Reading Inscriptions in the Collection

Our Reading Drawings Display, in the Gilbert and Ildiko Butler Drawings Gallery until 4 June, looks at a selection of works from The Courtauld Gallery’s collection which demonstrate the varying reasons both artists and collectors wrote on drawings. These range from straightforward signatures to lengthy captions, invented languages and marks of ownership. However, it’s not just this temporary display that features inscriptions revealing essential information about a work of art’s authorship, dating, subject matter, purpose and history. The Courtauld’s full collection has its own plethora of written word on a variety of materials, detailing an array of interesting snippets of information.

Monumental Inscriptions

Roman funerary altar (1st century AD)

Roman funerary altar (1st century AD)

The inscription here mentions the stone was made by Lucceia Hebene for her husband, Marcus Lucceius Optatus, and daughter, who died at five years and three months. What it does not tell us, but can be deduced from the name itself, is that Hebbene (or Hebene) was a freed slave, possibly a black freed slave. (There is an associated altar, dedicated to Lucceia Hebene herself, in a castle in Scotland.)

The art and craft of lettering

Inscription, 1918, Eric Gill (1882-1940)

This carved limestone inscription reads ‘OPTIMA ET PULCHERRIMA VITAE SVPELLEX AMICTIA’. This is adapted from Cicero’s De Amicitia and means ‘The best and most beautiful support of life is friendship’. Inscribed on the right side is the name of the sculptor and date of the work, ‘EGill 1918’.

Monograms and signatures

Portrait of Mette Gauguin, 1877, Paul Gauguin

The inscription on this bust is signed and carved below the collar: P. Gauguin. Only two marble sculptures by Gauguin are known, this portrait head of his Danish wife Mette and one of his son, Emile, carved in the same year. At the time the Gauguin family was living in an apartment in the Rue des Fourneaux, in Paris, which belonged to a sculptor named Bouillot. Considering Gauguin’s inexperience as a sculptor in marble, and the highly accomplished naturalism of this work, it seems likely that Bouillot assisted Gauguin in the carving, but to what extent is not known.

Virgin and Child, Circa 1365-70, Barnaba da Modena

This small work was made for private devotion. For this purpose, Christ’s scroll is inscribed with one of the beatitudes: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’. The text along the bottom, ‘Barnaba da Modena painted (this)’, is a rare early example of a painter’s signature. Born in Modena in central Italy, Barnaba spent most of his career in Genoa. The heavy shading of the Virgin’s face and the gold striations on her mantle are derived from Byzantine art. This slightly archaic style may account for Barnaba’s success in Genoa, where Byzantine painting had long been dominant.

Enamel plaque painted in grisaille with David and Goliath, probably French 19th Century in the style of the 16th century

This enamel plaque shows David and Goliath, with ‘P.R.’ on the bottom of the triumphal arch. Signed enamels with the monogram ‘P.R.’ usually means they were either made in the ‘workshop of Pierre Reymond’, or by Pierre Reymond himself. However, it is thought that this work is a highly skilled 19th century forgery done in the style of Pierre Reymond.

These are just a few examples of the types of inscriptions that can be found within The Courtauld Gallery’s collection, both online and in the Gallery itself. Next time you’re visiting us, why not take a closer look at the works and delve into the world of writing and markings on works of art, and for all art that is not currently on display, you can find out more on them on our Art and Architecture website.

Visit Reading Drawings, on display until 4 June 2017

The Courtauld Gallery Café

The Courtauld Gallery Café is an oasis of calm set within the elegant surroundings of Somerset House.The Café has indoor and outdoor seating and is the perfect spot to relax and unwind. The team of chefs ensure that delicious seasonal food is made on site all year round including freshly baked cakes, salads, soups and light meals. We spoke to Café Manager, Karolina Grazulyte about her role and whats it like work at The Courtauld Gallery.  

Tell us about your role at The Courtauld Gallery?

I work as a General Manager in both: The Gallery and Student cafés here in Courtauld.

What does your job involve on a daily basis?

I don’t think I ever have a ‘typical day’. In catering industry every day is different from another and brings new challenges! My main responsibility is to manage two Courtauld cafés sand provide catering and hospitality for various events. Enough to keep myself busy!

What’s your favourite thing about being working at The Courtauld Gallery?

I think it’s the fact that I have a privilege to work in a gallery with such a superb collection which includes world-class masterpieces.

 What is your work of art in The Courtauld collection?

It is really hard to choose just one; however, my favourite piece is Édouard Manet ‘A Bar at the Folies-Bergère’. Not only because of its popularity and the fact that it was Manet’s last major work, but I like the mystery which can be found looking in the mirror at the counter. I also admire it because every time I look at it I can discover a new details – like a pair of green feet in the upper left-hand corner!

Finally, what’s your favourite item on the Café menu?

My favourite dish is free range chicken salad with blood orange, chicory, mange tout and mint vinaigrette. It is very healthy, light and full of flavour!

Visit Karolina in The Courtauld Gallery Café Open daily 10.00 – 17.30

 

More Than Meets The Eye

Our Illuminating Objects project for 2017 is now underway. In a series of blog posts postgraduate intern Natasha Gertler will share her discoveries as she chooses and researches the next Illuminating Object.

With an academic background in physics and an unwavering curiosity for crystals since, well, forever, it was only natural for me to choose the intricate frame bearing the double sided Aertsen painting for my ‘Illuminating Objects’ internship. Acquired by Count Seilern in 1969 from Alessandro Orso in Milan, the frame is beautifully inlaid in pietra dura with a multitude of semi-precious stones.

Or so we thought…

Upon initial inspection (which, by the way, was true love at first sight) and discussion with Sacha, Curator of Sculpture and Decorative Arts with whom I am working on this project, and Graeme, Chief Conservator, we had speculations of the material composition of the frame; that the central upper disc showing concentric red and white rings was pink agate, the two purple columns either side of the painting were amethyst and the several rich blue segments, lapis lazuli. But, as with most scientific investigations, things are not often as they seem and we needed to perform analytical experimentation to be sure.

In order to gain some insight into the constituent elements of the stones, we ventured down to the conservation laboratory of the Courtauld to use the X-ray Fluorescence (XRF) facilities, with the expert guidance of Professor Aviva Burnstock and Silvia Amato.

Having used spectroscopy many times in my undergraduate physics experiments (albeit on far less beautiful objects!) I felt quite at home and even a little nostalgic in the Courtauld’s lab. XRF works by shooting X-rays at a sample and then analysing the energies of the X-rays reflected back to the detector, which are characteristic to each individual element.

As expected, areas of red colour showed a dominance of iron (Fe) in their spectrum, and the dark blue areas exhibited the presence of Calcium (Ca) which is typical of lapis lazuli. However, many different stones as well as manmade materials also have several elements in common with each other. For example silicon (Si) is present in both agate and glass. Therefore, XRF cannot be used as a conclusive method of material identification, but rather as a further analytical tool.

Red, round element in the central upper area. Presence of silicon and iron.

Central blue segment below the painting. Presence of calcium.

Purple element, middle horizontal element below columns. Presence of silicon.

For that reason, we turned to visual analysis instead. Dr. Emma Passmore, a senior teaching fellow in Earth Sciences at Imperial College London with experience in object analysis for the British Museum, kindly came to the Courtauld’s depot to help us identify these mystery materials. She agreed with our initial theories and added that the mirroring light blue elements on the lower panel were also agate.

However, she also suggested that some of the segments might not be semi-precious stones at all, but rather synthetic imitations. These included for example the panels that look like tigers eye and the red ovals at the very bottom, as well the orange and purple coloured banners across of the top and bottom of the painting, respectively.

Professional geologists identify stones by smashing and slicing them to make slides which they can then analyse under a microscope to a very high degree of accuracy. However, in the case of historically important and valuable objects such as this unique frame, this of course is not an option and alternative, non-intrusive methods must be used instead.

Will we ever be able to know the materials present in the frame with absolute certainty? Perhaps. And so the quest for identity continues…

 

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

Inscribing Prints

The Prints and Drawings Study Room is hosting a new displays that responds our Reading Drawings in The Courtauld Gallery. Print Room Assistants Imogen Tedbury and Sean Ketteringham talk us through the latest display.

Timed to coincide with the exhibition Reading Drawings, which showcases inscriptions on drawings in the Courtauld collection, this display in the Prints and Drawings Study Room looks at the function of inscriptions in prints. The Courtauld Gallery has 7,000 drawings, but it also has over 26,000 prints – so we had plenty of works to choose from!

Printed text in printed images can function very differently to handwritten text in drawings. So, we decided to leave aside the themes thoroughly examined in the drawings exhibition – attribution, the history of collecting and working practices – instead exploring why and how prints include text, and what functions word and image can serve together, across a broad range of dates and places. Playing around with the word and concept of ‘Authority’, we thought about the relative ‘authorities’ of text in an image: what happens when text moves from the frame or border to take up an active role in the image itself?

Some Early Modern printmakers represented God by representing the Word of God – his textual ‘authority’, if you like. In these prints, the physical representation of God’s Word as visual sign plays a central role within the image. In the Fall of the Tower of Babel, for example, the illegible rotation of the Latin text signifies the fragmentation of earthly language.

We were also interested in how an authority – whether political, religious or artistic – can be undermined by the use of inscription. Two eighteenth-century satirical prints chosen for the display use fragments of text to make fun of their subjects, subverting them by parodying religious language. An attack by an anonymous artist on Robert Walpole, the first prime minister of Britain, even seems a forerunner for 2017 Turner Prize nominee Anthea Hamilton’s installation of a giant bottom, Project for Door (After Gaetano Pesce), or Pauline Boty’s 1966 painting, Bum!

Printmaking’s close relationship with book-printing inspires the last group of prints – a selection of title pages and cover images from Canaletto to Wyndham Lewis considering how frontispieces reveal and conceal their textual and pictorial content. In these prints no clear boundary can be drawn between word and image, as together they combine to communicate the author’s identity.

Come and see these printed treasures, some of which have not been on display before. The Prints and Drawings Study Room is open by appointment Monday-Thursday 10am-5pm, or drop in on Wednesday afternoons during term time, 1.30-4pm, no appointment needed

Idol-Worship or The Way to Preferment, a portrait of Robert Walpole., 1740, © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

Sitting down with the Product Developer of The Bloomsbury Needlepoint Tapestry Kits

 

On Saturday 25 March, The Courtauld Shop will host an immersive experience in collaboration with The London Craft Club to mark the legacy of The Bloomsbury Group and Omega Workshops. The event will involve a guided tour of The Courtauld Gallery’s Bloomsbury Art & Design Special Display, a needlepoint workshop to further promote creativity in museums, refreshments, and a complimentary bespoke Bloomsbury Tapestry Kit (value of £20 – £25) produced in collaboration with Cleopatra’s Needle, a company founded in Scotland and that has been at the forefront of designing and manufacturing tapestry kits since 1991.

Attendees will partake in an hour-long needlepoint workshop with specialist Zuzana Lalikova to learn the craft of needlepoint and create their very own stitched four-colour badge. The bespoke tapestry kits are available in-store or online from the The Courtauld Shop.

Today, we have sat down with our Lead Product Developer of these bespoke tapestry kits to find out a little bit more about the creative process.

Q: Can you tell us a little about your decision to collaborate with Cleopatra’s Needle for the production of The Bloomsbury Group needlepoint range? Why needlepoint?

Well, ever since I worked on the range for the Beyond Bloomsbury: Designs of the Omega Workshops 1913-19 exhibition at The Courtauld Gallery, back in 2009, there was a piece of furniture there which really stood out for me. It’s a chair with a beautiful embroidered seatback by Vanessa Bell or Winifred Gill. It really inspired me to use needlepoint as a medium for a product range.

Q: Why did you choose Cleopatra’s Needle?

Cleopatra’s Needle is a long -standing wonderful Scottish company, which produce a wide variety of kits. The quality of components i.e. the canvas and wool that they use and their attention to detail really drew us to them.

Q: From your perspective, what is the relationship between The Bloomsbury Group and needlepoint?

The connection is quite an obvious one I think. Textiles and tangible materials were hugely important for the Bloomsbury Group, and they explored this in the Omega Workshops forum, where interior accessories were created; vases, rugs, ceramics, textiles, fashion garments, etc. This was very modern and forward thinking at the time and I love the idea of fusing British craft with a modern look.

Q: What is the foremost reason an art lover would purchase a Bloomsbury needlepoint kit? (What need are you satisfying?)

We are presenting an art lover with an authentic, well-priced gift to handcraft which has been sympathetically designed and produced. There is nothing else like it on the market – it’s got a very modern twist.

Q: What are the key milestones in product development? And which proved to be the most challenging?

In this process, there were many milestones! We did not want to create exact facsimiles of the archive but wanted to inject some creativity. We agreed the product types and mapped out the basic designs onto PDFs in paper form, along with agreed swatches of coloured wool. The next milestone was waiting for the samples to be stitched which was nail biting! But even then, some samples didn’t work, colours didn’t sit together, sizes were wrong and we’d have to resample. We got there in the end though!

Q: What did you take away from this experience?

An enormous amount. Working product development in needlepoint has been hugely rewarding and an area I hadn’t experienced before. I am very proud of the authenticity, the quality of the kits and how different they are.

Q: What are three words you would use to describe The Bloomsbury Group?

Modern, eclectic, experimental.

Q: We would love to hear more about future product ranges coming soon to The Courtauld Shop. Should we expect them to be as exciting as The Bloomsbury Group and Omega Workshop ranges?

We have recently had a revamp of the visual merchandising in the shop to make it a exciting shopping experience – we’d love some feedback from our customers.

The buying team are also looking forward to assembling wonderful ranges for the forthcoming Chaïm Soutine exhibition.  He was an incredibly expressive artist; controversial and passionate, so look for some lively and vivid products coming soon!

Culture Label are giving away two tickets to the Bloomsbury Needlepoint Workshop this Saturday, 11am. Enter HERE  Alternatively, book your tickets online.

Shop the Bloomsbury collection 

Visit The Courtauld Gallery’s  Bloomsbury Art & Design Special Display, 18 February – 21 September 2017