What is drawing?

During October half term we had a brilliant Insights into Art History workshop all about drawing. Throughout the day we considered the following questions:

  • What is drawing, and how do we define it?
  • In what ways can art history inform an artist’s practice?
  • How do contemporary artists use drawing today?

We started the day with Dr Ketty Gottardo (Martin Halusa Curator of Drawings), investigating the exploratory nature of drawing. Ketty gave us a brilliant tour of The Courtauld Gallery’s Drawing Together exhibition, which presents unexpected pairings of drawings from The Courtauld Gallery’s drawings collection alongside works by living artists.

This included an incredible drawing by artist Jenny Saville, on loan from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford:

Jenny Saville, Study of Arms II (after the Titian drawing), 2015, Charcoal and pastel on tinted ground (acrylic) on watercolor paper, 90 × 70 cm, © Jenny Saville. Collection of the Ashmolean Museum, Photo by Prudence Cuming

You can find out more about Jenny Saville’s drawing here.

By displaying the works of old masters alongside contemporary works, the curators encouraged us to compare artists’ approaches to drawing across several centuries.

It was fascinating to see so many formal similarities, as well as contrasts. For example, Hans Hartung’s improvised abstract drawing echoes the dynamic marks found two centuries earlier in George Romney’s private sketchbook!

George Romney (1734 – 1802), Group of Figures (Page of a sketchbook), 1790, © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London
Hans Hartung (1904-1989), Composition in black and yellow, 1958, Wax crayon on paper, © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

After our introduction to the Drawings Gallery we visited the Courtauld’s Prints and Drawings Study Room with Dr Rosamund Garrett (Bridget Riley Art Foundation Curatorial Assistant) and Helen Higgins (Oak Foundation Young People’s Programme Coordinator).

We were encouraged to closely examine a selection of drawings laid out for us by Dr Rachel Sloan (Assistant Curator of Works on Paper), and spent time drawing from them.

It was a really intimate encounter which helped us to analyse and understand how the drawings had been constructed. It felt like a rare glimpse into the mind of the artists!

Before lunch we also had a behind-the-scenes tour of the Courtauld Gallery’s paper conservation studio with Kate Edmondson (Conservator of Works on Paper). Kate introduced us to the processes involved in examining, cleaning, conserving and storing works on paper.

Kate showed us how conservators shine light through the paper (this is called ‘transmitted’ light) and across the surface of the paper (known as ‘raking’ light) to investigate the condition of the paper before carrying out any kind of treatment.

We examined naturally occurring drawing materials like red chalk and graphite under the microscope, and handled samples of Japanese paper, a fibrous looking tissue used for delicate repairs.

Did you know… that all the repairs a conservator makes have to be reversible and removable? This is so that future conservators are able to see what changes have been made and use the latest conservation techniques.

It was fascinating learning about the role of a paper conservator; how art and science collide – and – that you don’t necessarily have to take A- level Chemistry to train as a paper conservator!

In the afternoon we had a chance to put art history into practice through a drawing workshop delivered by artist Helen Higgins.

We responded to several works we had studied in the morning, using a variety of media and techniques (and taking turns to model for the group!). Can you guess which drawings we were looking at?

A huge thank you to Ketty, Rachel, Rosamund and Kate for introducing us to what happens behind-the-scenes at The Courtauld Gallery. It was a brilliant day!

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

Exploring Portraiture and Identity!

On Wednesday 25th October 2017, the Courtauld welcomed a group of young people, from state schools and colleges across London, to take part in an Insights into Art History workshop focusing on portraits by the artist Chaïm Soutine (1893-1943). The Insights into Art History day tied in with the current exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery, Soutine’s Portraits: Cooks, Waiters & Bellboys.

Art historian Dr Julian Freeman gave the students an introduction to Chaïm Soutine, a Russian migrant working in Paris during the early twentieth century. During the 1920s and 1930s Soutine produced striking portraits of people working in restaurants and hotels around the French capital.

In the Courtauld Gallery, we looked at portraits from the permanent collection. A painting that caught our attention was Édouard Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère. The group commented on the barmaid’s direct and powerful stance, unusual at the time of painting in 1882. By discussing composition and brushwork we explored how Manet’s artistic decisions have the power to alter how we perceive the barmaid. We also discussed Vincent Van Gogh’s expressive use of colour in his Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear of 1889.

Upstairs in the exhibition, we sketched the waiters, cooks and bellboys who feature in Soutine’s vibrant paintings. We were particularly drawn to the subject’s crumpled uniforms, because of the vivid tonalities of the red, blue and white brushstrokes.

Soutine, Chaim, Cook of Cagnes, c.1924, Kunstmuseum Bern

In a similar way to Manet, Soutine painted his subjects with powerful stances and vulnerable facial expressions. We learnt that Soutine would rework his paintings many times, repainting the same person until he was completely happy with how they were represented. You can find out more about Soutine in our new Artist and Sitter learning resource.

Back in the seminar room, students were able to produce portraits from life, like Soutine did. Ian, a security guard at the Courtauld, very kindly agreed to be the subject of the students’ sketches and paintings. Led by the artist and art historian, Matthew Krishanu, we learnt new experimental drawings and painting techniques which the students used in their own contemporary responses to Soutine’s work.

The first exercise involved making quick charcoal sketches of Ian, who sat on a stool in front of a blue and red backdrop. Matthew showed us how to use the side of the charcoal stick to create background shading. Then, by rubbing out small areas to create light, and layering darker lines to create shadow, the portraits of Ian really came to life.

We then introduced colour into our portrait studies by experimenting with layering oil pastel on coloured paper:

For the remaining few hours of the workshop the students produced a portrait of Ian using acrylic paint on canvas board. A light wash of one colour was used as the grounding for the paintings. After allowing time for drying, layers of acrylic paint in an array of colours were applied to the canvas.

We were also shown how to scratch paint away from the surface, and how to use different brushes for a ‘scumbling’ textured effect.

All of the portraits produced brilliantly captured Ian’s character through composition and brushwork. By exploring Soutine’s portraits and his painterly techniques, the students were able to look closely at the sitter to create their own artworks filled with energy and attention to detail.

Soutine, Chaim, Butcher Boy  c.1919-1920, private collection, Image courtesy Simon Capstick-Dale Fine Art NYC

Thank you to Matthew, Julian and Ian for such a fantastic workshop!

Our next Insights into Art History workshop Edgar Degas: Capturing Movement takes place on Saturday 18th November.

Hannah Dixon

TEDxCourtauldInstitute 2017 – Artists’ Connections to the City

On Saturday 11th March, TEDxCourtauldInstitute 2017 collaborated with The Courtauld’s Young People’s Programme to organise ‘Artists’ Connections to the City’, a combined art history and practice workshop for 16-19 olds from schools across London. Courtauld MA Curating student Katherine Campbell explains more about the workshop below!

In today’s increasingly divided world TEDxCourtauldInstitute 2017’s team decided it was important to highlight the many links that unite us and we therefore chose ‘Connections’ as the theme for this year’s programme. We were particularly keen to collaborate with the Courtauld’s Young People’s Programme and run an Insights into Art History workshop to encourage students to explore the many connections that artists have to the cities in which they live, work and travel.

After meeting the team, the students spent the morning discussing how an artist might be connected to a city. We considered the economic draw of the city for artists, looking at the Renaissance systems of patronage and workshops, from the court of 14th Century Mosul to the Bellini brothers’ workshop in Venice in the 15th Century. We also thought about how cities have acted as a hub, bringing artists together and acting as a source of inspiration and how they continue to do so today.

Building on this discussion we moved over to The Courtauld Gallery to look at a selection of artworks from the early 1300s right through to the modern day. Starting our tour with the metalwork bag made in Mosul during the Muslim Il-Khanid dynasty, the students were encouraged to discuss Mosul’s position as a centre for trade and its reputation for intricate metalwork. Moving on to the 17th Century we focused on Peter Paul Ruben’s Family of Jan Bruegel the Elder, thinking about his home in Antwerp and his international career travelling to many of Europe’s capitals. Finally, we looked at artists’ responses to the modern industrial cities of the late 19th and 20th Centuries. This included Camille Pissarro’s Lordship Lane Station, Dulwich, Walter Sickert’s Camden Town series made in response to the construction of suburbs and the subsequent impoverishment of formerly prosperous neighbourhoods of London, and Frank Auerbach’s visceral building site works that document his reaction to post-war London. The students then had time to carry out independent research in the gallery and document particular works that inspired them and which they thought relevant to the workshop theme.

In the afternoon, The Courtauld’s Head of Digital Media Tom Bilson gave the students a tour of the Return to Kurdistan exhibition and an introduction to the endlessly fascinating Conway Photographic Collection and some of its 1 million images. This included a selection of photographs from the Macmillan Report, which was commissioned to document bomb damage in cities across Europe after WWII, photographs of the Festival of Britain during the 1950s, as well as a number of Anthony Kersting’s images of cities and towns in the Middle East, Iraq, Ecuador and other parts of the world taken during the 1940s.

Following Tom’s introduction, the students were able to use the Conway Collection to research cities that interested them. Having collected their own images over the course of the day the students then worked together in groups to create panels that mapped the connections they had made. These panels were inspired by the art historian Aby Warburg’s (1866-1929) Mnemosyne Atlas: a collection of 63 panels through which Warburg explored the ‘memory’ or ‘afterlife’ of Antiquity by bringing together a range of images (photographs, reproductions of works, newspaper clippings) and arranging them into themes on black pinboards so as to make new connections between works of art from across the centuries and world. Just as Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas panels were an eclectic, personal mix of images, so too were the panels that the students created which were exhibited to the public during the TEDxCourtauldInstitute 2017 events the following day.

The students titled their works and below you’ll find some of the ‘connections’ they made!


This panel explores the texture of paintings. The group was particularly influenced by Frank Auerbach’s Rebuilding the Empire Cinema, Leicester Square in the Courtauld Gallery and his manipulation and dense layering of paint on the canvas as a means to express the destruction of the city’s buildings after the Blitz. The group chose to travel backward and forwards in time looking at how events have influenced artists’ style and the texture of their painting.

Best of Britain

This panel took London and cities across Britain as its central theme, with images of bomb-damaged St Paul’s and Canaletto’s vista from Somerset House some two centuries earlier. They were keen to look at the connections, both obvious and less so, that artists have had to London and to Britain across the centuries.

Portraiture & Architecture

This panel explores the group’s personal interest in portraiture and architecture. Taking an image of a church in Goa from the Conway collection as their starting point, they chose to incorporate images from across the world and through history.


Find out more about our forthcoming Insights into Art History workshops!

Art History Summer University Applications NOW OPEN!

We are very excited to announce that applications for Summer University 2017 are now open! Further information about the application process can be found on our website. The deadline for applications is Friday 26th May 2017.

Summer University runs from Monday 3 to Monday 6 July 2017. 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 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 schoo4ls or colleges.

The deadline for applications is now Friday 26th May 2017.

Please email Helen Higgins at education@courtauld.ac.uk to find out more.

We look forward to hearing from you soon!

Capturing the Essence of Movement with Heronsgate Primary

On Wednesday 30 November 2016, a group of students from Heronsgate Primary School visited The Courtauld Gallery for the first of three workshops with artist and gallery educator Millie Knight.

The pupils firstly received an introduction to Rodin and his artworks exhibited in Rodin and Dance: The Essence of Movement. The class had the exciting opportunity to see the works of art discussed first-hand, looking at Rodin’s drawings, cut-outs and sculptures. Elsewhere in the Gallery, the pupils were able to explore how other works in the Courtauld Collection capture movement.


In the afternoon, the pupils looked at maquettes (small-scale model replicas of Rodin’s work) and drew from observation onto paper. The aim was to draw big, and to capture the movement of a dancer! Millie asked us to sketch but not look at the paper, only looking at the sculpture; it was difficult at first but made us look closely.


On 1 December, Millie and I went to visit school in Woolwich. The focus of this workshop was Rodin’s cut-outs. In pairs, pupils first drew round each other’s legs and arms, and then drew the body and head of their partner. The class then put their final cut-outs on the floor and took it in turns to respond, critiquing what they thought of each other’s work.




On the following day, the focus was to use clay to create mini sculptures. Millie began by demonstrating how to use plaster moulds, which she created especially for the project. Pupils took it in turns to use the moulds – there were different ones for arms, legs, heads and bodies. In-order to personalise their sculptures, the pupils moulded body parts together in various ways to convey movement.

The class thoroughly enjoyed learning about Rodin and his artworks – the said that their highlight was being able to use clay to sculpt their own Rodin dancers!


Hannah Dixon (Student Ambassador)

Courtauld Public Programmes collaborates with First Story

On Wednesday 16 November 2016 we were delighted to collaborate with First Story, a charity who change lives through creative writing by partnering writers with schools. We welcomed two secondary schools to join us on our quest to combine art and writing in imaginative ways: Acland Burghley School and Raine’s Foundation School.

Gathering in the lecture theatre, we heard from Jay, First Story’s Programme Officer, who gave us a run through of what the day was going to involve. The schools were split up into 4 groups, and each one was paired up with a Courtauld Gallery Tutor and a First Story Author. Each group were assigned two works of art from The Courtauld Gallery.


We headed off to the gallery; Group 1 was downstairs in the Medieval and Renaissance room. It was very exciting to hear Tempe Nell’s detailed descriptions of The Seilern Triptch and The Walrus Ivory Box – especially because we were in front of the real things! The students discovered who the characters were in the religious scene; it has plenty of components so each student was able to focus on a different character. It was especially interesting to spot the man who commissioned the painting sitting in the bottom of the painting. Both works are made of materials the group hadn’t seen before: gold leaf, egg tempera and walrus tusk!


Miriam Nash our writer and poet led the interactive activity, we chatted with her about how our character would have felt within the painting. This led onto our writing workshop back in the seminar room where the group developed their ideas. We discussed how creating a piece of writing, and creating an artwork, require similar levels of imagination and attention to detail.



As well as taking inspiration from the works of art, we looked a Lucile Clifton’s persona poem called ‘Easter Sunday.’ Persona poems are poems where the reader takes on the voice of a different person. The students took elements of this type of poetry and used it in their own work. Everyone’s poems or monologues were written from the point of view of a character that features in the painting or on the ivory box.



At the end of the day we went back to the lecture theatre, Group 1 performed their creative writing pieces to the other three groups – everybody enjoyed them thoroughly and gave a mighty round of applause! We then heard from the Groups 2, 3 and 4. They told us which artworks they had focused on and they read aloud their own unique responses to the artworks. Everyone’s writing successfully captured the themes and characters in the works of art found at The Courtauld Gallery, giving their own unique spin on the paintings and objects that have been around for hundreds of years.


Overall, the First Story and Courtauld Insitute of Art collaborative workshop was a wholly enjoyable and thought-provoking day fuelled by the student’s creativity. We look forward to similar sessions in future!

by Hannah Dixon, Student Ambassador

An Exciting New Collaboration in Coventry!

In March the exhibition Degas’ Dancers: A Courtauld Masterpiece opened at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum. It included one of The Courtauld’s most famous pieces of work Degas’ Two Dancers on a Stage, 1874, as well as two sculptures and a drawing.



Edgar Degas, Two Dancers on a Stage, 1874, The Courtauld Gallery, London

To celebrate these works on tour in Coventry the learning departments from both the Herbert and The Courtauld have worked together to put on a range of events for the public. For example, the Herbert organised a number of late openings to engage new audiences and The Courtauld’s Oak Foundation Young People’s Programme Coordinator (Thurs-Fri) Helen Higgins delivered a number of talks as part of this. We also took the time to observe and learn from each other’s specialisms, which you can read below.


Meghan Goodeve, Oak Foundation Young People’s Programme Coordinator (Mon-Weds) from The Courtauld, reflects on primary school workshops ran by The Herbert:

“One of the first things that struck me when meeting the learning team from the Herbert was how comprehensive their primary school programme was. I was keen to observe one of these and see how they used their amazing learning space. I was lucky enough to see a workshop on the theme of sculpture (including our Degas!) for 28 year 4 students from local Gosford Park Primary School. The session was engaging and lively, using props such as a chisel and hammer (under close supervision!!) to demonstrate key ways of making sculpture, in this case carving. The Herbert were also brilliant at grounding the learning in literacy, using sheets with key words to help expand the students’ vocabulary. One of my favourite bits of the workshop was when a student was asked to play the role of the workshop teacher and lead the class through their own visual analysis of a work – culminating their learning from earlier in the session. Finally, we hit their learning space to take part in some hands-on clay sculpture. I know the table I was on really enjoyed this and left clutching their work proudly!”

Brian Scholes, Learning Officer for Schools from the Herbert, reflects on a post-16 outreach workshop for Coventry City College delivered by The Courtauld:

“The outreach workshop was delivered to a group of 20 art students from different disciplines including painting, photography and graphic design. Meghan Goodeve and Naomi Lebens from The Courtauld led the session, beginning with a presentation in the Herbert’s learning space which gave a brief history of the Courtauld. This was extremely illuminating as it also gave the students a chance to learn about the nature and the status of modern art at the end of the 19th and turn of the 20th centuries.

Meghan then introduced the students to the role of curators in museums. This included an exploration of the different viewpoints of art historians and how this can influence the interpretation of an artwork (The Courtauld’s masterpiece A Bar at the Folies Bergere was used as an illustration for critique). A discussion then took place around how differing interpretations of artworks can influence the creation of an exhibition. Bearing these points in mind the students were then introduced the Herbert’s exhibition Degas’ Dancers in the gallery. The students engaged in an interesting discussion about the content and display.

After lunch the students were given a task, working in small groups, in the learning space. This was led by Meghan and Naomi. Each group was given a series of postcards of paintings from The Courtauld collection. The groups had to pick a theme, then choose appropriate works of art (using the postcards) in order to design an (imaginary) exhibition, including the physical layout of the show. This led to much discussion as ideas flowed and eventually each group came up with a design for an exhibition using the learning from the day.

The whole experience was invaluable to the students, not least because they were all about to embark on the display of their end-of-year shows.”



TEDx Courtauld Institute explore ‘what is utopian art?’

On Saturday 12th March, TEDx Courtauld Institute collaborated with The Courtauld’s public programmes to organise ‘What is Utopian Art?’ the first undergraduate-led workshop for a group of 16-19 year olds. They planned a workshop for young people interested in learning more about art history and the idea of ‘Utopia’. This was in response to Somerset House’s year of activities around the same theme. The undergraduate students will explain a bit more about the workshop below! 

To fit in with the concept of TedxCourtauld 2016, Utopia; Breaking the Rules, we decided to introduce, discuss and debate the relationship between art and ‘Utopia’. We did this by tracing the concept of ‘Utopia’ through Thomas More’s original book, the Courtauld collection, and contemporary art work commissioned for both the TedxCourtauld 2016 and the Utopia 2016 festival at Somerset House.  Our aim was to create a journey through the different ideas of ‘Utopia’. We wanted to empower the young people at the workshop, to explore how art informs, reflects and helps construct ‘Utopias’, and how can they use this to challenge their environment through art.


At the start of the day the students heard an introduction to the UTOPIA 2016 marking the 500th anniversary of Thomas More’s Utopia. They found out about what More set out in his text: what his view of ‘Utopia’ was in 1516 and the issues with the text that we unwittingly evoke every time we use this word.We also discussed Somerset House’s architectural features and the history of the site.


To build on this concept we then toured two examples of contemporary artwork within Somerset House. By visiting Jeremy Deller’s and Fraser Muggeridge’s acid-coloured flag perched on top of Somerset house and the interactive space or ‘Treasury’, we considered the influence of popular culture and political context on their work.  We also went for a ‘behind the scenes’ tour of Peter Liversidge’s work as Artist in Residence for TEDx Courtauld talks. He spent two weeks at the River Rooms with volunteers creating apolitical protest signs for an installation within the TedxCourtauld Institute talk space. We were able to visit their work-in-progress, getting exclusive access to a contemporary artist’s creative process, to understand how Peter’s work challenges the concept of Utopia by looking at the act of protest.


In The Courtauld Gallery collection we used Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works of art to dissect this knowledge further. We were taught that there are many different ways of reading artworks, with art historians putting on a different set of methodological glasses to view a work.  We used the days theme of ‘Utopia’ to interpret the artworks in front of us, with the student’s presenting to the group their thoughts when asking themselves ‘Can this artwork be viewed as Utopian or Dystopian?’ and ‘Was this the artist’s intention? Or has this view of the work changed over time?’


In the afternooon, the group collaborated to create a flag to symbolise their interpretation of Utopia. The finished piece was displayed in the foyer to represent TEDx Courtauld Institute 2016 to our two hundred guests. The young people tackled a section of the flag in a unique and collaborative way choosing to draw on different ways artists have approached ‘Utopia’ throughout the century, incorporating elements which could be traced back to the discussions had throughout the day!


Fashion or dress?

Last Saturday we had a great workshop thinking all about fashion in The Courtauld Gallery’s collection. We started the day with Dr Liz Kutesko, looking at Renoir’s La Loge 1874 and Degas’ Lady with a Parasol 1870-72. She introduced us to some really interesting ideas – like the difference between fashion and dress! She has recently finished her PhD with The Courtauld’s History of Dress department so revealed some new ways to approach paintings.

We then went back to the classroom, where we thought about fashion imagery today. We were asked to visually analyse a fashion shoot thinking about the photographer, sets, the role of model, and much more!


In the afternoon artist and art historian Millie Knight joined us and revealed more about creating a set for a fashion shoot. With lots of inspiration from the morning, we created a model of a fashion shoot using The Courtauld Gallery collection as a starting point.

Photo 23-01-2016, 14 31 51



It was such a brilliant day and are now looking forward to the next workshops in February half term!

Thanks to Liz and Millie!

What will 2016 bring?

We are really excited at what will be happening here at The Courtauld for young people in 2016. Here is a round up of what we have planned for you!

  1. A brand new set of Insights into Art History workshops starting this January. Highlights include Fashion with a dress historian and illustrator coming next! Bookings now open.


2. We are going on the road, bringing a series of art history workshops for 16-19 year olds to Nottingham! With the University of Nottingham and New College Nottingham, we will run three workshops, each exploring a different aspect of ‘modernism’ in art. Bookings now open!


3. For the seventh year running, we are working with Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts, London, to investigate how art history and moving image can collide! See previous years’ results on our project website here.

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4. Our Art History Summer University for year 12 students will open for applications on Monday 22nd February 2016. Each year students spend 4 days in The Institute with a range of staff members to discover what art history at higher education can be!

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5. Finally, Look Again, a photography project for young people in East London will transform The Courtauld collection’s portraits. If you are interested in this for your school – let us know!

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We are really looking forward to these projects and much more! If you would like to get involved please send us an email on education@courtauld.ac.uk and we can discuss the ways you can work with us. Happy 2016!

Meghan & Helen

Oak Foundation Young People’s Programme Coordinator (job-share)