The Courtauld Institute of Art

Exterior of the Courtauld.

by Brittany Good

The Courtauld Institute of Art

Somerset House, Strand, London WC 2R 0RN

For information call +44(0)20.7872.0220
or visit

Open daily: 10am–6pm

Founded in 1932, the Courtauld Institute of Art not only houses one of the finest small collections in the world, but is also regarded as one of the leading centers for the study of art history and conservation. The result of the philanthropic efforts of industrialist and collector Samuel Courtauld, diplomat and collector Lord Lee of Fareham, and the art historian Sir Robert Witt, the Courtauld's holdings stretch from the early Renaissance into the twentieth century. Boasting a renowned anthology of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings thanks to Samuel Courtauld, the Institute's collection has grown over the years through a series of gifts and bequests by some of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries' leading collectors.

Vincent Van Gogh (1853–90)
Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, 1889
Oil on canvas, 60 x 49 cm.

Located on the banks of the Thames in central London, the Courtauld exudes a sense of simple refinement. Part of the William Chambers'-designed Somerset House, it helps to make up London's Museum Mile which runs from King's Cross to the Thames and consists of twelve of the city's best museums, including the British Museum and the Brunei Gallery. Built during the eighteenth century in a predominantly neoclassical style, the Somerset House is a cultural haven hosting concerts, films, family workshops, and art and design exhibitions throughout the year.

Courtauld gallery room featuring Édouard Manet's A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, 1881-2. Oil on canvas, 96 x 130 cm.

Although the Courtauld is a fairly small institution, its collection is no indication. With paintings from the Gothic, Medieval and Baroque periods, The Renaissance, and the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, all predilections are satisfied. There are pieces by Fra Angelico (1395-1455), Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510), Pieter Brueghel (1525-1569), Francisco de Goya (1746-1828), Raoul Dufy (1877-1953), and Henri Matisse (1869-1954) among many others. Found within the paintings collection is a world-class amassment of works by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). Accompanying the paintings are sketches and other prepatory works offering rare insights into the mind of a Baroque master. Perhaps the most treasured paintings are those from the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist periods. The carefully edited collection charts the development of modern French painting from Claude Monet (1840-1926) and Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) to Georges Seurat (1859-1891) and Paul Gauguin (1848-1903). Masterpieces include Vincent van Gogh's (1853-1890) Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear and Édouard Manet's (1832–1883) great last painting A Bar at the Folies-Bergère.

Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)
Jane Avril, c. 1891-2.
Oil on cardboard, 63.2 x 42.2 cm.
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.
Photo: Michael Agee.

The Courtauld's drawings and prints collection is comprised of approximately 6,000 drawings and watercolors and 20,000 prints ranging from the late middle ages to the twentieth century avant-garde. Also a shockingly impressive body of work, the drawings and prints are not placed on permanent display due to the paper's high sensitivity to light but can be viewed by appointment. Calling ahead is well worth it as visitors can see the works of master draftsmen such as Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) and Michelangelo (1475-1564). Other highlights include the linear study for Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres' (1780-1867) seminal La Grande Odalisque, a collection of watercolors spanning the career of J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851), and Pieter Brueghel's only etching, The Rabbit Hunter.

A well-rounded sculpture collection spans from antiquity through the twentieth century and includes an entire room brimming with Edgar Degas' (1834-1917) graceful bronzes of dancers, horses, and bathers as well as Gauguin's only marble portrait of his wife. Thanks to art critic and artist Roger Fry (1866-1934), the Courtald also has a strong collection of African and Oceanic wood carvings. The Institute also has Iznik and Spanish listre-ware ceramics and metalwork objects from the Middle East.

Beginning on June 16 and running through September 18, 2011 is the exhibition Toulouse-Lautrec and Jane Avril: Beyond the Moulin Rouge. Nicknamed La Mélinite after a powerful form of explosive, dancer Jane Avril (1868-1943) was one of the stars of the Parisian cabaret, the Moulin Rouge, in the 1890s. Her fame was cemented by a series of posters done by the artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) and the two became close friends. Lautrec, who was known for his depictions of dancers, cabarets, musicians, and prostitutes, also painted a series of stark portraits of Avril. The posters and paintings will be exhibited together at the Courtauld offering visitors a glimpse into the realm of bohemian Paris.

Brittany Good is an editorial assistant and dealer relations coordinator at Antiques & Fine Art Magazine.

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