Final Stages and Opening: MA Curating Exhibition 2014

Kirsten Tambling and Bethany Wright , MA Curating The Museum Students

And we’re open! Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art opened its doors on Thursday for a special private view.

View of the galleries during the opening of the MA Curating Show, Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art

Opening of Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art

It was exciting to see the exhibition space turn back into a public gallery at the Courtauld, because over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been spending most of our time there – hanging the works, lighting the works and putting up the interpretation panels.

One of our artworks, Nicky Hirst’s Wall 1, had to be specifically installed by the artist, using electrical cabling and a drill. So for three of those days we had the privilege of seeing Nicky at work bringing her piece to life, and drilling holes in the walls.

View of the Artist Nicky Hirst installing her artwork called Wall 1

Artist Nicky Hirst installing ‘Wall 1’

When we actually got in the space after months of planning and talking, we found that some of the works we’d chosen had a different sort of ‘presence’ from the one we imagined – perhaps they were slightly bigger, or more imposing, or seemed to have a different sort of emphasis.

So even though we’d planned our layout reasonably clearly in advance, we still spent a lot of time reordering things and trying new things out – which became part of the fun.

One of the works that became an anchor for us throughout these discussions was Richard Long’s River Avon Mud Hand Spiral. Its massive size and its power from a distance made it an ideal ‘vista picture’ – a work you see through the door of the previous room – and we knew we wanted it to be the first thing visitors saw.

View of the Final exhibition 'vista', Richard Long’s River Avon Mud Hand Spiral

Final exhibition ‘vista’, Richard Long’s River Avon Mud Hand Spiral

We had been imagining the sightline from the entrance to our show for months, and seeing the interplay between the two Richard Long works, Mona Hatoum’s + and –, and Anna Barriball’s Sunrise/Sunset V was a poignant moment for us all.

When we had the works up and arranged, the next task was to light them. There are a lot of works of paper in our show, and these usually have to have a light level below 50 ‘lux’ – the standard measure of light for conservation – and so we had to make sure we kept measuring the light levels and reconfiguring them as necessary to keep them low.

View of a member of staff standing on a ladder to light the gallery space for the exhibition

Lighting the exhibition space.

A particularly challenging work to light was Cornelia Parker’s Small Thought, a circuit board covered in silver filigree.

We wanted the silver to shimmer gently as it hung on the wall, but we found with head-on lighting this was impossible. After experimenting with lots of different options, eventually we discovered that the best way to achieve the effect we were after was to light the viewer, rather than the work, so that they reflect the light back onto the work, and make it glow.

View of artwork 'Small Thought' by Cornelia Parker, in the hands of a student installing the show

Installing Cornelia Parker’s Small Thought

Impress responds to the Courtauld’s current Bruegel to Freud: Prints from the Courtauld Gallery.

This explores The Courtauld’s collection of prints, one of the biggest parts of their collection but also the least known. When we came to discuss our own exhibition, and how it would respond to The Courtauld’s show, we decided that we wanted to consider the act of ‘print making’ more generally.

Since all the best known printing techniques – etching, engraving, woodcut, and so on – involve the exertion of physical pressure onto a surface, we decided that we would take this idea of pressure as our cornerstone.

One of the works that was part of our discussions from the beginning was Richard Long’s photograph A Line Made By Walking. Here, the pressure of the artist’s body on the grass creates a ‘line’, like a footpath, in a field. It’s a ‘print’, but it doesn’t use ink, plate or paper.

The final exhibition includes ‘blind embossed’ prints, pencil rubbings, engravings created by the pressure of the sun and, of course, Richard Long’s handprints in River Avon Mud Hand Spiral. Another work, Richard Wentworth’s Nature, Mort reduces ‘print making’ to its essentials: it’s a metal bolster lying on a pillow.

The private view was an opportunity to show the final exhibition to everyone who has contributed to it, and helped us, over the last few months. It was a very proud moment for us all – and we would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who made it possible.

Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art runs until 20 July 2014.

Bohemian Paris Lates: Music at the Cabarets Artistiques

Dr Charlotte de Mille, Freelance Music Curator at The Courtauld Institute of Art

In tribute to our Bohemian Paris Lates (Thursday 3 July and 14 August, 6-9pm) I have put together a Spotify playlist inspired by music from the era.

‘Do not forget what we owe to the Music-Hall, to the Circus’. 

So Erik Satie admonished the younger generation of composers. Nonetheless, Satie’s own creative output was mainly at the smaller, more intimate ‘cabaret artistique’.

The larger music hall and café-concert venues mixed circus entertainment with a public dance floor, whilst the esoteric design of the cabaret artistique offered a mixture of poetry, chansons, operettas and shadow theatres. 

Cabaret Artistique: The Chat Noir

Cabaret Artistique: The Chat Noir

For this playlist, I’ve concentrated on music written for and played at the cabaret artistiques, the Chat Noir, and the Auberge du Clou.

First introduced to the charismatic owner of the Chat Noir Rudolphe Salis in 1887 as ‘Erik Satie, gymnopédist!’, it was at the Chat Noir that the Gymnopédies, Gnossienes, and Ogives probably had their first hearing.

The three series of pieces for solo piano were advertised in Le Chat Noir journal in 1888, ‘conceived in the mystical-liturgical genre’ by the ‘sphinx-man.’

In contrast to the lavish spectacles of the Moulin Rouge or Folies-Bergère, the Chat Noir’s theatricality was orchestrated through medieval décor, and Satie’s Chanson Medieval is one musical example of this.

But Satie’s pieces for solo piano were often interspersed with movements from Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli. I’ve therefore followed suit in the playlist (watch out!) . Debussy’s Proses lyriques (1893) were dedicated to Vital Hocquet, humorist famous for introducing Erik Satie to Rudolphe Salis at the Chat Noir cabaret in 1887.

Whilst in this context the medievalizing content of “De Rêve” possibly owes a debt to the décor of the Chat Noir, dream, loss, and the passing of time are recurrent themes across all four songs.

Writing for Hyspa and the singer Paulette Darty, Satie produced a number of songs specifically for the Chat Noir. Of the twenty-eight manuscripts, Je te veux (1897 or 1901), Tendrement (1902), La Diva de l’Empire (1904) are perhaps the most well known.

Where Tendrement has been described as a ‘sung waltz’, perhaps written under the influence of Darty’s usual Viennese composer, Rodolphe Berger, La Diva de l’Empire is a classic cakewalk with the syncopated rhythm of rag-time America, introduced to Paris through Sousa marches.

Debussy occasionally played the piano at the cabaret Auberge du Clou, where Satie encouraged him to make use of a cabaret style: the result a song, La Belle au bois dormant (July 1890), to a text by Vincent Hyspa.

At the Chat Noir, the shadow-theatre regularly demanded up to twenty-three instrumentalists and fourteen singers.

In contrast to these extravagant orchestrations, cabarets at both the Chat Noir and Auberge du Clou also provided a nursery for poète-chansonniers (singer-songwriters) such as Yvette Guilbert who would later grace the stage in vaudeville tours de chant of some larger café-concerts such as the Casino de Paris.

Bohemian Paris Lates, Thursday 3 July and 14 August 2014, 6-9pm

Read more about Music in Montmartre  [PDF]

Bruegel to Freud: Prints from The Courtauld Gallery

Dr Rachel Sloan, Assistant Curator on Works on Paper

What makes up the largest portion of The Courtauld Gallery’s collection? You might be surprised by the answer…

Prints. Over 24,000 of them, to be precise.

The second Summer Showcase display to highlight a particular aspect of the Gallery’s permanent collection, Bruegel to Freud: Prints from The Courtauld Gallery explores this largest but least well known portion of the collection.

This display of 30 prints spans five centuries and covers most of the major printmaking techniques, from engraving to etching, lithography, wood engraving, woodcut and drypoint.

View of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, The Jockey, 1899.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901), The Jockey, 1899, Lithograph

Selecting the display from such a vast collection was certainly a challenge, similar to that undertaken by my colleagues Joanna Selborne and Lizzie Jacklin for their parallel display of prints from the Witt Library, Purpose and Process: British and French Printmaking, 1600-1900.

In choosing the works, I wanted to give visitors an idea of the breadth and depth of the collection, to highlight its strengths and to give a sense of the way its three principal donors shaped it.

The vast majority of the print collection comes from Sir Robert Witt (1872-1952), one of the founders of The Courtauld. Witt created an image library to serve as a research and educational tool for students, scholars and curators, and the more than 20,000 prints that formed part of it (along with thousands of photographs and catalogue cuttings) are mostly reproductive – that is, they reproduce works of art in other media.

Purpose and Process focuses on this aspect of the Witt collection, so I decided to highlight instead some of the small but choice group of ‘master prints’ (prints conceived and executed by artists as original works of art) that came from the Witt Library – a very rare etching by French Mannerist Jacques Bellange, an exquisitely detailed print by Jacques Callot that was made for a city festival in Florence and intended to be mounted and distributed to spectators in the form of a fan, and an allegory of the visual arts by Flemish artist Johannes Stradanus that gives pride of place to printmaking, to name a few.

Jacques Callot, The Fan (The Battle of King Weaver and King Dyer), 1619, Etching

Jacques Callot, The Fan (The Battle of King Weaver and King Dyer), 1619, Etching

Many of The Courtauld’s Old Master prints came to us from Count Antoine Seilern (1901-1978), a scholar-collector who bequeathed them along with his superb collection of paintings and drawings. Some of the gems from his collection included in the display include important early engravings and etchings by Andrea Mantegna and Parmigianino and masterpieces by a trio of eighteenth-century Venetian artists – Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Canaletto and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.

View of the etching 'smoking fire' by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778).

Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778), Smoking fire, 1749-1760, Etching

It’s also thanks to Seilern that we have a rare impression of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s enigmatic Rabbit Hunt, the only print the artist executed himself. With stunning naturalism, Bruegel depicts a vast landscape in which is hidden a hunter aiming at two rabbits who appears to be stalked by another hunter himself – perhaps an illustration of the proverb ‘He who pursues two rabbits at once, will lose both.’

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Rabbit Hunt, 1560 Etching,

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Rabbit Hunt, 1560 ,Etching

The Courtauld’s renowned collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art includes prints alongside paintings and drawings (many of them given by Samuel Courtauld himself), and they’re well-represented here, with an etching by Edouard Manet, a wood engraving by Paul Gauguin, and lithographs by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Pierre Bonnard.

The display also gives us a chance to show how artists have continued to turn to printmaking in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, with prints by Picasso, Matisse, Lucian Freud, Chris Ofili and Linda Karshan. Together, they give a taste of how artists today continue to revive and reinvent printmaking techniques, turning them to different ends.

Linda Karshan, N.E. 1, 2002, Etching and drypoint

Linda Karshan, N.E. 1, 2002, Etching

We hope you’ll come and make a few discoveries of your own among the Courtauld’s prints.

Bruegel to Freud: Prints from The Courtauld Gallery runs 19 June-21 September.

It All Comes Together: Installing the Guro Loom Pulley

Illuminating Objects is a series of displays that shines a light on unexpected objects from The Courtauld’s decorative arts and sculpture collection. Postgraduate intern Niamh Collard takes us behind the scenes and gives an insight into how she has researched the next Illuminating Object – a Guro carved wooden loom pulley from Côte D’Ivoire.

Niamh Collard, PhD candidate in Anthropology, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

After weeks of research, proofreading, soliciting the opinions of experts in West African carving, textiles and craft and meetings with the web designer, marketing team and mount maker, the project has eventually come together with the final installation of the pulley.

Graphic designers preparing gallery labels for display

Graphic designers preparing gallery labels for display

Gathering in the gallery early on the morning of the 4th of June with the curator, graphic designer, conservator and gallery technician the case was prepared, the labels arranged, and the mount fixed in place ready for this beautiful carved tool to go on display.

Installing the pulley in Room 10

Installing the pulley in Room 10

In the quiet of the gallery, in its gleaming, illuminated case and alongside Modigliani’s Female Nude of 1916 – a painting that was inspired by sketches of Ivorian carvings made at the ethnographic museum in Paris – the loom pulley was transformed.

Having handled it in the store and looked at it several times since, I felt that I already knew the object quite well.

Installed in the gallery, though, it took on a completely new light.


We had been worried that, as a small object, the loom pulley might be dwarfed in the Illuminating Objects case.

Considering that the display explores the tool as it was used by Guro weavers in their work, it was also important that its visual presentation and position in the case mirrored how a pulley would have sat in a craftsman’s loom.

Having looked at photos of a Guro loom, Colin, the mount maker, had constructed a simple and stylish solution to this problem. Looking at the pulley in its case, its presence is striking.

The delicately carved nose and downcast eyes of the woman’s face catch the light, drawing the eye across the room to the pulley and placing it alongside the elegance of Modigliani’s Female Nude.

My involvement in the project is now coming to a close and all that remains is for me to say thank you to everyone who has been involved!

I am very grateful to Dr Sacha Gerstein at The Courtauld, Prof. Trevor Marchand and Prof. Anna Contadini at SOAS, Dr Michaela Oberhofer and Eberhard Fischer at the Rietberg Museum in Zurich and Dr Duncan Clarke for all of their support and help over the past few months, and of course to my friends at the Agotime Weaving Centre in Kpetoe, Ghana, who taught me so much about weaving and what it means to be a craftsperson in West Africa.


Joanna Selborne, Esmée Fairbairn Cataloguing Project Manager.

Purpose and Process is the outcome of an Esmée-Fairbairn funded project to finish cataloguing a collection of prints that came to the Gallery from the Witt Library in 1990. For the cataloguer Lizzie Jacklin and me, both of us print fanatics, preparing it was an exciting and challenging task, not the least having to select a mere 26 works from over 23,000.

View of Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), Inverary Pier. Loch Fyne. Morning, 1811.

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), Inverary Pier. Loch Fyne. Morning, 1811.

The prints were originally part of the vast photographic image bank of European paintings and drawings up to around 1850 acquired by Robert Witt for reference purposes, and left by him to the Courtauld in 1952. Its scope was hugely extended with the arrival of much nineteenth and twentieth century illustrative material from the H.J. Cornish Collection.

Trawling through over 19,000 Witt Library boxes, I found around 2,200 prints suitable for transfer to the Gallery, a few of which are included in the display. Finding a theme was tricky as the collection is so diverse in subject matter and technique.

We narrowed the field by confining the national schools represented to British and French, the areas Lizzie was working on. There were otherwise no obvious unifying characteristics, apart from the fact that most of the Witt prints are reproductive. This means that they were made by  professional printmakers after artists’ work, often in sets or series.

Although there are some very fine original prints (i.e. artists’ prints) in the collection, we chose a token few, since the gems of the Courtauld’s print collection could be seen nearby in the Bruegel to Freud exhibition. How and why the prints were made seemed a logical way of uniting our selection in particular with the Witt Print Collection as a whole.

With this idea in mind we set out to make art historical and visual links between disparate images, such as Bible scenes for a Psalter, an instructional plate from Diderot’s dictionary, an artist’s portrait, a Hogarth satire, topographical views, narrative scenes for popular literary and art magazines, and a turn of the century French poster-style Parisian view.

View of William Hogarth (1697-1764) Time Smoking a Picture, 1761, etching and mezzotint

William Hogarth (1697-1764) Time Smoking a Picture, 1761, etching and mezzotint.

From luxurious labour-intensive copper engraving to cheaply printable wood engravings and lithographs, by way of etching and mezzotint, we aimed to show the extent to which print technology was influenced by the demands of the print and publishing trades.

The display also gave us a chance to reveal some discoveries made during the project, notably a rare French seventeenth-century etching by Jaques Stella and one of the few prints from J.M.W.Turner’s Liber Studiorum series made by the artist himself.

Find our more about Purpose and Process: British and French Printmaking 1600-1900.