The Courtauld Gallery

I have long promised posts about my arty adventures in London, so here we go!

The Courtauld Gallery is located in Somerset House and the adjoining Courtauld Institute is a prestigious centre for the study of the history of art. The Gallery is a treasure trove of European art, with displays spanning from Medieval and Renaissance works to the 20th century. I would recommend visiting on a Monday, as entry is cheaper then!

The Courtauld has a wonderful collection, below are some of my favourites.

In the Medieval and Renaissance rooms, I loved this painted wooden panel which had a portrait on the front and a painting of holly at the back. The portrait is of an educated man – he holds an open book, and his cameo ring shows an interest in antiquity, It is possible that the sitter is Guillaume Fillastre.


Workshop of van der Weyden, Portrait of a Man.


There was also a painting by Botticelli, which I didn’t know was in the Courtauld’s collection. I am more familiar with his mythological work, so it was interesting to see one of his paintings with a religious theme. Also – the paintings in this room had marriage chests displayed below them. I had read  about these marriage chests (which have scenes painted on them) before, but I had no idea they were so big! I liked how they were displayed beneath the paintings, as they probably would have been at the time.


Alessandro Botticelli, The Trinity with Saints


Adam & Eve, in a rather Gothic or Dutch style. I enjoyed all the exotic animals in this depiction of the Garden of Eden. There’s even a tiger!


Lucas Cranach the Elder, Adam & Eve

I love this painting of Cupid and Psyche by Joshua Reynolds, largely because of the use of light. It captures the moment when Psyche sneaks a glimpse of her mysterious lover by candlelight. There is a glow of moonlight coming from the top right hand corner, further shedding light on the scene. It is quite a peaceful and intimate scene, however it is only a brief moment as a drop of burning wax wakes Cupid, who is enraged that Psyche has disobeyed him.


Joshua Reynolds, Cupid & Psyche

I was delighted to see these Cézanne paintings. The first, a still life, shows the artist’s distortion of perspective, demonstrated in the way the floor seems to tilt toward the viewer. The second painting was one of the highlights of the collection for me. The mountain shown here is Montagne Sainte-Victoire, which Cézanne painted many times in his life. The patterning of colour seen in the fields, and the beautiful purple shades in the mountain make it a joy to look at. The placement of the tree shows an influence of Japanese prints.


Paul Cézanne, Still Life with Plaster Cupid


Paul Cézanne, The Montagne Sainte-Victoire


And then there was a Renoir! It is a late work, and has quite a sketchy feel. I love the softness of Renoir’s style, and while this is not one of my favourites of Renoir’s work, it does capture his warm use of light, and creates an intimate moment. It reminds me of Degas’ works showing ballerinas backstage.


Pierre Auguste Renoir, Woman tying her shoe

I was also quite excited to see a Rodin sculpture. This small bronze piece was part of a collection examining movement, and it certainly captures a very dramatic pose. The bronze has quite a rough finish, and a greenish hue. It captures the power and physicality of the dancer in an unusual pose.


Auguste Rodin, Dance Movement


Isn’t this Monet painting beautiful? The brushwork is so light, resulting in a very soft impression overall. It almost looks like oil pastels were used. The way the flowers break out of the edge of the picture gives a sense of movement and energy, stopping the picture from becoming too static. It is signed in red on the bottom right hand corner.


Claude Monet, Vase of Flowers

Another Monet – quite similar to the one in the National Gallery of Ireland’s collection. I love the use of reflections in the water here, and the reds, browns and oranges of autumn seen on the left of the painting.


Claude Monet, Autumn Effect at Argenteuil

I was delighted to see a painting by Berthe Morisot, one of the female Impressionists. This work is quite polished compared to some of her other paintings which retain an Impressionist ‘sketchiness’ of finish. A favourite of mine is A Summer’s Day (currently in the Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin shared with the National Gallery of London).


Berthe Morisot, Portrait of a Woman

This Manet painting was one of the highlights (if not the highlight) of my trip to the Courtauld. I have studied it several times, and it was amazing to see it in person. It is a very arresting picture, and I spent a long time just taking it all in. We couldn’t find the signature at first, then my sister spotted it on one of the wine labels (see detail below). It is hung almost at eye level, allowing the viewer to engage with the painting. It is as though we are standing at the counter, waiting to be served by this sad-eyed barmaid. The mirror behind is fascinating, and gives a glimpse into the lively Parisian nightlife of Manet’s time.


Edouard Manet, Bar at the Folies-Bergere


Note Manet’s signature on the bottle on the far left.

This Manet was one of his most ‘Impressionist’ works. It appears to be a plein air scene – the dappled light on the water and the thick short brushstrokes show a rare moment of Impressionism in the artist’s style.


Edouard Manet, Banks of the Seine at Argenteuil

I love this Van Gogh landscape, as ever, I think his handling of paint is amazing. I love how thick the paint is on the canvas, and his expressive brushstrokes. The different textures in the landscape are so exciting, and the self-portrait too is very compelling. The self-portrait shows his use of streaky brushwork, and the intensity and power so often seen in his paintings.


Vincent van Gogh, Peach Trees in Blossom


Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear

I love Seurat’s Pointillist technique – it’s incredible, and fascinating to look at. The difference between viewing the painting up close and from afar is really striking. It is a very interesting painting in many ways – technique, composition and subject matter – the young woman in question is the artist’s mistress.


Georges Seurat, Young Woman Powdering Herself

This footman holding a lantern was one of a pair flanking a doorway.  I wouldn’t mind having some statues like this myself!


This is the original poster for the hugely influential Post Impressionist exhibition of 1910 arranged by Roger Fry that was to have such an impact on modernism. The image used is one of Gauguin’s. Many of Gauguin’s works were on display as part of a temporary exhibition.


Roger Fry, 1910 exhibition poster

Speaking of modernism, here is a painting by Vanessa Bell, sister of renowned modernist writer Virginia Woolf. A strong influence of art can be seen in Woolf’s novel To The Lighthouse. Just as Woolf’s work offers an insight into the mind and mentality of female protagonists, we see in this painting a focus on the intellectual life of women. The women in the painting are engaged in discussion, perhaps not unlike Bell’s and Woolf’s experiences as part of the Bloomsbury Group. In this work, Bell makes simplified use of colour and form, showing her modernist style. The women are positioned right at the edge of the canvas; it is as though the viewer can join in the discussion.


Vanessa Bell, A Conversation

I was immediately attracted to this painting by the lime green background, and the jaunty hat which this young woman wears. Munter has quite an illustrative style, and uses very heavy outlines. The use of colour is bold and blocky, creating a very striking portrait.


Gabriele Munter, Portrait of a Young Woman in a Large Hat

I was very interested to see some paintings by Kandinsky, I don’t think I’ve seen any of his works before. I was amazed by the variety shown in the paintings on display – the style (and indeed the signature) of each painting was completely different. I loved the bold forms and colours in this work – it really makes an impact!


Kandinsky, Red Circle


There was also a Picasso work on display! This however, was not a Cubist affair, and is very different from the kind of work for which this artist is best known. The brushwork is reminiscent of Van Gogh’s work, but overall it is quite traditional compared to Picasso’s later work.


,, Pablo Picasso, Yellow Irises

Unfortunately the Degas room (which I was really looking forward to) wasn’t open when we visited, but I think you can see from this small selection of works on show at the Courtauld that there are many wonders to be seen there!

2 thoughts on “The Courtauld Gallery

  1. I love the variety you’ve managed to photograph! I love visiting art shows. There’s something so different about seeing the work in person as opposed to just pictures in books or online. The Rodin statue looks fantastic. Thank you so much for sharing your visit!

    • Thank you – there’s a lot more there too, it was hard to pick which ones to put in the blog! There were a lot of Rubens paintings too, and a lovely Pissarro 🙂 And you’re right – you really do need to see the works in person, to get a sense of the scale, the texture…everything! Thank you so much for commenting! 🙂

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