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CELEBRATING LONDON’S BEST PAINTINGS

20 October 2014 by admin

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Front cover of TimeOut London from 14 October 2014

Last week The Courtauld Gallery was recognised as London’s top destination for paintings, with A Bar at the Folies-Bergère taking first place in a poll by leading art world figures.

This masterpiece from our collection made it through a tough nomination process, 600 artworks were initially selected by ‘top figures in the art world’ and a second vote narrowed the number of paintings to just 100.

Édouard Manet, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, 1881-82

Édouard Manet, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, 1881-82

It wasn’t just the top spot we claimed, Gauguin’s Nevermore was also selected in the top ten and placed seventh.

View of Nevermore by Paul Gauguin, painted in 1897

Paul Gauguin, Nevermore, 1897

TimeOut is also asking its readers to tell them their favourite, voting is open so why not take part?

This isn’t the first time this year that A Bar at The Folies Bergeres has reached the top spot, winning “most unforgettable face” in poll by the The Guardian.

It’s not hard to see why it is one of the art world’s best-loved works; this masterpiece helped define modern painting in the 19th century with its unorthodox composition of figures in space, and with the barmaid’s notorious look conveying mystery and melancholy to the viewer.

Painted between 1881 – 1882 and first exhibited in 1882at the annual fine arts exhibition in Paris, the Salon, this work was  bought by Samuel Courtauld in 1926 and it consequently became part of The Courtauld Gallery Collection when Samuel Courtauld bequeathed his collection to The Courtauld Institute of Art.

For more information watch our short film here.

Why not tell us about your favourite works from our collection in the comments below?

 

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Showcase Week: The Nude

14 October 2014 by admin

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The Courtauld Prints and Drawings Room Presents…

The week of the 13 – 17 October is an exciting time for the Prints and Drawings Room. For one week only the staff have selected five of our most striking works on paper featuring the nude for public viewing.

Between 1.30pm and 5pm our doors are open without an appointment with each work selected for one day only. Our friendly staff are eager to introduce their chosen works to the public and will be on hand to discuss them and answer questions.

Our Prints and Drawings Study Room Assistants introduce their selection…

 

Monday 13 October: Bryony Bartlett-Rawlings on Jacopo Tintoretto’s Studies after Michelangelo’s ‘Samson and the Philistines’ from 1550-55.

View of Jacopo Tintoretto’s Studies after Michelangelo’s ‘Samson and the Philistines’ from 1550-55

Jacopo Tintoretto, Studies after Michelangelo’s ‘Samson and the Philistines’, 1550-55

Jacopo Tintoretto explores the body in action in this drawing after Michelangelo’s lost model for a sculpture of Samson and the Philistines, originally designed as a pendant to his David. Although the sculpture was never realised, numerous small-scale copies of the model were produced in the 1550s and Tintoretto would have studied the group from such a model. Throughout his career Tintoretto was fascinated by Michelangelo’s representations of the heroic nude, making numerous studies of them.

Here the figures are shown from behind. Tintoretto explores the musculature of Samson’s twisting, tense body as he raises his arm to launch a blow on his foe. Tintoretto is particularly interested in capturing the position and form of the muscles and upper body of Samson, which he investigates in two further sketches on the sheet.

 

Tuesday 14 October: Camilla Pietrabissa on Peter Paul Rubens’ Female Nude from 1628-30.

View of drawing by Peter Paul Rubens. Female Nude, 1628-30

Peter Paul Rubens. Female Nude, 1628-30

There are few surviving drawings from the nude female model by Rubens. It may be that female models were uncommon in Rubens’s studio or that the artist’s wife, Helena Fourment, destroyed the drawings, as was the case with a number of his paintings.

In this large study, an opulent reclining female figure seems to emerge out of the bare paper. The draped garments or sheets behind the figure’s head, and the detail of the narrow lace band on her left arm, suggest the possibility of a study after life. Rubens was interested in the plasticity of the body, so he used a combination of red and white chalk as a means to render the different tones of the flesh and the light rippling on its surface.

The figure’s pose is strikingly similar to Ruben’s copy of a painting by Titian (The Bacchanal of the Andrians, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid), and may thus be a reworking of another drawing or painting in preparation for Ruben’s masterful copy (Nationalmuseum är Sveriges, Stockholm).

 

Wednesday 15 October: Rachel Hapoienu on Georges Seurat’s Female Nude from 1879-81.

View of drawing by Georges Seurat’s Female Nude from 1879-81

Georges Seurat, Female Nude, 1879-81

Life classes at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where Seurat was a student, focussed on the male form. As a result he produced relatively few studies of the female nude, of which this is a rare example. This sheet may have been produced at one of the city’s open studios, or perhaps from a session with a private model.

The drawing is defined by its heavy use of chiaroscuro, or deep shadows, composed through the vigorous web of crayon marks and his use of stumping (smudging the crayon) to produce an image of great atmosphere and drama. The stillness of the figure emerging from Seurat’s infinitely varied and rapid marks exudes an extraordinary sense of restrained energy and sensuality.

 

Thursday 16 October: Niccola Shearman on Oskar Kokoschka’s Homage to Hellas Volume I – Wrester I (Ringer I) from 1961-62.

View of drawing by Oskar Kokoschka’s Homage to Hellas Volume I – Wrester I (Ringer I) from 1961-62

Oskar Kokoschka, Homage to Hellas Volume I – Wrester I (Ringer I), 1961-62

Oskar Kokoschka wrestled with depictions of the human figure throughout his career. This lithograph belongs to a series resulting from a trip to Greece in 1961.

The journey was evidently a form of pilgrimage for the artist, who believed that it was an insight into the ‘light of the human spirit’ which had led the ancient Greeks to create art from the human image. In retaining his humanist faith in the physical form, Kokoschka was unusual in the post-WWII art world, where a collective despair at the inhumanity of events led the deliberate pursuit of non-figurative abstraction amongst the majority of avant-garde painters.

Having developed a form of ‘blind drawing’ aimed at producing a dynamic image over painstaking linear accuracy, Kokoschka executed his drawings straight onto lithographic transfer paper for later printing in the studio. The resulting print preserves the gestural energy of the crayon in a manner that matches the vigour of the subject, particularly noticeable in the generous sweep of the figure’s robust arms.

 

Friday 17 October: Rosamund Garrett on Lucian Freud’s Reclining Figure from 1993.

Freud made a number of paintings and etchings of the larger than life character of Leigh Bowery, the performance artist and transvestite fashion designer notorious on the London club scene in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Although he often relished depicting Bowery’s muscular and heavy-set physique, here Freud focuses on the quieter and more reflective side of the man, capturing him in the vulnerable intimacy of sleep.

Referring to his nudes as ‘naked portraits’, Freud chose unflattering poses that are natural in the way that individuals sleep or relax alone. His unusual vantage points and extreme foreshortening rebuke the tradition of the ideal nude. Working from life directly onto the etching plate, the artist’s frank scrutiny of his subject in blatant disregard of any persisting taboos about the body aims, in his own words, to ‘astonish, disturb, seduce, convince’.

 

Drop in to the Prints and Drawings Room on the mezzanine floor of the East Wing between 1.30 and 5pm from the 13 – 17 October for a thoroughly revealing exploration of the nude in art through the centuries!

 

Categories: Collection, Displays, Egon Schiele: The Radical Nude, Prints, Public Programmes, Talks | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


Contemporary Greats: Finding Inspiration in The Courtauld’s Collection

8 October 2014 by admin

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Pierre-Albéric Coulouma, Marketing and Communications

Regrets is a haunting series of painting and drawings by Jasper Johns, inspired by a photograph of Lucian Freud posing in Francis Bacon’s studio.

This display at The Courtauld Gallery has prompted me to look at other works within the collection which have inspired contemporary artists. The artworks I discuss below are drawn at random, but have a common thread of using female characters to convey different stories.

Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère is one of the Courtauld’s most famous paintings, and continues to intrigue.

This masterpiece helped define modern painting at the dawn of the 19th century with its unorthodox composition of figures in space, and with the barmaid’s notorious look conveying mystery and melancholy to the viewer.

Édouard Manet, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, 1881-82

Édouard Manet, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, 1881-82

Jeff Wall pioneered conceptual and post conceptual photography while establishing The Vancouver School with fellow artists Stan Douglas, Rodney Graham, and others. Hey may have initially encountered A Bar at the Folies-Bergères when researching his PhD at The Courtauld Institute of Art between 1970 and 1973. 

Like Manet’s painting, Jeff Wall has challenged tradition with his groundbreaking work A Picture for Women. Also writer, lecturer and art theorist, Wall is known for making references to art history in his practice and A Picture for Women is directly inspired by A Bar at the Folies-Bergères.

View of Jeff Wall, Picture for Women, 1979, transparency in lightbox, 142.5 x 204.5 cm, Courtesy of the artist

Jeff Wall, Picture for Women, 1979, transparency in lightbox, 142.5 x 204.5 cm, Courtesy of the artist.

Both Manet’s and Wall’s works make use of a mirror image, where lights in the background provide spatial depth.

Manet depicts a myriad of distracting elements providing some clues on the context and narrative of this original work, while Wall’s work is more minimalistic, and gives priority to the interplay between the two main figures and the camera standing in the middle.

Both works seem to internalise a connection between two characters and the viewer. Whereas the barmaid in A Bar at the Folies-Bergères strikes the viewer with her look; A Picture for Women engages the viewer both through the female character’s expression and through the central camera.

The women in the two pieces have the same posture, and most strikingly, look out of the frame in the same way. In both cases a male figure stares at them from a shadowy background; emphasising their evading gaze.

The identity of the man in A Bar at the Folies-Bergères is not confirmed, though most agree that Manet himself is the most likely candidate. Jeff Wall echoes this theory by portraying himself in his photograph.

The relationship between the model, the artist, and the viewer produces a tension by turning the viewer into a sort of witness on the scene. This mise-en-scene is said to depict the ‘power relationship between male artist and female model’ (1) and author David Campany also takes a gender themed approach and comments on the patriarchal contemporary visual culture where ‘women’ connotates ‘to-be-looked-at-ness’ (2).

Other contemporary artists have found inspiration in Impressionist masterpieces. A recent exhibition at the Hayward Gallery called The Human Factor presented two works derived from Edgard Degas’s Dancer.

View of Edgar Degas, Two Dancers on the Stage, 1874

Edgar Degas, Two Dancers on the Stage, 1874

Ryan Gander has produced a series of bronze sculptures based on Degas’ Dancers. With playfulness, Gander creates a new life for Degas’s subject.

View of Ryan Gander, Out of sight (all on my own), 2011, 2 Bronze sculptures, two blue cubes and two empty plinths, est size 45(h) x 35(w) x 40(d) each (sculptures) © the artist; Courtesy, Lisson Gallery, London

Ryan Gander, Out of sight (all on my own), 2011, 2 Bronze sculptures, two blue cubes and two empty plinths, est size 45(h) x 35(w) x 40(d) each (sculptures) © the artist; Courtesy, Lisson Gallery, London

As in a fantasy the model comes back to life and starts to wander off the gallery space. Off her plinth for a cigarette break, or seemingly crying in a corner, the ballerina becomes an individual leading us to believe in new narratives. Gander points out this is not about replicating Degas’ sculpture, ‘it’s about reproducing the character of the ballerina who posed for him.’

Yinka Shonibare is often known as the artist who put « Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle » for its occupancy of the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square. His work explores cultural identity, colonialism and post-colonialism and a hallmark of his art is the brightly coloured fabric he uses.

View of Yinka Shonibare MBE. “Girl Ballerina,” 2007 Courtesy of the artist

Yinka Shonibare MBE. “Girl Ballerina,” 2007, Courtesy of the artist.

Shonibare reinterprets a masterpiece by dressing up Degas’ dancer with his signature African-inspired costume, adding an 18th century pistol to her hand. The outcome is a juxtaposition of three strong signifiers: Degas’s dancers, the African inspired costume and an 18th century pistol.

Consequently, this work strongly suggests issues around colonialism and/or post-colonialism as it draws parallels between the occident, Africa and colonialism.

In sharp contrast to Jeff Wall who focuses on art history to challenge photographic tradition and Ryan Gander’s concept of introspection in the Dancer, Shonibare uses art history as a platform and a tool to express this thinking on colonialism and/or post-colonialism.

 

See The Courtauld Gallery’s collection for yourself – open daily from 10 am to 6 pm.

Images provided courtesy of Jeff Wall, Ryan Gander and Yinka Shonibare.

 

References

(1) From the gallery guide for the exhibition ‘Jeff Wall: Photographs 1978-2004’, Tate Modern, London, 21 October 2005 – 8 January 2066; and quoted in D. Campany, ‘Jeff Wall, Picture for Women’, Afterall, 2011.
(2) D. Campany, ‘Jeff Wall, Picture for Women’, Part of One Work Series, Afterall Books, 2011.

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Signed, Sealed, Delivered: A Look at Artists’ Signatures in the Courtauld Gallery

25 September 2014 by Hannah

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Take a tour through The Courtauld Gallery from the Renaissance to the 19th century and find out more about how artists have signed their paintings.

The act of signing a painting can be very meaningful: by applying words onto an image, the artist reminds the viewer that they are looking at a flat surface purposefully created by a real person.

What do artists’ signatures reveal about their status in society and their ambitions?

Room 1: 13th-15th Century, Medieval and Renaissance

Artists’ practice of signing their work is often said to have originated in the Renaissance as a manifestation of the steady rise of the status of the artist, from anonymous craftsman to celebrated creative genius.

However, it is not quite as clear cut as this;  in the Middle Ages and early Renaissance a number of artists were already claiming authorship of their work.

Two examples of early Renaissance signatures, both in Latin, can be found in Room 1.

daddi

Bernardo Daddi, Polyptych, The Crucifixion and Saints, 1348

Daddi’s  The Crucifixion and Saints has a long inscription running along the bottom of its central panel, which translates as “In the year of our Lord 1348, Bernardus, whom Florence made, painted me”.

The Virgin and Child by Barnaba da Modena has a signature painted at the bottom which reads “Barnaba da Modena painted [this]”.

Barnaba da Modena,The Virgin and Child, around 1365-1370

Barnaba da Modena,The Virgin and Child, around 1365-1370

Particularly intriguing is the large size of the inscription, out of proportion with the small religious representation. Both Daddi and Barnaba were serials signers and many of their works bear their names. Theirs however are not signatures in the modern sense of the word: they don’t provide a unique proof of identity.

Rather, they are inscriptions proclaiming their authorship of the work. These could even have been painted by someone from their workshop. Their primary value lies in its assertion of origin.

Room 2: 15th-16th Century, Renaissance Europe

The Trinity with Saints  by Alessandro Filipepi (nicknamed Botticelli) has two faded initials ‘AB’ painted at the bottom of the cross.

Alessandro Filipepi (Botticelli), The Trinity with Saints, around 1491-94

Alessandro Filipepi (Botticelli), The Trinity with Saints, around 1491-94

Meant as the artist’s monogram (a motif created by combining two or more initials), they were probably added at a later date and reveal the importance of signatures for art dealers and collectors.

Alessandro Filipepi (Botticelli), The Trinity with Saints, around 1491-94

Alessandro Filipepi (Botticelli), The Trinity with Saints (detail), around 1491-94

It is highly unlikely that Botticelli would ever have signed with these initials, which correspond to a form of his name that he never used.

Room 3: 17th Century, Rubens and the Baroque

A signature however can take many forms, encompassing secret codes, hidden signs and bizarre imagery. Lucas Cranach the Elder’s signature in Adam and Eve conforms to this theory.

Adam and Eve, Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1526

 Lucas Cranach the Elder, Adam and Eve 1526

His signature is painted on the Tree of Life and takes the form of a winged snake-like creature wearing a crown and carrying a ring in its mouth.

Adam and Eve (detail), Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1526

Lucas Cranach the Elder, Adam and Eve (detail), 1526

This version of Cranach’s signature started to appear in his paintings from 1508. Before that date, his paintings are usually marked with his initials.

We are still unsure about the meaning of this winged serpent, which may relate to a noble title or an order of merit given to Cranach. Cranach had a large studio with many assistants and this use of signature – or ‘branding’ – could have been a way of authenticating and controlling the overall production.

The Allegorical Portrait of Sir John Luttrell by Hans Eworth includes an inscription on the rock in the left foreground alluding to the courage and steadfastness of its sitter, along with the date of the painting and the initials of the painter.

Hans Eworth, The Allegorical Portrait of Sir John Luttrell, 1550

Hans Eworth, The Allegorical Portrait of Sir John Luttrell (detail), 1550

Hans Eworth, The Allegorical Portrait of Sir John Luttrell (below with detail), 1550

Although this reference to the subject overshadows the artist’s own mark, it is also a rare example of an artist’s signature in 16th-century England.

Room 6: 19th Century, Impressionism and Post-impressionism

In the 19th century, the Impressionists adopted a different approach to signatures.

They generally signed their works with their surname, a date and sometimes the location where the painting was made.

Claude Monet, for example, liked to sign his work with his full name and the date, most often in a colour contrasting with the background.

Claude Monet, Autumn Effect at Argenteuil,  1873

Claude Monet, Autumn Effect at Argenteuil (detail),  1873

Claude Monet, Autumn Effect at Argenteuil (below with detail), 1873

In addition, Impressionists sometimes included the location where the work was made, emphasizing their practice of painting out of doors and leaving the confines of the studio.

In order to reinforce the myth surrounding his exotic works in the minds of Parisian audiences, Gauguin added to his signature his location, Tahiti, a practice encouraged by his dealer.

Gauguin_Te_Rerioa

Paul Gauguin, Te Rerioa, 1897 (below with detail)

Paul Gauguin, Te Rerioa, 1897 (below with detail)

In Woman Powdering Herself, Seurat’s signature is more discrete. In this painting, the signature is embedded in the fictive frame that Seurat painted around the edge of the canvas.

Seurat, Woman Powdering Herself

Georges Seurat, Woman Powdering Herself, 1890 (Below with detail)

Georges Seurat, Woman Powdering Herself, 1890 (Below with detail)

What artists’ signatures have you spotted? Leave a comment below or Tweet us @CourtauldGall

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Jasper Johns: The First Week

18 September 2014 by Hannah

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It’s been an amazing first week for our latest exhibition Jasper Johns: Regrets – we’ve loved reading the reactions and comments from everyone who has come along to see the work. Here are a few of our highlights – keep them coming!


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