Exploring Self

On Saturday 5th December 2015, we welcomed young people from across London to join us for a day to think about Van Gogh, self-portraits, and photography. They started the day by working with Art Historian Fran Herrick to explore Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with a Bandaged Ear, 1889, at The Courtauld Gallery. They then looked at lots of other examples of portraits in the collection before picking some of their favourites to think about more closely.


In the afternoon, they worked with photographer Elizabeth Bicher to think about ways to make their own self-portraits. Taking inspiration from the collection and contemporary photography, they thought about issues such as identity and representation of yourself. They were also tasked with creating self-portraits that used techniques such as masks, shadows, and disguises – how can you create a self-portrait without necessarily showing your face?

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Wassily Kandinsky: Between East and West

Last week we welcomed 15 young people to our fully-booked Insights into Art History workshop here at The Courtauld Gallery. They came from all over London to spend time with Natalia Murray an expert art historian in Russian 20th century art and The Courtauld’s collection of Kandinsky’s. After a quick introduction into the context Kandinsky was working in and his inspiration from artists to the West and East, we headed into the gallery to look and analysis Kandinsky’s works firsthand. A few observational drawings were made before heading back to the seminar room to try our hand at woodcut printing!

The next Insights workshop is on Saturday 5th December and will focus on Van Gogh.

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We Welcome Welling School Back

We are happy to announce that this year we are working with Welling School and their brilliant year 7 students again. Yesterday we welcomed the first group of their students to The Courtauld Gallery to explore our current display Bridget Riley: Learning from Seurat. They spent the day with art historian Dr Katie Faulkner and artist Nadine Mahoney thinking about how artists use paintings from the past to learn, Seurat’s and Riley’s use of colour theory, and the difference between copying and transcriptions. My favourite quote from the day is ‘I learnt that you can learn a lot about painting yourself by observing other people’s paintings’. We are now all equip to visit any gallery and learn like an artist! Here are some photos from the day…

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We can’t wait for our visit to Welling School in December…

Meghan Goodeve, Oak Foundation Young People’s Programme Coordinator (job-share with Helen Higgins)


A busy September!

Student Ambassador, Sophie Newton (BA3), tells us all about September’s young people’s workshops.

It’s been a busy September with two workshops designed to give Sixth Form and College students the opportunity to learn more about Art History and life at a London University.  On Saturday 12th September was the first in this year’s series of Insights into Art History workshops. This focused on The Courtauld Gallery’s Unfinished exhibition and students were invited to come and explore the collection before implementing their skills in a curation task of their own.


The day began with a short discussion in The Courtauld Institute’s lecture theatre, led by Dr. Katie Faulkner. This introduced the subject of Art History with all that it can entail, before we moved over to the gallery for a guided tour of the Unfinished exhibition from Fran Herrick. Her talk and subsequent discussion gave a great insight into the workings of a public gallery and the thought and care that goes into the planning and execution of a successful exhibition, setting up the students for their main afternoon project.


Returning to the Institute, Dr. Katie Faulkner once again led a workshop to develop the students’ skills of visual analysis, moving beyond the world of historical art and into the imagery of popular culture today.


Finally, combining all of the information from throughout the day, the students set about curating their own exhibition using images from the Courtauld’s collection, coming up with a theme, title and floorplan that would guide the gallery visitor through their ideas and intentions. Despite all starting at the same point, the final exhibitions ranged from broad themes, right down to intimate analysis of the use of specific colours and pigments. A great day with some fantastic results!


On Wednesday 16th September was a Progression Day for students who had attended this year’s Summer University or had been involved in Insights workshops from the last academic year. This day aimed to allay worries and help the transition from school or college to university. Students who attended were at all stages of the process, from writing their UCAS forms to starting university this month.

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The day began with an open discussion where students were able to express their concerns and ask questions on subjects including the change in workload, managing finances and new social circles.


Before attending the event, students who were working towards their ASDAN universities award were asked to write a review of an exhibition or collection display, and feedback was given. This led onto a workshop on essay writing when at university, where mark schemes and criteria were discussed, and helpful tips handed out along with looking at an example essay.

The morning finished off with a seminar led by Courtauld PhD student Will Atkin, who guided students through a critical analysis of one of Paul Gauguin’s letters, leading to a greater insight and understanding of his image Where Do We Come From, What Are We Doing, Where Are We Going (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).


Finally, the day finished off with a boat trip to Greenwich and the Old Royal Naval College, with a tour around the Painted Hall and a VIP trip up into the dome of the Chapel of St. Peter and St. Paul. Here, the Director of Conservation spoke about the history and use of the building, with views over Greenwich Park, the river and back towards the city.






With such a packed day, there was just enough time for a few games of Victorian Skittles in the basement, before saying goodbye and heading back to The Courtauld! Thanks so much to Greenwich’s Old Royal Naval College for such an amazing afternoon.

Written by Sophie Newton (BA3) a public programmes student ambassador at The Courtauld Institute of Art. 

For more information on Insights workshops or the young people’s programme more widely, please contact Meghan Goodeve and/ or Helen Higgins, Oak Foundation Young People’s Programme Coordinator (job-share) on education@courtauld.ac.uk or 0207 848 1058. 

Year 12 Art History Summer University 2015

Student Ambassador, Isabella Dabby, reflects on this year’s Year 12 Art History Summer University. Isabella recently completed a Graduate Diploma at The Courtauld, and will be starting her MA in October 2015.

On the first day of this year’s Summer University, nearly thirty A-level students from across London climbed The Courtauld’s spiral staircase and took their seats within the lecture theatre. Just three days later, these students delivered confident and thought-provoking presentations before their peers, parents and teachers.

13 - presentationsThanks to the efforts of Dr Katie Faulkner and the Public Programmes team, a busy timetable was devised to ensure the students gained a real insight into what studying Art History at The Courtauld is like. Inspiring lectures from Dr Alixe Bovey and Professor Joanna Woodall introduced them to the excitement of art historical research, whilst an energetic morning studying and handling Iranian art objects with Dr Sussan Babaie got the students thinking about art beyond the West.

3 - sussan babbaie 4 - object handlingAlongside this, seminars from Dr Caroline Levitt and Dr Natalia Murray provoked discussion amongst the group on topics as varied as the impact of the industrial revolution on Cubism, to the influence of fashion and poetry on art.

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At the start of the course, the students were asked to bring along and discuss an image of their choice with their peers, organising themselves into groups according to their identification of common themes. Using The Courtauld collection as a source of further inspiration, they were then tasked with developing a virtual exhibition proposal. To help them with this they saw a range of exhibitions, with a tour from Dr Karen Serres, curator at The Courtauld Gallery, a tour at the Ben Uri Gallery, and a visit to Tate Britain. Finally, the students were given the chance to discuss their ideas with this year’s MA Curating students. They 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.

1 - gallery 2 - group workLeaving no stone unturned and proving that art history isn’t just about lectures, libraries and quiet museums, a trip to the conservation studio proved a highlight for many of the students, who were asked to look beyond the theory and consider works of art as physical objects. For those students undertaking a mixture of science and arts A-levels, the experience showed them just how varied careers relating to Art History can be.

6 - conservationAs a student ambassador helping out on this year’s course, it was a pleasure to witness the students embrace the challenges thrown at them and watch their understanding of Art History, curation and conservation grow so rapidly over just four days. Even the awkwardly-timed tube strike did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the group, who ended up having to walk the two miles journey to Tate Britain, in order to explore and critique the Barbara Hepworth exhibition.

8 - tateOne student said to me that before coming to the Summer University, she hadn’t just been confused about which course to study, but whether she even wanted to go to university at all. By the end of the week she reckoned that getting a degree would be worth the time and money, so long as she studied a subject she really loved. To me that summed up what the Summer University is all about, and is what makes me so proud to have been a part of it. 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.

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For more information about Summer University see here or contact Meghan Goodeve/ Helen Higgins, Oak Foundation Young People’s Programme Coordinator (job-share), on education@courtauld.ac.uk or 0207 848 1058. 

Working with Welling

The Courtauld Institute of Art and Welling School are happy to present to you our zines. These are the result of a collaboration that has taken place over the 2014-15 academic year, where 150 pupils in year 7 at Welling School visited The Courtauld Gallery and have taken part in art and art history workshops. From Medieval saints to Paul Gauguin’s radical nudes, the students have explored the collection working with artists, academics, and designers. Ten students were selected from their peers to make these zines, investigating the theme of gender in The Courtauld Gallery. Ultimately, this project is a celebration of the ways in which art history and art practice can complement and enrich each other.


This project was in response to Welling School’s exciting curriculum model of the ‘canon’. Lessons offer a way to teach history through the lens of history of art for year 7 students. To extend and enrich this curriculum, students were taken on trips to The Courtauld Gallery focusing on different elements of the collection and working with a new academic, educator, or artist each time. For example, the first visit in November 2014 looked at Jasper Johns and symbolism.


These trips to the gallery were complemented by afterschool seminars and workshops, where students were handpicked to attend due to an interest in art history. Themes of these included: 19th century art, modern British sculpture, and wood cut prints.


Following the success of this model in the Autumn and Spring terms, we decided to stretch a small group of students and challenge them to create a zine (or fanzine) stemming from the theme of The Courtauld’s exhibition Goya: The Witches and Old Women Album. To create these, they thought critically about gender in response to The Courtauld’s collection, learning how to research in a gallery and art library. Moreover, they reflected on the development of feminist art history reading original texts by seminal feminist art historians such as Griselda Pollock and Linda Nochlin. Finally, they learnt about the activist history of zine-making, experimented with this form of communication, and to quote one of the students, ‘learnt that zines really help to get your message out to the world’.


Over one visit to the gallery, two afterschool workshops, two full-day workshops, and just one day to print at The Common House, the students produced a series of five professional zines that relate to notion of Gender and The Courtauld. Taking just two pieces of artwork from The Courtauld’s collection they constructed critical arguments on themes such as Trapped and Free, Blue Sky Dark Purpose, Working Girls, Judging Feminism: Motherhood, and Women as Objects. And here they are!

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And to close, I would like to leave you with this comment from one of the Welling School teachers involved: ‘The project became an opportunity for the students to intervene in their own learning through probing the very subject they study, and steering their own path as critical thinkers. Through working together with academics from The Courtauld Institute they have made a real engagement in theory and principles of art history.’


(An exhibition at Welling School, which included work from this project)

To find out more, or if you are interested in running an extended project in your school, contact Meghan Goodeve on education@courtauld.ac.uk or 0207 848 1058.

Ashton Sixth Form College

After three years working with Ashton Sixth Form College, it keeps on getting better! This year we worked with University of Leeds’ School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies for the first time, meaning students had four after school sessions and two trips. We first went up to visit in February and the course finished yesterday with 18 students coming to visit The Courtauld for a day spent thinking about how art historians and artists can use a gallery as a resource for their learning! Thanks so much to Ashton Sixth Form College for another year of a wonderful collaboration – we hope to welcome some of the students back soon!

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Exhibition Review: Defining BeAUTY

Courtauld student ambassador and BA second year student Sophie Newton has written this awesome review on the British Museum’s latest exhibition. Catch it before it closes on the 5 July! 

Defining Beauty, this year’s major Spring exhibition at the British Museum, is a must-see for any budding art historian. The display, although focusing on the sculpture of ancient Greece, draws from collections and cultures from all over the world and contains a variety of objects; from your typical nudes, to novelty-shaped drinking cups and 18th Century drawings of the Parthenon marbles. All of them have a single running theme, exploring the variety in ancient art and its continued influence throughout western art history.

The art-historical narrative of the west is almost entirely indebted to the discoveries and teachings of Ancient Greece. From the resurgence of interest in the Renaissance, through Johannes Winckelmann‘s writings of the Enlightenment to Jenny Saville‘s confrontations of the human body, the classical form has been constantly returned to, reinterpreted and re-evaluated. Their quest for the ideal and their achievements in doing so have remained iconic, no matter how many times they are seen and parodied.

(Sir Joshua Reynolds, Cupid and Psyche, c. 1789, The Courtauld Gallery)

The exhibition explores these issues in relation to the lives and philosophies of the Ancient Greeks themselves, bringing in the original ideas of beauty, religion, daily life and reality while challenging the widely-held perceptions of the Classical Sculpture. Many of the objects are well-known, and to see them in reality really confirms the reasons why they’re so often written about. It begins with two often-seen objects, a crouching Venus in marble from the 4th Century and a 1st or 2nd Century bronze athlete. With their contrast, we are immediately presented with two of the major issues that surround classical sculpture – that the vast majority of originals were lost or destroyed, and that those that we do have access to are later reproductions, often from another culture entirely. The bronze is an original, found off the coast of Croatia in just 1996, while the Venus is a later Roman copy – it must always be remembered when thinking about ‘Greek Sculpture’ that more often than not we see their art through the lens of Roman admiration and imitation.

Does this affect our 21st Century viewing? Unfortunately, the exhibition highlights this issue without making much attempt to give a satisfactory answer, although a Roman nude displayed later on gives an amusing insight into how absurd our own Romantic view may look in the future. The contrast between the female deity and the human male, however, does set up for many of the other debates throughout the rest of the exhibition. Directly behind them stand three statues by the legendary artists Myron, Polykleitos and Phidias. Comparing each of their approaches in the attempt to create the perfect from, with mathematical precision in the spear-bearer (actually a 1920s German reconstruction – again, considerations must be made for the interest in neoclassicism in rising fascism), the careful balancing of opposites in the Discobolus, and the following of intuition in the River God taken from the Parthenon, we can begin to see the deep philosophical thought that went into the representation of the human figure, for both deities and for ordinary people.

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(The Townley Discobolus and The Westmacott Athlete, The British Museum)

However, this link between Antiquity and widely-held perceptions of beauty and idealism is confronted directly afterwards with a display of how such statues were originally seen. Plaster models of statues reconstructed with the bright polychromy that continues to be revealed by imaging techniques such as x-ray and ultraviolet directly contrast to the stark white purity irrevocably associated with classical sculpture. Surrounding the four centre examples stand objects highlighting its wide-spread usage and variety, from the golden reconstruction of the legendary statue of Athena from the Acropolis, through Mesoamerican friezes and medieval Christian carvings, to finally the Treu Head where traces of the original pigment remains visible to the naked eye. Such a confrontation between perception and reality, in the art itself and in our study of it, forms a major theme in the display.

Other themes explored include philosophy and literature, and the influence these had on the development of more realistic art styles and beyond into the ideal. A trio of Kouroi, idealised male forms, in rough chronological order illustrate this development, with the Westmacott Athlete concluding the run. Further along, a highly feminised statue of Dionysus illustrates the continued experimentation of form in the search for perfection. Alongside this, explorations into depictions of women and conflict highlight the perceived difference between nakedness and nudity for the Ancients – for the Greeks, nakedness equated to a uniform of moral and social perfection, and thus the less-easily controlled female must remain clothed at all times. Venus, as deity and erotic object, is the exception. Daily life and social conventions and the effects these had on the perception of the body forms the next section, from key periods of an individual’s life such as childhood and marriage, to the depictions of love and erotic desire and the manner of viewing such scenes. How different can we view a statue of Venus in a religious temple from a prostitute found at the bottom of a drinking cup? A statue of Hermaphroditus from the Galleria Borghese and a vase depicting Kaineus illustrates the complexities of gender in the Greek world, and the attempts of art to illustrate such. This continues into examining the divide between human and animal, with the Centaurs, Amazons, Maenads, etc, all embodying the various forms of the definition of humanity and civilisation. Such range is illustrated in the character portraits of theatre personae and the posthumous portraits of philosophers – although the quest for realism led to the ideal, it also led to caricature and the development of portrait types. Greek depictions of non-Greek bodies as well as the Greek influence in the East also has a place in the narrative, illustrating the widespread reach of the Greek philosophy on humanity and its infinite beauty.

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(The Belvedere Torso and Reconstruction of a figure from the Temple of Aphaia, Courtauld emuseum)

This is how the exhibition concludes, bringing us full circle in our evaluation of the Greek body. The Parthanon figure of Dionysus is displayed opposite the Belvedere torso, both objects that at one point embodied the perfection of the Greek form. Their influence, in the Italian Renaissance and in the 18th Century Enlightenment, as well as their continued admiration today, illustrates perfectly the reasons for Antiquity’s hailing and celebration. This exhibition both challenges and confirms perceptions of Greek art, broadening the definition of beauty beyond that which is commonly held.

Welling School & The Courtauld Gallery’s Collaboration

I am so happy to reveal what has been going on with The Courtauld Gallery’s collaboration with Welling School and their year 7s. They spent today with a graphic designer, starting to collate their ideas around gender and The Courtauld collection into an exciting zine. For now here are some photos but expect a full report and the zines themselves when they are finished in the next couple of weeks!

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Two weeks left to apply to our year 12 Art History Summer University!

We only have 2 weeks left for you to apply to our year 12 Art History Summer University! Last year, one of our brilliant student ambassadors made this video to give you an insight into what the course was like and how it was useful to her and her friends.

Hannah interviews three students who have attended our Art History Summer University in 2012 to see how it has helped them 18 months on…

Art History Summer University Video