The Courtauld's Annual Book Sale.

On the 5 October The Courtauld will host its annual Book Sale.  With books stacked in every possible space, ready for all to buy,  we sent two of our finest roving reporters to meet our dedicated team of volunteers in the midst of preparing for what is widely to be known as ‘Christmas for literary lovers’.

A few days before the start of The Courtauld annual Book Sale, the view inside Seminar Room 4 was strikingly different from its usual serenity.  The classroom was overflowing with mounds of books, stacks of austere looking boxes, and layers of sticky notes with illegible scribbling.  What appeared to be the chaotic aftermath of an academic maelstrom was in fact the deliberate and delicate work of this story’s three heroes—Eva, Vivian, and Mike.  These three volunteers have been in the trenches of Seminar Room 4: unloading boxes, sorting books, and pricing them.  Mike remarks that it’s not just his altruistic spirit that keeps him coming back, but rather the first place in the sale’s queue his work earns him.  Regardless of motive, their work is completely indispensable.  These individuals have been instrumental in the continuation of this Courtauld tradition since its origin with Jane Ferguson.  An alumna herself (MA ’75), Ferguson is also responsible for the founding of The Courtauld’s Student Newspaper.

Book sale prepartationBook Sale unloadingBook Sale

The sale originated from a small collection of books that had been donated over the years—about ten boxes.  When deciding how the books should be used it was realised that the books could be sold, and the funds used to help students.  Now an annual affair, The Courtauld receives about 4000 books for each event. Today the money earned by this sale goes into a travel fund, allowing equal access to various travel opportunities for students at the Institute.  Last year the sale alone raised around £18,000.

Alumni provide some of the most substantial contributions to the sale, showing their lasting commitment to The Courtauld’s culture of self-sustainability and cross-generational intellectual exchange. Additional donations are accepted from various public and private libraries, publishers, and individual collectors, as well as from The Courtauld’s library.

Secret insider advice from the book sale veterans:

“The first day is extremely busy. Get there fast. Get there early.”

Written by Farhad Manouchehri (MA, 2015) and Tate Waddell

Click here for more information about the Book Sale


Coming soon: Panorama in The Drawings Gallery


Peter Lanyon may have been one of the first artists to draw inspiration for his paintings from his experiences of flying high above the earth in a glider. But if the technology available to him was relatively new, the practice of painting or drawing landscapes and cityscapes from a lofty viewpoint was not – artists have been doing it for centuries, sometimes by climbing to the highest point available, sometimes using their imaginations to lift them above the landscape.


Panorama, the fifth display in the Gilbert and Ildiko Butler Drawings Gallery, uses drawings and prints from The Courtauld’s collection to explore some of the ways in which artists used this enduring format before the age of powered flight to express a range of different ideas, from political and military might to Romantic notions of the sublime.


Some of the works on view were made on a scale that mirrors the immensity of their subject matter. Adam Frans van der Meulen’s View of Courtrai, made in 1667 on the eve of the city’s conquest by the French army, records the splendid appearance of Courtrai before its defences were breached on a span so broad that it required three sheets of paper joined together.


View of Courtrai smaller version

Adam Frans van der Meulen (1632-1690), View of Courtrai, 1667, © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London


Canaletto was no stranger to panoramic views of cities, and the display boasts a handful of his works: an expansive view of London from an imagined vantage point above Old Somerset House (more or less where our current River Terrace now sits), and a pair of etchings depicting the vast square of Prato della Valle in Padua. Canaletto had first undertaken the composition as a painting, but when he decided to include it in his album of etchings, Views of Venice (1741-44), he had to split the view in half so that it would conform to the size and format of the other prints. Put the two prints, Santa Giustina in Pra’ della Valle, Padua and Pra della Valle, Padua side by side and the complete view of the square is reconstituted: the key to the join is a tiny figure in a cloak at the centre.


Other artists managed to create a sense of unbounded space on much smaller sheets. The earliest work in the display, Roelandt Savery’s Mountain landscape (1607), is less than 30 cm across, but thanks to his skilful handling of the black and red chalks, the misty atmosphere he conjures up makes the scene appear vast.

Roelandt Savery (1576-1639), Mountain landscape, 1607, © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

Roelandt Savery (1576-1639), Mountain landscape, 1607, © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

Nearly two centuries later, John ‘Warwick’ Smith accomplished a similar feat in his watercolour The Valley of Terni. Smith visited the valley in Umbria, a favourite stop on the Grand Tour, in the late 1770s, but the watercolour was probably made years later, worked up from on-the-spot sketches and the artist’s imagination and memory. The foreground is alive with detail of almost crystalline refinement, but it fades off into the palest and finest of washes in the distance to create a highly Romantic landscape celebrating the awe-inspiring power of nature.

The Valley of Terni smaller version

John Irthington (Warwick) Smith (1749-1831), Valley of Terni with the river Nera after the waterfall of the Marmore and the village of Papigno, © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London


There’s more to see, including drawings and watercolours by J M W Turner, Francesco Guardi, Thomas Girtin and Francis Towne that explore further possibilities in this unique and long-lived format. We hope you’ll come along and see for yourselves.


Panorama opens 26 September 2015-10 January 2016.

Greetings from the new Illuminating Objects Intern


Find out about our new Gallery Illuminating Objects Intern, Devon Abts


Hello and welcome to my first blog as part of the Illuminating Objects I’m a PhD student in theology and the arts at King’s College, London. My doctoral project is an interdisciplinary study of theology and literature centered on the poetry of the nineteenth century Jesuit priest, Gerard Manley Hopkins. I am also interested in the intersection of visual art and theology, and by the way that the arts in general open up theological dialogue in and beyond academia.

Since my research centers on these interdisciplinary subjects, I was thrilled to learn about The Courtauld’s as the Illuminating Objects Internship back in May. The opportunity to apply my interest in theology and the arts in a broad educational context was genuinely exciting. And working at The Courtauld is not an opportunity to be missed! I have always been struck by how The Courtauld offers a unique first-class collection and excellent educational programs, while still maintaining an intimate feeling in its galleries. It’s the kind of museum where visitors are invited, not just to look, but to really appreciate the works displayed. I think this kind of intimacy is one of the things that attracted me to the internship, because I love the idea of working closely with a single object for an extended period.

In addition to learning about my object, I’m looking forward to gaining insight into a new kind of research. I’ve never worked in an art museum, and I’m excited to find out how curators learn about artifacts and communicate their findings. It’s a great opportunity for me to broaden my studies of the visual arts. I’m also looking forward to selecting my object. I’ve been behind the scenes to the Museum Stores once already, and there’s a lot of very interesting sacred art from the Victorian collector Thomas Gambier Parry, which instantly sparks my imagination in terms of the nineteenth century religious imagination.

Looking ahead, I’ll be pitching my proposal to Dr. Sacha Gerstein next week, and then starting research on my object straight away. I’ll be going to the V&A to set up a library account, and I’m looking forward to using their resources as part of my research. The installation date for my object is this October, so there’s a lot to do between now and then!

In the meantime, I hope you’ll keep up with the project by checking back here to the blog, where I’ll be posting about my research as I go along.