Honouring John House: A Selection of 19th-century French Prints


Léon Augustin Lhermitte (1844-1925), The Fish Market at Saint Malo, 1882

Léon Augustin Lhermitte (1844-1925), The Fish Market at Saint Malo, 1882

John House (1945-2012) was many things: an internationally respected authority on Impressionism, a curator of landmark exhibitions including Post-Impressionism at the Royal Academy (1979), Renoir (1985) and Landscapes of France (1995) at the Hayward Gallery, and an eloquent, inspiring and generous teacher to generations of students at the University of East Anglia, University College London and, for more than twenty-five years, at The Courtauld Institute of Art.

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While John is best known and remembered as a scholar of Impressionism and especially of the work of Monet, one of the hallmarks of his scholarship and his teaching was his embrace of nineteenth-century art in its entirety, in all its dazzling and occasionally bewildering variety. He insisted that the innovations of the avant-garde could only truly be understood in the context in which they arose, and his students will recall lectures and museum visits introducing scores of once-acclaimed, now-forgotten stars of the Salon; tours of Paris churches and public buildings to view contemporary frescoes; and insights into the arcane practices and systems that governed the exhibition and reception of art, alongside the making and breaking of artistic reputations.

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I was one of those fortunate students, and I selected the current Print Room display of nineteenth-century French prints to honour John’s memory and pay tribute to his wide-ranging interests. One of these enduring interests was the evolution of the official art world in Paris, centred on the annual Salon. Exhibiting there could make or break an artist’s reputation, but it was noted for its conservatism, and as the century progressed artists began to against its strictures. An etching by Léon Bonnat after his own painting of Jacob Wrestling the Angel (1876) illustrates the sort of grand history painting that had long been deemed acceptable at the Salon, while a later etching by Léon Lhermitte of a fish market at Saint-Malo shows the inroads scenes of everyday life had made into the Salon by the 1890s. Two pages of Adolphe Martial-Potémont’s extraordinary Illustrated Letter on the Salon of 1865 offer a glimpse into the way paintings were displayed there: cheek by jowl, the polar opposite of today’s spacious hangs.

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A selection of etched artists’ portraits highlights a more intimate, less formal but no less important aspect of the Paris art world: the friendships that sprang up among artists and bound them together. Adolphe Lalauze’s portrait of the renowned printmaker Félix Bracquemond shows the artist in middle age, at the height of his success. Bracquemond’s own portrait of Alphonse Legros was made three decades earlier, when both men were closely involved in the resurgence of etching as an art form. Legros himself later moved to London and taught drawing and etching at the Slade School of Art. His sensitive portrait of fellow artist George Frederick Watts (1817-1904) was made during one of his classes as a demonstration for his students; the time constraints of the class dictated his focus on Watts’s face, with the outlines of his clothing barely sketched in.

The display, along with rest of collection of works on paper, can be viewed by visitors to the print room. As well as offering visits by appointment the Print Room is open for drop-in session every Wednesday during term time from 13.30-16.00.

Final Chapter


Well, my experience at The Courtauld has been fantastic — but it’s flown by so fast!  Before I do anything else, I want to thank Dr. Alexandra Gerstein for her support and mentorship through these past few months.  The Courtauld Gallery staff in general are an amazing group of people to work for, and it’s been an absolute privilege to have had this opportunity to contribute in my own small way to the work of the museum.

My object a book shaped pendant with painted-glass panels depicting religious scenes – was installed in the gallery this morning, and it looks great!  It was amazing to see everything come together so well at the end, including the beautiful labels and plinth, which I hadn’t really been able to picture until today. We were a little concerned about how such a tiny pendant would look in a large case, but I think we made very good use of the space by printing out high-resolution images of the glass panels and putting them on the plinth.  This helps the viewers see the object better and made the space feel warmer.



When I chose this object way back in July, I definitely did not anticipate all the challenges it would bring. It’s an object that doesn’t yield easy answers, that’s a little mysterious—but this is something we theologians love!  Even now, after five months of researching, consulting experts, and reflecting on the pendant, it still keeps its secrets.

Just a final comment on the research process — one of the highlights of my experience has been speaking with and learning from experts in the fields of art history and curatorial research.  Toward the beginning of my research, I had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Ayla Lepine, Lecturer in Art History at the University of Essex and an expert in Victorian aesthetics, who actually helped me select my object.  I was also very pleased to meet with Kirstin Kennedy, a curator of metalwork at the Victoria and Albert Museum, on several occasions; her insight on the object helped me probe much more deeply into the questions the object raises.  Finally, I was “serendipitously” (thank you, Google) able to track down a doctoral researcher from the University of Giessen in Germany who is currently studying book-shaped pendants from the Renaissance.  This was an amazing coincidence, and Romina was kind enough to fly to London and share her expertise with us.  Meeting these generous scholars has been a delight, and one of the experiences I will treasure from my internship is having been in a truly collaborative educational environment.  In my experience, university academia can sometimes feel resistant to this kind of collaboration, and it was refreshing to be involved in a project in which various perspectives were so vividly able to cross-fertilize and enrich my own study.

Soaring Flight: Peter Lanyon’s Gliding Paintings – Video

This major exhibition explores a remarkable and unprecedented series of paintings by Peter Lanyon, one of Britain’s most important and original Post-War artists. Lanyon (1918-64) sought to create a new vision of landscape painting for the modern era that could express both sensory experience and a profound understanding of our fragile existence within the world. During the 1950s, he produced radical, near-abstract paintings of the tough coastal landscape of his native West Cornwall inspired by his experience of gliding, this series will be showcased in a major retrospective at The Courtauld this autumn.

Listen to exhibition co-curator Toby Treves as he explores some of the themes within the exhibition.

You can see more videos from The Courtauld on our YouTube channel.

Soaring Flight: Peter Lanyon’s Gliding Paintingwill be on display until  17 January 2015

We’d love to hear what you think. Tweet using #PeterLanyon and @CourtauldGall or find us on Facebook

Feel Uplifted in The Courtauld Gallery Shop. Interview with Artist Jonathan Fuller

Inspired by our fantastic Soaring Flight: Peter Lanyon’s Gliding Paintings exhibition the shop team have been exploring all things Cornish!

Jonathan Fuller Wall Sculpture

Currently featured at The Courtauld Shop, is a lovely sculpture by the Cornish artist, Jonathan Fuller. We’ve had a chance to speak with the artist to discover more about his unique and stunning works.

Q&A with Jonathan Fuller

Q: What attracted you to using sea glass as a medium?

JF: I grew up in Cornwall, in North Cornwall, and it was something that I always collected as a child. Whenever we traveled to the coast we would collect it and it began mounting up around me.  Upon moving back to Cornwall I decided to put it to use.  It was something I started initially in my textile career that was different from the normal day job.  My first sculpture took about a year to make and everyone who came to see it just loved it.  Galleries became interested as well and it’s something I do whenever I can now.  Even though it’s waste, the sea transforms it into something lovely and smooth and I wanted to use a recycled waste material to make artworks.

Q: Do you spend time everyday looking for glass?

JF: Not every day as I make the frames and mounts that go along with the sculptures and that can take a very long time.  I often take a beach or coastal walk so I will be looking.  It’s really just luck of the draw and depends what you find.

Q: How long does it take you to collect enough sea glass to create a work?

JF: It varies.  The main colours I find are white, brown and green.  It’s the aquamarines and blues that are harder to find.  I’ve got a lot of the more obvious colours but it is the special tones that make the pieces unique.  It’s very difficult to put a time on it.

Q: What do you draw inspiration for your works from?

JF: It’s about colour and form and texture.  It comes from my textile background.  It’s the simplicity of the shapes, whether it’s the ring or the circle and the linear pieces.  What I find interesting about what I find is that with the changing of the tides, four times a day, it’s a circular movement.  It’s always a motion of change.

Q: Do you have a favorite coastal line you have visited throughout your travels? And what was so special about it?

JF: I traveled a lot with my textile career but when you’re working and doing trade it is always difficult to visit the coast.  We lived in London for ten years my wife and I.  I always missed the Cornish coast.  I do not believe you can get much better than the Cornish coast.  There are real differences in the Cornwall coast alone that are fascinating.  If I had to pick a coast I would have to pick the one I live on.  There is a beach in America (Fort Bragg) that I would love to visit as it is made entirely of glass and there are a few beaches in Hawaii that are spectacular.  But if I had to be honest, I think my little piece of coast is just fine.

Q: Is there a specific artist or genre that influences your work?

JF: I’m very fond of the St.Ives school.  One of my favorite is Peter Lanyon who is in your gallery at the moment.  I think Lanyon is definitely one of my favorites as well.  I wanted to see the exhibition when I came up to drop the sculptures off.  I couldn’t actually find parking when I was there.  But I’ll be up very soon to see it.

Q: Does sea glass hold a specific meaning for you?  Is it representative of something you could share with us?

It’s something I’ve always been attracted to.  I spend my time looking at the sand and not the view.  It can be quite compulsive and you keep hoping you’ll find another bit. I also really like the fact that it’s recycled and that it’s had a life cycle; some may be two years old or two hundred years hold.  They all have a history.  Sometimes they have words on them.  You can tell where they’ve come from sometimes.

Q: I know you have a whippet dog, Nell, and that you were hoping to train her to retrieve sea glass.  Has that come to fruition?

She’s a lovely dog but she is more of a chasing dog.  So to answer your question, I would have loved to but I am afraid the answer is no.

Q: I know you own a Will Eastham Surfboards red long board.  Is that going well?

I’m doing pretty good.  I’m not as good as him because he is incredible.  But it’s a lovely thing just to look at let alone ride.  I was in recently since it’s been pretty mild so it’s been going very well.

Q: What does the future hold for you and your work?

I found a beach recently with very white wood on it.  There are all kinds of twigs and branches that the sea has basically stripped the bark off and the sun has bleached.  They appear almost like bones.  I am currently making a piece made from these sticks and branches.  I also look at different forms of marine debris such as plastics.  There are so many human things that have been discarded that have ended up in the ocean.  It saddens me the amount of wildlife that is negatively affected by it.  I would like to make more pieces to highlight the impact we are having on our oceans.

Own a piece of Jonathan Fuller work for yourself from our Shop.

Book now to see Soaring Flight: Peter Lanyon’s Gliding Paintings 

Video- Bridget Riley: Learning from Seurat

Bridget Riley’s early breakthrough encounter with Georges Seurat’s Bridge at Courbevoie, a highlight of The Courtauld’s collection profoundly shaped her artistic development. This exhibition brings together the copy that Riley made of Bridge at Courbevoie in 1959 with Seurat’s original painting to consider this remarkable moment of artistic connection and inspiration.

Dr Karen Serres introduces us to the exhibition Bridget Riley:  Learning from Seurat and the work of Bridget Riley, one of the leading artists of her generation, in our latest video.


You can see more videos from The Courtauld on our YouTube channel.

Bridget Riley:  Learning from Seurat will be on display until  17 January 2015

We’d love to hear what you think. Tweet using #BridgetRiley and @CourtauldGall or find us on Facebook