Gallery blog

Decisions decisions – Illuminating Objects

27 May 2015 by Celia Knight


Illuminating Objects is a series of displays that shines a light on unexpected objects from The Courtauld’s decorative arts and sculpture collection.

In a series of blog posts postgraduate intern Eleanor Magson will share her discoveries as she chooses and researches the next Illuminating Object.

It is now time to select my object to illuminate!

Perhaps embedded with a genetic interest for ceramics, I had initially thought about selecting some albarelli, earthenware pharmacy jars, some of which are already on display in the Courtauld. These objects were ceramic, something I had a childhood relationship with, and had a clear link to science – I had even studied pharmacology as part of my undergraduate degree.

Pharmacy jars trio

Maybe it was because the link was just too clear, but, already a little out of my comfort zone in an art gallery, I thought I might as well jump in the deep end with a beautiful Venetian glass bowl.

I can admit that I was initially drawn to the bowl for shallow reasons – it is beautiful glass swirling with browns and greens and small inclusions of deep caramel sparkles – rather than knowing anything at all about glassware. In fact, I was completely in the dark, but armed with a folder on the object’s history and details, I began working my way into writing on Venetian glass. I soon discovered the names of the two techniques that gave the bowl its stunning aesthetic appearance – calcedonio, which is a type of glass that gives swirling colours, and aventurine, the golden sparkles.

Aventurine bowl trio

As my research continues, I hope to be able to enlighten myself about the processes of glassmaking, as well as the culture surrounding the craft in the 18th century. Eventually, I will be able to call myself an expert on this very small area of art history, and look forward to sharing this newfound knowledge with the visitors of the Courtauld Gallery.

Keep an eye on the Gallery blog to find out more about my Illuminating Objects project.

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Goya under the microscope

22 May 2015 by Celia Knight


Kate Edmondson, The Courtauld Gallery’s paper conservator, talks us through her fascinating discoveries whilst examining the works which form our current exhibition, Goya: The Witches and Old Women Album.

Kate, what techniques did you use to study Goya’s drawings?

To forensically study the works I focused on using a high magnification. This was essential in revealing Goya’s drawing technique, and the way he layered the black ink in different concentrations skilfully with a brush.

Goya under the microscope
Also by use of transmitted light through the paper, and raking light across the surface of the paper, I could see clearly how Goya had scraped the surface, a technique which was key to his practice, to either make alterations or to create highlights to his drawings.


Transmitted and raking light

Transmitted light and raking light

What did you discover?

Close examination of the paper furnish, colour, plus measuring the distance of the vertical chain lines in the paper, confirmed that the same paper had been used for all 22 drawings. Identifying the watermark and countermark from the fragments of watermarks which were consistently positioned in the lower left corner of most of the drawings, revealed the paper manufacturer  Blauw & Briel Company at De Herder  (The Shepherd) mill at Zaandijk, Holland. Now knowing the approximate original sheet size, Dutch Royal, helped us calculate the untrimmed size of Goya’s paper for the drawings, as 1/8th of a full sheet.


Paper size

It’s possible that Goya could have worked on single sheets, but we wanted to investigate into the theory that he worked in a sketchbook. The full sheets of paper could in fact have been cut and folded into folios or sections and sewn together to form a simple binding. We found no evidence of sewing holes but did discover some slightly rounded and worn right corners, often a result of handling book pages, which strongly suggests that the drawings could have been part of a book.

Rounded corner

After discovering that you were most likely looking at a sketchbook of Goya’s, how did you work out the original sequence of the drawings?

A really exciting discovery was ink off-set marks on the verso of some of the sheets.

Not only did this strengthen the argument for Goya working in a book, where transfer of media from one page to another is common, but by tracing the marks we could marry up the pages.

Using this techinque and by cross referencing the works that had page numbers we were able to plot the possible order of drawings in Goya’s album, which can be seen in the Gallery today.

Ink off sets

Left: Verso of unnumbered Visiones with brown ink off-set marks at top
Right: Recto of Locura, with Goya’s number 11 which matches the ink marks on verso of Visiones


This was a ground-breaking study into the works and practice of Francisco Goya. We hope we have revealed a deeper understanding of the works and the artist himself.

Further information about reconstructing Goya’s album can be found in the exhibition catalogue, available in the Gallery shop.


Categories: Exhibitions, Goya: The Witches and Old Women Album | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Introducing Eleanor – Illuminating Objects

19 May 2015 by Celia Knight


Introducing Eleanor

Illuminating Objects is a series of displays that shines a light on unexpected objects from The Courtauld’s decorative arts and sculpture collection.

In a series of blog posts postgraduate intern Eleanor Magson will share her discoveries as she chooses and researches the next Illuminating Object.

Over to Eleanor:

The Courtauld Gallery is one of the last places I would have guessed I would be working, if you had asked me a few years ago. At this time, a pharmaceutical or neurological laboratory would have been more in line with my expectations. But, after three years of degree study in Biomedical Science, I decided life at the lab bench wasn’t for me and I turned myself over to the humanities for a degree in Science Communication, in order to share my love for science with the public.

As the child of two potters, my journey down the science pathway was a bit of a breakaway from my artistic side, but it wasn’t long before I became interested in communicating science through art, as a way of reconciling my two (often opposing) interests.

It was soon into my Masters in Science Communication at Imperial College that the opportunity to apply for the internship at The Courtauld arose. Although I had done a piece of research on the use of enriching the teaching of science with arts and humanities, I had no experience of enriching art with science.

The Courtauld, like all galleries, provides information on the historical context to their objects and paintings, which can often include social, religious and political context, but science is not something seen within many art galleries.

I wanted to bring out not only the technical science of the creation of my selected object, but also the effect of the state of the scientific world of the time on the object. Scientific discoveries fuelled how we looked at the world, often having huge influences on the development of societies.

Keep an eye on the Gallery blog to find out more about my Illuminating Objects project.

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Filming with Alastair Sooke at The Courtauld – behind the scenes

6 May 2015 by Emily


You may well have heard in the papers in March that a certain Hollywood film star was filming his new movie around Somerset House, which involved landing a helicopter in the Courtyard!

What you might not have heard about is that other less dramatic but no less exciting filming was happening in The Courtauld at the same time.

This year we decided to make a film to promote the Annual Fund and we were delighted that Courtauld alumnus and Art Critic Alastair Sooke was able to play a starring role.

Filming took place over two days in March, and involved extensive filming in the Gallery, the lecture theatre, the Prints and Drawings room and the libraries.

Filming 3

We were also able to drop in on students on our MA Curating the Art Museum course, who were busy preparing for their summer exhibition in the Gallery.

The shoot ended with filming at our lovely Scholarship Reception, where donors mingled with the scholars who have benefited from their generous support.

Our thanks go out to Alastair for giving his time so generously and allowing us to follow him round the Gallery for several hours, and to all those students and staff who made the film possible.

The 2015 Annual Fund campaign has now begun and we need your help! The Courtauld is a charity and the money raised for the Annual Fund supports The Courtauld’s core day to day work. Last year we raised a fantastic £107,942 but this year we are aiming to beat this total. With your help, we can and will achieve so much more.

Watch the film and donate to the Annual Fund

Categories: Annual Fund, Collection, Displays, Exhibitions | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Art History

24 April 2015 by Aindrea Emelife


My name is Aindrea Emelife and I am a twenty-one year old art critic and presenter from London, currently in my final year BA History of Art at The Courtauld Institute of Art.  My aim is to recontextualise art history for the younger generation by looking at the past through a contemporary lens. Rubens, Gauguin and Cezanne will never be the same again!

These are three short films I have made about my favourite paintings from The Courtauld Collection.





About me

I have presented films for Waldemar Januszczak (ZCZ Films), the Dairy Art Centre, the Hepworth Wakefield Museum, the Royal Academy of Arts and The Courtauld Gallery. I am  currently working on a number of art documentary projects and commissions for 2015/16 whilst being mentored by Courtauld alumnus and art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon.


I have written for The Financial Times, The Guardian, RA Magazine and This is Tomorrow amongst other international publications. I continue to work directly with various artists, collectors and galleries on various projects and initiatives and have recently taken up a role as head curator for a South East London art project space to be relaunched later this year.

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