a visit to the exhibition Get Up Stand Up Now at Somerset House, exploring an incredible range of work from 110 Black British artists. The Courtauld’s current MA Curating the Art Museum students also met with the young people to lead a curating workshop and discuss their own Generations exhibition, which was the culmination of their course at The Courtauld Institute. 

A tour of key Courtauld Collection works on display at the National Gallery with Dr Karen Serres
Visiting the Get Up Stand Up Now exhibition at Somerset House


On each of these visits the students were asked to think critically about their experiences in these galleries as they developed their projects and undertook further group research within the The Courtauld’s specialist art library.

The Courtauld Institute is also home to a world-renowned Department of Conservation and Technology, and a visit to the conservation studio is often a highlight of the course for many students, bringing new layers – sometime literally – to studying works of art as physical objects. Courtauld Conservation lecturers Pippa Balch and Maureen Cross introduced the group to the science, technology and materials which conservators use both to investigate and to restore an artwork, and how technological advances can uncover details of a painting’s history which had been hidden or lost. Current Conservation student Kendall Francis had an inspiring discussion with the students about her path towards becoming a conservator, a discipline and career which young people may not have encountered before. 

The students were introduced to materials used by The Courtauld Insitute’s Conservation studio. Here they are trying imprinting in gold leaf

Another unique resource at The Courtauld is its Prints and Drawings Collection, one of the most impressive in the UK. In our Object Study Room, the students had the opportunity to view up-close works by Albrecht Durer, Edouard Manet, Rembrandt, Hogarth and others, selected by Helen Higgins and Assistant Curator of Works on Paper Dr. Rachel Sloan. Rachel encouraged the group to examine these works in close detail, considering the materials and techniques the artists used to create them, what they might be trying to convey about the subject of their drawing, and where we might look for clues about the historical, social and political circumstances in which the work was made.

A close-look at some of the works in our The Courtauld’s Prints and Drawings Collection

The final day of Summer University was spent researching and finalising the students’ Summer Exhibitions, before presenting them in the afternoon. This was a chance to bring together what had been learned over the course of the week, and to apply their own individual ideas, interpretations and research to the task of curation. It was a pleasure to witness how the students embraced the challenges thrown at them and watch their understanding of Art History, curation and conservation grow so rapidly over just five days. 

Students discussing and researching their virtual Summer exhibition, using mock-ups to help with their curating

It is a unique opportunity for inquisitive students to gain an understanding of what going to university is all about: meeting like-minded people, exploring new ideas and challenging yourself within a fun and supportive environment. 

Find out more about Art History Summer University 2020 or contact Helen Higgins, Oak Foundation Young People’s Programme Manager, on or 0203 947 7589. 

Portraiture and Expressive Colour

Curiosity didn’t kill the cat, pigment, acrylic, gesso on canvas, 180 x 150cm, 2016

Based at our new campus at Vernon Square in Kings Cross, 18 young people from schools and colleges across London joined us for the Portraiture and Expressive Colour study day. Building on the colour day at The National Gallery last month, this workshop would look at colour from an emotive and expressive viewpoint, and focus on its relationship to watercolour. Art Historian Fran Herrick and Contemporary Artist Nadine Mahoney led the day with a series of talks and creative activities in our new institute seminar room.

After an initial introduction, students studied a series of modern and contemporary portraits. Working in pairs, this independent study led them to compare and contrast a collection of images, then present their findings to the room. We were all taken back by the insight and breadth of their responses. This icebreaker not only united the group but brought up many excellent BA level responses! Key themes that emerged were the symbolism of colour and impact of abstraction.

The next step was for the participants to make their own collage using colour as a mode of expression.

Artist Nadine Mahoney introduced elements of her practice to illustrate ways of abstracting the figure and intuitive use of colour.  The responses were bold, bright, and so good they deserved a mini salon hang in the seminar room!

Art Historian Francesca Herrick gave a presentation on historical use of watercolour. Starting with some of the oldest works in the Courtauld collection she discussed how it has been highly valued by artists throughout art history. Its speed of application, low cost, and luminosity sustained its relevance in the studio, despite it being overshadowed by oils in exhibitions and scholarly appreciation. Fran’s selection of works included both sketches and standalone works; highlights included Young Hare by Albrecht Dürer, and Cézanne’s portraits. Dürer’s works demonstrate the lifelike capabilities of watercolour through its technical triumphs. Cézanne’s portraits of card players evoke more emotive qualities, the brush-marks are as laboured as his oils. Cézanne treated watercolours as standalone works rather than just studies, with some works taking as many as 115 sittings. Vollard described having a portrait made as ‘slow and occasionally painful’.

The institute courtyard was the perfect spot for lunch as we all basked in this beautiful sun trap.

To kick off the afternoon, Nadine presented her artistic practice. Discussing her paintings and drawings made over a 10 year period she outlined her interest in portraiture, identity, self, and their relevance to the origins of painting. Working uniquely with handmade water and oil based paint, she explained the role of materiality in her practice.

Then the fun started as students got to select pigments to make their own watercolours. Initially it was a bit tricky, but everyone soon got the hang of delicately lifting pigment out of the pot, mixing it into the special watercolour binder, filling the pan with paint, and tapping out air bubbles. An hour later everyone had 6 pans of varying colours and could begin their own painting.

The rest of the afternoon was spent making a watercolour painting inspired by portraiture. As a medium it can be challenging, so Nadine demonstrated some simple yet effective contemporary techniques. The group responded with a fantastic energy and focus, finishing their paintings in time for a critique. Paintings were displayed around the room and each student had two minutes to discuss what challenged them and what they found successful.

We were all hugely impressed by the students’ creative work, and their reflections throughout the day. If they had this level of insight pre-university study, we can only imagine what their future could hold!

Exploring the architecture of Somerset House

Somerset House, constructed between 1776 and 1801, has provided the setting and backdrop to many of our young people’s events, and the Insights day on Saturday 9th March provided an opportunity to piece together the building’s fascinating architectural, political and cultural histories.

In a seminar room, with original 18th-century decoration still in place, students participated in a discussion about the evolution of classical architecture. While students noted how certain features (pediments, columns, symmetry etc.) connect classical examples across the centuries, most agreed that each generation of architects has been able to adapt the language of classicism to varying contexts and needs. Art historian Francesca Herrick presented projects from recent decades that have engaged with classical proportions and forms, including designs by Zaha Hadid and Eric Parry.

We visited the Courtauld’s Conway Library and discovered rarely seen photographs that offer an excellent opportunity to trace the history of the Somerset House site. We could better appreciate the challenges that William Chambers, architect of Somerset House, faced, including demolishing a crumbling Tudor palace and working with a site that slopes down 12m from the Strand to the River Thames.

Following lunch, we warmed up for an active afternoon of walking and drawing with some ‘architecture yoga’, inspired by the shapes, structures and forces that are key to architectural construction. This light-hearted activity helped us to focus on the functional qualities of architecture that make it distinct from fine art disciplines.

Our tour began underneath the Strand entrance arches. The North Wing of Somerset House, currently leased by the Courtauld, was originally designed to house the Royal Academy of Arts. Students pointed out elements likely to have been inspired by Chambers’ time in Rome and by the excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum, which sparked a craze for a ‘new’ classicism in the second half of the 1700s. Contemporary artist Alexandra Blum showed us an engaging approach to drawing architectural forms that encourages close inspection of features and their relationships to each other.

Our next stop was the beautiful Nelson Staircase in the South Wing of Somerset House; the grandest spaces here were designed for use by the Naval Board. Students made sketches to better appreciate the innovative cantilevered forms of the staircase and the ways in which Chambers created movement within his design.

What followed was undoubtedly a highlight for the students as we were granted special access to the lightwells (open air corridors that run around the courtyard at basement level). These atmospheric spaces have been compared to the fantastical prison scenes of Giovanni Piranesi, who was a neighbour of Chambers in Rome. They provided rich inspiration for further sketches, with students honing in on selected shapes and forms, rather than attempting a full perspectival sketch.

There was just time at the end of the afternoon to visit the stunning Miles Staircase by contemporary architect Eva Jiřičná and to go out onto the terrace of Somerset House for one last drawing activity. Alex asked students to select two features (one of them moving!) from the river scene in front of us and to sketch them in relation to each other using charcoal. The artistic results were some of the most confident and expressive of the day.

We returned to our seminar room for a final discussion and display of work. It was an impressive output that encompassed a great variety of personal styles. Alex encouraged students to reflect on their experiments and to return to the techniques that they found both challenging and enjoyable.

Special thanks to Alex for sharing her practice and for giving us the confidence to break away from more traditional approaches to drawing architecture.

A Healthy Prognosis!

The Courtauld Institute of Art’s Regional Outreach collaboration with Access to Higher Education at East Kent College has moved into new territory. A workshop in Dover for Humanities students during October 2018 proved so positive amongst its participants that the college asked for more if possible. Would it be possible to pilot something similar for students aiming for degrees in Healthcare professions? The Courtauld learning team were delighted with the idea, and responded with suggestions for two sessions based on the use of art history to enhance observation and understanding among Nursing students. On 11 March Dover’s 40 Access to Healthcare students – aiming for degrees in every area of the subject – participated in A Picture of Health, two workshops of two sessions each.

The first session drew on recent American published research suggesting that art historical analysis can help Nursing students to improve accuracy in observational skills and descriptive precision when recording clinical conditions. To air this idea, the Courtauld Outreach team combined the findings of several research papers to deliver two lively facilitated workshops requiring considered visual analysis of a group of portraits (including van Gogh’s famous Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear of 1889) and speedy assessments of the merits of different hard-copy source material, from the largely speculative to the impeccably reputable.

College and Courtauld tutors were often surprised by the input and responses of both student groups during the two workshops, and especially by the practical work created in the closing, practical sessions. These were based on current research into the use of patients’ drawings to illustrate their understanding of their own clinical experience, and also as therapy. Students were asked to become the patients, to make an expressive drawing or diagram in 20 minutes to convey some aspect of their own health, past or present, that might aid a third party to more clearly understand their concerns or conditions. After some initial trepidation (“…but I can’t / don’t know what to draw…”), both groups responded with some fascinating, often very brave material, some of which had almost immediate and unsought therapeutic results for the authors. More on this in 2019-20…

Julian Freeman

Exploring Colour – from Medieval to Contemporary!

During Spring Half term we ran a popular Insights into Art History workshop on the theme of colour. The temporary closure of The Courtauld Gallery has encouraged us to make use of other world class collections around London and for this event we were kindly hosted by the National Gallery and Tate Modern.

We met in bright sunshine in Trafalgar Square and settled into the National Gallery’s Education Centre for an overview of the science of making and perceiving colours. Art historian Francesca Herrick introduced participants to some of the world’s oldest recorded pigments. We were able to handle some of the expensive minerals, including lapis lazuli, azurite and malachite, which were sought after by artists for millennia for their purity of colour.

We also discussed the limits of science, and indeed language, when it comes to articulating the cultural and personal meanings of colour. In the modern era, artists readily seized on innovations such as the development of accurate colour wheels and internationally recognised colour charts, but remained highly attuned to colour’s social, religious and psychological significances.

In the gallery itself, we talked about medieval artists’ application of gold leaf to represent divine light and the various techniques involved for creating spectacular patterns. Connections with fashion and textiles came up frequently over the course of the morning, from the sumptuary laws that restricted what colours people could wear depending on their class, to the cochineal beetles used to produce rich crimson dyes and lake pigments from the 16th century.

Artworks by Titian, the great Venetian master of colour, were an essential stop on our visit. Thinking like Renaissance artists, we weighed up the value of careful drawing versus applying expressive colour straight onto the canvas. We finished the morning in front of J. M. W. Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire (1839), which was created with a surprising combination of traditional pigments and new synthetic paints that were a product of his own industrial age.

The afternoon workshop at Tate Modern was led by art historian and contemporary artist Kate Aspinall who continued the story of colour into the middle of the 20th century with an emphasis on how evolving colour theories, commercial uses of symbolic colours and experimental formulas of acrylic paints inspired Abstract and Pop artists to develop revolutionary approaches to applying paint to canvas.

Kate led us into Tate Modern’s specially designed space that houses a selection of Mark Rothko’s magnificent Seagram murals (1958). Students heard how Rothko’s bequest to the Tate followed a complete change of location and intention (originally destined from the high-end Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagram Building, Mies van der Rohe’s radical Modernist skyscraper in New York City).

Red on Maroon Mural, Section 74, Mark Rothko, 1959, Photo: © Tate, London 2019

Kate explained that Rothko loved traditional carmine and crimson pigments, but working on a large scale necessitated some cheaper industrial forms of the paints (the gallery lights are kept dimmed to prevent these fading). Only in person is it possible to appreciate the physical texture of the canvases and the complex layering of different paint types that leads to the works’ astonishing visual effects; light appears to emanate from the seemingly pulsating portals of colour.

We also encountered Brigit Riley’s dizzying Op Art, which takes advantage of the inherent instability of colour and draws on a scientific approach to colour theory pioneered by the French Pointillist George Seurat. Riley, like Seurat, found an aesthetic expression that made use of dots and relied on the eye to perceive colour combinations. The role of the eye was also considered in relation to later artists’ use of light-technologies, from fluorescents to lasers and holograms, to further experiment with our anatomical experience of colour in art.

Colour Cycle III, Peter Sedgley (b.1930), 1970, Photo © Tate, London

Kate concluded her tour with a remarkable painting by Peter Sedgley that is continually transformed by a pre-programmed sequence of coloured lighting directed at the canvas.

For the final part of the day, students worked independently to select an artwork and make their own creative interpretation by altering the hue, intensity or value of its colours.

We gathered in the Turbine Hall afterwards to discuss how the students had changed the mood or effect of the originals. Familiar and iconic artworks were completely transformed and we were hugely impressed by the students’ energy at the end of such a full schedule.

With special thanks to Kate for sharing her fascinating research.

Francesca Herrick


Art, Architecture: Women and Power

A new Insights into Art History study day in collaboration with the Queen’s House, Royal Museums Greenwich!

On Saturday 19 January the Courtauld’s Young People’s Programme embarked on an exciting new partnership with the Queen’s House, Greenwich, in order to learn about remarkable royal women from history who used architecture and other forms of cultural expression to self-fashion powerful identities.

Twenty young people from state schools and colleges across London started the day at The Courtauld Institute of Art (Somerset House campus) with an introduction to the Tudor and Stuart queens whose portraits we would later encounter at the Queen’s House.

Art historian Francesca Herrick presented images of Old Somerset House, which was the property of a succession of queens from Elizabeth I to Catherine of Braganza (this building was demolished in the 1770s to make way from the current structure – see here for the full history).

The talk was followed by a tour of the Somerset House site that emphasized the earlier Tudor palace’s connections with the river Thames (the most convenient way to travel in the 16th and 17th centuries). Students heard about the elaborate, and sometimes controversial, entertainments staged by Queen Anne of Denmark with the help of architect and set-designer Inigo Jones.

The choppy boat ride to Greenwich was a first for many of the participants. Our journey, which took us past the City of London and the Tower of London, would have been made countless times by the Tudor and Stuart queens, with key events in their lives marked by spectacular river pageants.

Like royals and visiting dignitaries of old, we disembarked near Sir Christopher Wren’s Royal Naval Hospital and made our way past the imposing Baroque architecture to Inigo Jones’ more modestly scaled Queen’s House.

Royal Museums Greenwich curators Matilda Pye and Allison Goudie helped the group to visualize the location in Tudor times when redbrick, timber framed buildings were the norm. The Queen’s House, with its perfect symmetry and pristine stonework, took inspiration from the villas of Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio and was the first Classical building in England.

The inscription above the entrance states that the patron who brought this innovative structure to completion in 1635 was Queen Henrietta Maria, following the death of Anne of Denmark in 1619.

Inside the Queen’s House, Matty and Allison guided discussion around the famous Armada Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I (painted in 1588), with a focus on its imperial and political symbolism. We learnt how seemingly extreme fashions conveyed important messages about the wearer’s social status and were a means by which women could test and challenge expectations surrounding gender and behavior. Some students were left a little startled by Mat Collishaw’s Mask of Youth; an animatronic portrait that approximates Elizabeth’s appearance at the age when the Armada portrait was painted.

There was further opportunity to explore portraits in the Queen’s House with a practical workshop led by contemporary artist Raksha Patel. Students were given a paper silhouette (revealed at the end of day to be the outline of Black Panther’s Queen of Wakanda) and asked to design a costume that expressed their own identity through reinventing representational devices in historical portraits. Contemporary photographic portraits by Bettina von Zwehl provided models for more contemplative forms of self-expression.

Amran, 2018. Courtesy of Bettina von Zwehl. Commissioned by the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

At the end of the day students had just enough time to display and discuss their collaged creations in the Great Hall of the Queen’s House. Architecture and artworks came together brilliantly as the costume designs echoed those that would have been worn at the elaborate court masques staged by Anne of Denmark and Henrietta Maria.

Thank you to Matty, Allison and Raksha for enlightening us about these incredible women and giving us fresh perspectives on both architectural and national history.

Booking is now open for our next Insights into Art History study day – we look forward to seeing you there!

Francesca Herrick


An Exciting New Collaboration in Dover!

On 8 November Access students following East Kent College’s Humanities / Social Sciences diploma took part in a Courtauld Institute workshop in Dover. It was the start of a pilot project, devised as a collaboration between the East Kent Access teaching team and the Courtauld’s outreach programmers, with the aim of using visual sources to enhance students’ research skills before university entry.

The idea sounds simple, and it is. We live in a visual world. Why not use the almost limitless extent of art, in all its facets, to inform academic studies that would usually be led by textual sources? The Courtauld has been particularly keen to develop its outreach activities in Kent. East Kent’s broad-based Access to Humanities programme was suggested as a suitable combination of subjects for a pilot project, and the appearance of Modern Literature and European History units early in the Autumn curriculum could not have been better timed.

The day’s sessions were varied, and facilitated by Dr Julian Freeman, a Courtauld Gallery tutor. Introducing students to the Courtauld, its history and its aims, he especially emphasised the opportunities for students to use visual material as context for apparently unrelated study pathways. Students who had been sceptical at 0930 began to respond. In the interactive session that followed, students were invited to ‘curate’ an exhibition using postcard reproductions in a gallery of their own imagining. This session features often in Courtauld outreach activity, and engages even the most reluctant participants. Dover was no exception. Reticence went out of the window: every student spoke.

The momentum was maintained in the last session, focusing on art in the First World War, and its potential use as context by students in modern fiction studies, and in the history of the era. It was an entertaining launch for a new collaboration, from which much more is expected in due course.

Taking the Plunge: Hastings students in at the deep end!

Since 2014 adult students from Sussex Coast College in Hastings have had an annual date with art history specialists from The Courtauld. Each year Humanities students hoping to head for Higher Education take a unit in Critical Studies as part of their Access Diploma. This is basically a ten-week, fast and furious introduction to the histories of Art and Design. It’s a tough call for any student, and tougher if art galleries aren’t high on your list of priorities. Nevertheless, these students will raise their game if they have access to primary resources, and it would be difficult to improve on the quality of The Courtauld’s collections. But before the students discover the delights of the Gallery, the Courtauld visits them.

One day a year, usually in bleakest February or March, a specialist art historian educator from The Courtauld visits Hastings to present a day’s workshop activities for Access students, in support of their Critical Studies unit. No-one knows what might happen but the outcomes have been brilliant. Students who say they know nothing about Art become enthusiasts. Uncertainty is turned upside down to become enjoyment. And when students are told that, in return, they must visit The Courtauld and give individual presentations about works in the Gallery, there are always those whose immediate response is something like “over my **** body… no way!”

But the students do visit, and, after an Easter vacation in which they are expected to research works they have chosen themselves from those on display, they take the plunge and discuss an artefact – in situ, in the gallery space – that they have usually only ever seen once before. In around five minutes they offer their responses to a range of works from the medieval to the modern, often with a break at the Bar at the Folies Bergere in between. The outcomes are always extraordinary; for their tutors, for the Courtauld educators and, especially, for the students themselves. Everyone involved learns something new. Students gain confidence in presentation skills, and the value of visual evidence in unusual settings – History perhaps, or English Lit. Courtauld Educators, who regularly lead tours, refresh their thinking about artefacts that they might not otherwise include in their activities.

The result? The students return to the closing stages of their course upbeat and invigorated, and suddenly the murky waters of research don’t seem quite so daunting. You should try it.

(Above: Visit to The Courtauld Institute of Art and The Courtauld Gallery)

Dr Julian Freeman, former Sussex Coast College Access Co-ordinator, and current Courtauld Educator.

For more information about our Art History For All programme for schools and colleges outside London, please contact Helen Higgins, Oak Foundation Young People’s Programme Coordinator 0203 947 7589


Art History Summer University Applications NOW OPEN!

We are very excited to announce that applications for Summer University 2018 are now open! Further information about the application process can be found on our website. The deadline for applications is Friday 25th May 2018.

Summer University runs from Monday 16 to Friday 20 July 2018. This year’s theme is Art and Identity looking at art history in its contexts, as well as studying art from across the world in a variety of London collections including our very own Courtauld Gallery.

Summer University is specifically designed to give Year 12 students an opportunity to spend four days experiencing student life at a world-class university, The Courtauld Institute of Art, with its own beautiful art gallery.

You will work closely with distinguished academics, gallery curators and professionals, as well as current and recent undergraduate students from The Courtauld. It is a great addition to any UCAS form, no matter the subject you plan to study, and an invaluable taster of what the arts and humanities offer at higher education.

To apply to take part you must be currently studying at a UK state school or Further Education (FE) college, with an interest in finding out more about Art History and the possibilities of studying the subject at degree level.

This is a free non-residential course designed for students from non-selective state school or college.

The deadline for applications is Friday 25th May 2018.

Please email Helen Higgins at to find out more.

We look forward to hearing from you soon!