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.