Prints and Drawings Room Archive

Behind the Scenes in Prints and Drawings: Auditing the collection

The Courtauld Gallery’s collection of prints numbers over 26,000 individual works. While that doesn’t make it the largest such collection in the UK – to put this in perspective, the British Museum has over two million prints – it’s still an impressive number and a challenge to keep track of.

So how do we do it?

Dr Rachel Sloan, Assistant Curator of Works on Paper, and Rachel Hapoienu, Drawings Cataloguer: IMAF Project

May Fortune’s Faerie Barque by Wind and Wave Be Wafted Thee, hand-coloured print, Jessie Marion King (1875-1949)

Everyone who works with the print collection on a regular basis – curators, conservators, registrars and our team of postgraduate Print Room assistants – endeavours to be as careful as possible about returning prints to their correct locations when they’re taken out for study, conservation or loan. But every couple of years, we set aside a few weeks and undertake a survey of the whole, or a large portion of, the collection – an audit.

We recently completed an audit of our 11,000-strong collection of British prints. This was actually the first time we were able to survey our entire holdings in this area, as cataloguing was only completed two years ago. As usual in such a tight-knit team, many people pitched in to work through the boxes in pairs, checking their contents against what’s recorded on our collection database.

It might not be glamorous work, and reading off endless strings of numbers can swiftly lead to a condition we jokingly referred to as ‘print audit brain’, but not only is it necessary for the proper management of the collection, it can turn up unexpected delights – for example, some lovely hand-coloured prints by Scottish illustrator Jessie Marion King (1875-1949), a contemporary of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. It’s always good to be reminded of exactly how many treasures we have in store.

By Dr Rachel Sloan

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

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

Kenneth Clark Travel Award Winner

On Tuesday we were thrilled to welcome Rosie Shackleton to The Courtauld Institute of Art’s galleries. Rosie, a sixth form student from Dixons Academy in Leeds, chose to visit The Courtauld after she was awarded the Kenneth Clark Travel Award during her participation in the ARTiculation Prize, a competition encouraging young people to speak publicly about art. Courtauld undergraduate student Annabelle Birchenough tells us about Rosie’s visit:

693a3064As a current Courtauld Student Ambassador who took part in ARTiculation in 2013, I was delighted to accompany Rosie during her visit. The day comprised of a number of fascinating behind the scenes insights into the workings of The Institute, including a visit to the Gilbert and Ildiko Butler Drawings Gallery, and Prints and Drawings Study Room.

First, we were fortunate to have Assistant Curator of Works on Paper, Dr Rachel Sloan talk us through the curation processes involved in her current drawings gallery display Regarding Trees, before taking us to the treasure trove that is The Courtauld Prints and Drawings Study Room. On learning that Rosie has a particular interest in Impressionism, Rachel pulled out a wonderful box of early Impressionist drawings and prints that Rosie really enjoyed getting up close to. The Programming Manager, Learning, Stephanie Christodoulou then talked Rosie through the general workings of the main gallery before we finished the day with a detailed walk around The Courtauld Gallery’s permanent collection, as well as the temporary display of Georgina Houghton’s work. By the end of the visit, Rosie told me she couldn’t have asked for more and summed the success of the day up as follows:

“I really enjoyed the visit. There were great insights into how a gallery is run, particularly on the paper and prints side of the institute, and I really loved the Van Gogh drawing we saw! The Impressionist gallery was just luscious and brilliant. I really loved the Georgia Houghton too – it was really interesting.”

Congratulations again Rosie, we hope to see you soon!

 

Drawn from the Age of Dante: John Flaxman’s Illustrations of the Divine Comedy

Our Botticelli and Treasures from the Hamilton Collection exhibition is currently under way and the Prints and Drawings Study Room is also celebrating Dante’s Divine Comedy. We asked Alexander J. Noelle, Print Room Assistant, to tell us more:

As a doctoral student whose research focuses on the Italian Renaissance, I was thrilled when I heard that the Gallery was planning an exhibition of Botticelli’s exceptional drawings for Dante’s Divine Comedy, now on view. I thought that the arrival of these masterworks would provide an excellent opportunity to showcase related prints from the Courtauld’s collection of works on paper. In my role as a Print Room Assistant, I began searching through the 26,000 prints to select a small group for a temporary display in the Prints and Drawings Study Room. What I found was the first full set of widely distributed illustrations for Dante’s epic poem.

In 1792, British sculptor John Flaxman (1755 – 1826) designed 111 plates depicting the complete narrative of Dante’s journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. Although other artists had responded to the visually evocative text before Flaxman, he was the first to draw an illustration for every canto (an Italian term for the sections of a long poem) and, through print, disseminate his work to a wide audience. Flaxman was praised for his ability to reduce Dante’s complex language to simple symbolic icons that still managed to capture the spiritual essence of the story.

Flaxman Dante Title

Title Page: Compositions from the Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, of Dante Alighieri, by John Flaxman, Sculptor. Tommaso Piroli (ca.1752-1824) after John Flaxman (1755-1826), 1793 (1807 edition), engraving.

The prints certainly look modern when compared to Botticelli’s depictions, yet when they were first published they were celebrated as belonging stylistically to the age of Dante himself. Flaxman was living in Rome when he drew the illustrations, actively studying artworks made by ‘primitive’ Medieval and Renaissance artists, and sometimes copying exact motifs into his illustrations. This influence, combined with the simple outline design, led Flaxman’s contemporaries to associate his drawings with Dante’s own era.

The sixteen prints on view in the Prints and Drawings Study Room correspond to specific drawings of the same canti by Botticelli in the Gallery. While it is unlikely that Flaxman saw Botticelli’s own illustrations, the comparisons query whether the viewer today can see the Renaissance influence in Flaxman’s prints.

Installation Shot

 

‘Drawn from the Age of Dante: John Flaxman’s Illustrations of the Divine Comedy’ is on view in the Prints and Drawings Study Room until 15 May. See opening times here.

There is also the opportunity to hear Alexander do a lunchtime talk in the Gallery on this exhibition at 1:15pm on Thursday 10 March.