The word on drawings!

 

Reading Drawings is our latest display in the Gilbert and Ildiko Butler Drawings Gallery. We asked curator Dr Rachel Hapoienu to tell us about the display and how it came about. 

The subject of inscriptions on drawings was an especially enticing one for me to tackle, as my role as the Drawings Cataloguer (IMAF Project) for The Courtauld Gallery requires me to examine every one of our over 7,000 drawings and meticulously record each inscription and mark. My initial list of potential objects for this display ran to a few hundred works, posing a serious challenge in how to narrow it down.

I knew I wanted to include a large section on signatures and names – these are the most common types of inscriptions, and though their frequency might make them seem a bit banal, for a cataloguer a signature is always exciting! However, this display urges caution in declaring a signature as genuine, because sometimes later owners added names of artists to the drawings they owned, and of course some forgers created fake signatures to deceive buyers into thinking their works were executed by a famous master.  One such drawing in this display, depicting a female nude, is a forgery in the manner of Rodin. The forger, known to scholars simply as ‘Hand B’, attempted to replicate both Rodin’s style and his signature. Closer inspection of the forger’s lines reveals that he applied pressure with his pencil too evenly throughout both the figure and the fake name, which is uncharacteristic of Rodin’s technique. This discrepancy combined with the figure’s unsophisticated anatomy and the prevalence of unnecessary lines helped to identify this work as a deliberate forgery.

Forgery in the manner of Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), Female nude, around 1917-1920

One drawing I knew I had to include is attributed to an artist in Raphael’s studio. The sheet is split in half, with text on the upper portion and below a somewhat puzzling scene of soldiers in a tent surrounding a bare-chested man drinking from a goblet. By comparing the imagery to paintings, prints and drawings with similar iconography, I determined the scene may be of ‘Alexander the Great and his physician’, showing the moment Alexander downs his medicine. Adding to the intriguing quality of this sheet is the text, which was written before the image was drawn. It lists the days of the week with corresponding food items, mainly bread and meat. The idea of keeping a ‘food diary’ is probably familiar to many of our visitors, and offers a charming parallel with the author of the inscription, who lived around 500 years ago. This sheet also helps evoke the atmosphere of a Renaissance workshop, where drawings were not considered prized works of art and every spare bit of paper was utilised.

 

Studio of Raphael (1483-1520), Alexander the Great drinking his medicine, around 1520s

I also wanted to highlight the different reasons artists might annotate their own works. Many of their notes were intended as instructions or explanations for an assistant or another artist, such as an engraver who was meant to transform the drawing into a print, or an architect who would use the drawing as a plan for constructing a building. Sometimes artists were trying so quickly to capture a scene out-of-doors that they would scribble notes to themselves on how to fill in the details once back in the relative calm of their studio.  In the current display, one of the most interesting methods of note-taking is demonstrated by a drawing of Cader Idris in Wales, by James Ward. In one three-month period Ward made over 500 landscape sketches, so he would use a rapid writing system called ‘shorthand’ to facilitate such productivity. In this strange-looking script, each symbol represents a word, and thus is a quicker method than using the conventional alphabet. Ward’s shorthand notes are mainly instructions to himself on what colour washes should be added to each area of the landscape.

James Ward (1769-1859), View of Cader Idris, Wales, 1802 or 1807

Another priority for me was to highlight drawings that have rarely, if ever, been on display before – The Courtauld has so many drawings that inevitably many never see the light of day. Of the twenty-three drawings on view, eight had previously never been exhibited, so a visit to Reading Drawings offers a rare opportunity to see some gems from our collection!

By Dr Rachel Hapoienu

 

Reading DrawingsOn display until 4 June 2017

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Last chance to see: Civic Utopia

 

We asked Dr Rachel Sloane, Assistant Curator of prints and Drawings to tell us about our latest display in the Drawings Gallery

Utopia

Over the course of 2016, every corner of Somerset House has been celebrating the 500th anniversary of the publication of Sir Thomas More’s Utopia with a rich and varied programme of exhibitions and events, UTOPIA 2016: A Year of Imagination and Possibility. The Courtauld Gallery’s own contribution to this celebration, A Civic Utopia: Architecture and the City in France, 1765-1837, is currently on view in the Gilbert and Ildiko Butler Drawing Gallery (to 8 January).

Civic Utopia considers the power of architecture and urban planning to shape and influence ideas of public life, focusing on the work of architects in France during and immediately after the Age of Enlightenment (1765-1837). Instead of focusing on grandiose (and often unrealised, or unrealisable) edifices, the emphasis is firmly on the everyday and on spaces where a broad cross-section of society mingled, including city markets, exchange halls, prisons, parks, abattoirs, hospitals and cemeteries. The exhibition has been organised in partnership with a major collection of architectural drawings, the Drawing Matter Trust, and we have been very fortunate to be able to work with them and display some of their treasures in the Drawing Gallery.

Although the main focus of Drawing Matter Trust, as its name suggests, is drawings, it also holds some fascinating three-dimensional objects, two of which are form part of the exhibition. In the centre of the gallery is a table on which are displayed – as in an architect’s office – drawings and watercolours depicting gateways and boundaries of cities, from a post-Revolutionary scheme for the Place de la Concorde by Pierre-François-Léonard Fontaine (1811) to a delicate black chalk drawing by Georges Michel of the Place and Barrière de la Nation, showing a much more open and convivial space than today’s traffic-clogged roundabout. The top of the table was designed and produced especially for the exhibition, but look beneath it and you’ll find two dazzling pieces of eighteenth-century craftsmanship: the trestle legs are journeyman pieces produced by cabinetmakers as a way of showing off their skills in the widest possible range of joinery techniques.

It is especially fitting that the exhibition is taking place within Somerset House, since William Chambers’s design follows many of the same principles that informed the utopian vision of the city that these architects pursued. Come and see these how these architects tackled the challenge of creating ideal urban spaces – and a living, breathing example of such a space.

Book now  Continue…

A contortionist in the studio

Our Rodin and Dance: The Essence of Movement exhibition is now open. We invited Viola Bruni, Acrobat, Dancer, Movement Director and Teacher to write a blog from her perspective about the works on display.

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Fig 1: Movement A

Contortion is not an art that everybody can practice, but Alda Moreno was definitely gifted with the extraordinary flexibility necessary to practice
 this ancient technique. In the fascinating exhibition “Rodin and Dance: 
the Essence of Movement”, the French model and acrobat is captured on paper and in clay in a series of movements which demonstrate her ability to bend 
in extreme ways. When I look at these sculptures I can see that not all of them are realistic. To my eye, Rodin was playing with exaggerating movements by composing impossible poses. Nevertheless, some of the movements are also realistic, and look similar to movements of the circus discipline of contortion, of Yoga and of gymnastics.

Myriam Peignist in her article “Histoire anthropologique des danses acrobatiques” , suggests that Alda Moreno worked at the Opéra Comique in an environment where dance and circus melt to create the professional figure of  the danseuse-acrobat, a sort of hybrid performer in between dance and circus.

Rodin and dance

Fig 2: Movement B

 By taking part in a collaborative project led by the MA/MFA Movement: Directing and Teaching course leaders at Royal Central School of Speech & Drama, and exhibition curator Dr. Gerstein, it was interesting to note that many of the movements seem to be preparatory ones rather than finished poses. Having a circus background, it was clear to me when certain poses could lead to further acrobatic movements.  Differing art historians suggest that when embarking on a series 
of drawings Rodin used to watch carefully chosen models moving for hours. When he saw something interesting, he was quickly capturing it on paper. Most of the time he did this without interrupting the flow of the models’ movements by asking them to stand still in a pose. Being an acrobat and model for artists myself, I experienced being captured both in stillness and motion. If I imagine being one of Rodin’s models, with others moving around me for an indefinite amount of time, I know that I would reach a state of flow, being liberated from time constraints and the pressure to create a pose. Such a state enables one to find one’s own personal rhythms and ways of exploring movement. Maybe this also happened to Rodin’s models, allowing him to capture normally unseen movements, warm-ups, and transitions. In my experience as performer, these moments retain more intimacy and subtleties than a perfectly finished pose.

If we look closely at Movement A (fig. 1) we can see both hands catching the lifted feet. This pose could be finished in itself, or it could be caught at the middle stage of a ‘back catch’ or ‘leg in hand’ pose. If that is the case, the hands grasping the feet have the function of helping lift the leg until it reaches the maximum extension.

Acrobats Blog

Fig 3: Split with back catch

What makes Movement A interesting for me, is its versatility. Both the movement as Rodin portrayed it, and the final pose it could lead to can be performed in a variety of ways. This means that Rodin might have seen Alda Moreno performing Movement A in a number of different orientations: standing, lying on one side, lying on the chest, in a split (fig. 3).

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Fig. 4 Y scale pose

Movement A can also originate from Movement B (fig. 2): one arm catches the opposite lifted leg, creating a hole for the other arm to pass through it. If the flexibility permits, as in the case of a contortionist, the lifted leg can be rotated to reach a back catch pose, with the shoulder involved in the rotation and the knee of the floor leg bending then extending again to allow the movement.

Movement B could also simply lead to the pose in fig. 4 which is also part of the rhythmic gymnastic vocabulary. In this case, in order to reach the finite position, the shoulder of the free arm passes through the hole. It is then positioned close to the knee, so to lock the torso in a stable pose. The arm is then stretched on the side, and can potentially hold an object. For example a ribbon in rhythmic gymnastic, or be positioned according to various expressive functions.

Visit Rodin and Dance: The Essence of Movement, until 22 January 2016

Photo credits
Artist: Claudia Hughes
Photographer: Despina Photography

 

It’s Christmas-a-go at The Courtauld Shop  

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Christmas is fast approaching so it’s time to start planning your festive shopping. This year we have teamed up with Nick Grossman Associates to decorate our shop This year. Their creative approach is based on the belief in objects being timeless, beautiful and practical. Our shop team have been inspired by Nick Grossman Associates approach and when brainstorming for the Christmas display.

We ask our Assistant Retail and Visitor Services Manager, Neil Taylor, a few questions about Christmas in The Courtauld Shop

At what point in the year do you start thinking about planning the Christmas display?

Very early, the Calendar for example is organised around October/November the previous year, the decorations are viewed at trade shows early in the year and ordered around late spring/early summer to make sure we can stock them on time.

Where do you find the inspiration each year?

Depending on the ranges available from suppliers, we draw a theme or story form whats new that year. We have a good idea of what our customers buy and expect to see, we try and stick with traditional decorations but sometimes throw in a bit of novelty, this year its Christmas dogs! New for 2016 we are introducing a small range of decorations based on The Courtauld Gallery collection as well as some relating to the  popular Somerset House ice skating rink.

Could you describe the process that you go through in getting the displays ready?

It’s a case of seeing what works well together, and then we plan set the shop, its always being tweaked up until the last minute to make sure it looks perfect.

How long did the actual installation take?

This year we stretched it out over a couple of weeks, but normally we can have it all set up within a week.

What will you be gifting from The Courtauld Shop this year?

There too much choice this year … I’m sill deciding!

 This year The Courtauld Shop is bursting with everything you need for a stylish Yuletide; find original gift ideas, beautiful baubles and the most spectacular decorations!

Open daily 10am-6pm

The Courtauld Shop, Somerset House,  Strand, London WC2R 0RN

 

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!