Karen Serres, Curator of Paintings
The release of the movie The Monuments Men has prompted museums and institutions such as The Frick Collection and the National Gallery of Art in Washington to highlight the role played by their staff during the Second World War.
Never had public and private art collections been so systematically targeted, in some cases for lust and in others for destruction.
Art historians, curators and conservators played an important part in recovering the tens of thousands of works of art looted during those years.
The Courtauld Institute of Art was founded less than seven years before the start of the war. In 1939, it was forced to move its artistic holdings, valuable books and troves of negatives out of London for safe keeping.
The house on Portman Square was shut down to safeguard it from aerial attacks and the premises of the Conservation and Technology Department were requisitioned for “war production”.
Some lectures and classes continued in an annex location in Guildford but the Courtauld’s main mission at that period was tied to its extensive photographic collection.
It provided slides for public talks given by Courtauld staff and lecturers all over the country (including many to the Armed Forces and the Auxiliary Territorial Service). The number of slides lent annually jumped from 12,000 in 1939 to 32,000 in 1945 to 55,000 in 1947.
Crucially, enlisted Courtauld staff and students used their deep knowledge of art history to advise the War Office, the Ministry of Information and the United States Forces on works of art in battle zones and drew up lists of key monuments to be protected in France.
The British Head of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Programme, Lt. Col. Geoffrey Webb, had been a professor at the Courtauld Institute of Art and at Cambridge before the war. He recruited former students to assist him, including a young Cecil Gould (later Deputy Director of the National Gallery).
Webb was also instrumental in exposing the Vermeer forgeries executed by the Dutch artist Han van Meegeren for Hermann Goering. A grateful Dutch government gave Webb one of van Meegeren’s canvases, The Procuress, after Baburen, which he later donated to the Courtauld.Categories: Collection | Tags: Second World War, Van Meegeren, Vermeer | Leave a comment
Selecting a single work to feature here from A Dialogue with Nature: Romantic Landscapes from Britain and Germany is a bit like choosing a favourite child: not easy!
It was tempting to choose one of Turner’s watercolours (there are four from our very rich collection in the show), but this seems a good opportunity to shine a spotlight on an artist who isn’t quite such a household name, but deserves to be better known: Thomas Girtin.
Girtin (1775-1802) was Turner’s exact contemporary, as well as his friend and rival.
The two artists both played a key role in the evolution of watercolour in Britain, helping to transform it from the precise, careful ‘tinted drawings’ practiced by earlier generations (an example of which, by Paul Sandby, you can also see in the show) into something bolder and more experimental, closer in approach and effect to oil painting.
Girtin longed to travel to the Continent, but because of the Napoleonic Wars he was prevented from doing so until the last year of his life (he only got as far as Paris before illness forced him to turn back).
Instead, he travelled the length and breadth of Britain in search of inspiration for his art. In 1800 he made the second of two trips to the Scottish Borders, visiting the town of Kelso on the River Tweed – the subject of this watercolour.
One thing strikes you immediately about Near Kelso: the unusual viewpoint.
Girtin probably painted the watercolour (or at least drew an initial sketch) from the bridge over the Tweed, or perhaps a ferry anchored mid-river.
This arresting vantage point – we’re surrounded by water on all sides – allows Girtin to create a sense of endless space that belies that size of the watercolour (which is done on a standard-sized sheet of paper).
His watercolour technique – little underdrawing, few fine details (apart from a few picked out in bold dots and dashes of ink with a reed pen), mostly just broad washes of colour that divide the landscape into bands of water, land and sky – contributes to this sense of infinity, and imbues an otherwise quiet, undramatic landscape with a feeling of breadth and grandeur.
The power and beauty of Girtin’s watercolours is all the more poignant given how brief his career was – he died of tuberculosis at the age of 27.
Turner is reported to have said after his death, ‘Had Tom Girtin lived, I should have starved’ – a tribute all the more touching for having come from an artist not in the habit of praising his rivals.Categories: Exhibitions | Tags: drawings, Girtin, Sandby, turner, watercolours | Leave a comment
After a busy few days of installation, A Dialogue with Nature: Romantic Landscapes from Britain and Germany is now open.
The three galleries at the back of the top floor have been transformed.
They now offer a journey through the development of Romantic landscape drawing in both countries, from the late eighteenth century – when John Robert Cozens and Jakob Philipp Hackert met and exchanged ideas while working in Italy – to the nineteenth century, when Turner, Constable, Palmer and Friedrich’s careers were at their height.
Unpacking the drawings lent by the Morgan Library & Museum in New York – most of which have never been seen before in the UK – and installing them alongside works from The Courtauld’s collection has been thrilling.
Bringing them together makes us look at them in a new light.
We hope you’ll come and see this conversation between drawings and between countries for yourselves!
A Dialogue with Nature: Romantic Landscapes from Britain and Germany runs from 30 January-27 April 2014.
We’d love to hear your thoughts. What do you think of Romantic landscapes?
Leave a comment or tweet using #RomanticLandscapes @CourtauldGallCategories: Exhibitions, Uncategorized | Tags: constable, Cozens, drawings, Friedrich, Hackert, Italy, landscapes, Palmer, romantic, turner | Leave a comment
Dürer often used his body as source material and his own features can often be identified in his works.
At our Dürer Lates we asked visitors to join our ‘Sly Selfie’ competition by choosing an artwork and replacing the original sitter’s features with their own.
The winning entry was this drawing by Cato Barend van Schalkwyk, who chose one of Shongauer’s Foolish Virgins as his inspiration.
The tough decision of choosing the winner was left to Dr Stephanie Buck, Martin Halusa Curator of Drawings.
Stephanie said of the winner:
“The drawing is such a clever interpretation of Schongauer’s model, witty and well drawn, also in the details, the dripping bottle with the pool around the feet and this sad expression – it really made me laugh. I also love the Virgin logo on the T-shirt. Congratulations Cato!”
For those who missed out this time around, our next Lates take place on Thursday 6 March and 10 April 2014.
They will be inspired by our upcoming exhibition Court and Craft: A Masterpiece from Northern Iraq. There will be storytelling, live Persian music, and art workshops.Categories: Lates | Tags: drawing, Durer, music, Persian, Shongauer, storytelling | Leave a comment