Courtauld Artists at Work: Millie Nice

With the opening of Artists at Work in our Drawings Gallery we thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to shed some light on the artists among our colleagues at The Courtauld.

First up we have Millie Nice who is an Educator working with our Public Programmes team.

Millie Could you tell us about your practice – what media you work in, what subject matter you focus on, what inspires you?

I’m an illustrator so the I use the media that responds best to the job; it can be digital, coloured pencils, markers or an enormous painted mural! But at the centre of it I just really love to draw so anything that I can make a good line with suits me. When I started I would only ever draw in pens or markers that wouldn’t allow me to hesitate or change my mind and I still tend to make work this way. It often means you have to draw something multiple times to get to the right one! I use my History of Art background a lot in my work, re-drawing objects and artworks from the past. I’m inspired by history but I like to bring in as much humour and character as I can and encourage people to laugh and have fun with artworks from the past.

Tell us about your working environment(s).

I have a small studio at home with a drawing table, a scanner and a computer; it’s very simple but I can be fairly messy so the less space I have the better! I also work from a print collective studios in south London which has been brilliant for working alongside other creatives. Being freelance and working from home is a fairly intense experience so it’s great to be able to work with other people and support each other in the ups and downs that come with making what you love.

Do you work anywhere other than, or in addition to, a studio – and if so, where?

Because I draw from museum objects and artworks a lot I often end up in museums in galleries; I will always draw from life where I can. It’s easier to absorb more of an object’s character if you sit with it for a while and I love watching other people react to the artworks in the gallery; I suppose it’s like a kind of audience research for me!

How does your working environment affect your art (if at all)?

When I was young it affected me in a very practical way; I was an art student working part-time as a museum steward and I would draw in the galleries when I was at work. I could only ever use pencils and I worked in small notebooks that I could quickly slip in my pocket and not get caught! I still carry a small notebook and pencil with  me all the time and they are mostly full of quick little ideas I might come back to or work up in the studio. Over time I realised I’d enjoyed drawing at work the most out of everything I’d created while I was studying and it taught me to love all the strange and unexpected things that happen when you’re drawing quickly on location and to appreciate all you can do with a simple pencil.

Are there any particular tools or objects you feel particularly passionate about and/or are central to your work?

I try not to get too attached to any particular material, I like to be adaptable and I enjoy that you can make a drawing with even the simplest of tools. I feel pretty passionate about my phone as a creative tool but only because I think it’s terrible! I often have to work from photographs as reference material and it’s never as engaging as the real thing. When I first got my phone I was constantly taking photos of things I didn’t have time to draw but I never ended up going back to them. Now I operate a strict ‘sketch it or forget it’ policy!

How do you deal with creative block?

I find a good deadline sorts that out fairly quickly! If I get stuck it’s usually because I’m worrying about details so I try to make things as simply and quickly as possible. I try to give all my ideas an immediate rough try like a sketch or a small test. If an idea is weak then a quick rough is all it really needs and then I put it aside; the stronger ideas are the ones I enjoy and I want to keep working on.

Discover more of Millie’s work: 

Twitter @millieknice
Instagram @millie.nice

Artists at Work
The Drawings Gallery
Until 15 July 2018


Exploring Portraiture And Identity!

On Wednesday 25 October 2017, The Courtauld welcomed a group of young people, from state schools and colleges across London, to take part in an Insights into Art History workshop focusing on portraits by the artist Chaïm Soutine (1893-1943). The Insights into Art History day tied in with the current exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery, Soutine’s Portraits: Cooks, Waiters & Bellboys.

Art historian Dr Julian Freeman gave the students an introduction to Chaïm Soutine, a Russian migrant working in Paris during the early twentieth century. During the 1920s and 1930s Soutine produced striking portraits of people working in restaurants and hotels around the French capital.

In The Courtauld Gallery, we looked at portraits from the permanent collection. A painting that caught our attention was Édouard Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère. The group commented on the barmaid’s direct and powerful stance, unusual at the time of painting in 1882. By discussing composition and brushwork we explored how Manet’s artistic decisions have the power to alter how we perceive the barmaid. We also discussed Vincent Van Gogh’s expressive use of colour in his Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear of 1889.

Upstairs in the exhibition, we sketched the waiters, cooks and bellboys who feature in Soutine’s vibrant paintings. We were particularly drawn to the subject’s crumpled uniforms, because of the vivid tonalities of the red, blue and white brushstrokes

In a similar way to Manet, Soutine painted his subjects with powerful stances and vulnerable facial expressions. We learnt that Soutine would rework his paintings many times, repainting the same person until he was completely happy with how they were represented. You can find out more about Soutine in our new Artist and Sitter learning resource.

Back in the seminar room, students were able to produce portraits from life, like Soutine did. Ian, a security guard at the Courtauld, very kindly agreed to be the subject of the students’ sketches and paintings. Led by the artist and art historian, Matthew Krishanu, we learnt new experimental drawings and painting techniques which the students used in their own contemporary responses to Soutine’s work.

The first exercise involved making quick charcoal sketches of Ian, who sat on a stool in front of a blue and red backdrop. Matthew showed us how to use the side of the charcoal stick to create background shading. Then, by rubbing out small areas to create light, and layering darker lines to create shadow, the portraits of Ian really came to life.

We then introduced colour into our portrait studies by experimenting with layering oil pastel on coloured paper:

For the remaining few hours of the workshop the students produced a portrait of Ian using acrylic paint on canvas board. A light wash of one colour was used as the grounding for the paintings. After allowing time for drying, layers of acrylic paint in an array of colours were applied to the canvas.

We were also shown how to scratch paint away from the surface, and how to use different brushes for a ‘scumbling’ textured effect.

All of the portraits produced brilliantly captured Ian’s character through composition and brushwork. By exploring Soutine’s portraits and his painterly techniques, the students were able to look closely at the sitter to create their own artworks filled with energy and attention to detail.

Thank you to Matthew, Julian and Ian for such a fantastic workshop!

Our next Insights into Art History workshop Edgar Degas: Capturing Movement takes place on Saturday 18 November 2017.

Soutine’s Portraits: Cooks, Waiters & Bellboys
19 October 2017 – 21 January 2018


Written by Hannah Dixon

The Courtauld Gallery is top on Bill Nighy’s London list  

This summer we invited actor and Courtauld Gallery Friend Bill Nighy to give a tour of his favorite works in our collection.

Who better to show you around The Courtauld Gallery than beloved actor Bill Nighy?

We worked with the fantastic team at Chocolate Films to story board the film based on Bills favorite works in our collection.  Our aim was to raise the awareness of the gems in The Courtauld Gallery’s collection, so far over 400,000 people have watched this video in a matter of months.


Follow in celebrity footsteps on this video tour from The Courtauld Gallery



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

William Henry Hunt: Country People

Mention William Henry Hunt to most watercolour enthusiasts and you’re likely to hear something along the lines of ‘Oh, the one who did all the birds’ nests.’ Not for nothing was Hunt (1790-1864) nicknamed ‘Bird’s Nest’ Hunt; both during his lifetime and after, he was best known for his luminous, richly detailed still lifes of flowers, feathers and bird’s nests.

However, there’s another side to Hunt’s work, every bit as fascinating, that’s overshadowed by the birds’ nests: a remarkable series of single figure studies of rural labourers produced mostly during the middle of his career, in the 1820s and 1830s. William Henry Hunt: Country People (on view in the Gilbert and Ildiko Butler Drawings Gallery until 17 September) sheds light on this important aspect of his work. At the heart of the show are two works in The Courtauld Gallery’s collection, one of them exhibited here for the first time, depicting two gardeners on the estate of Hunt’s patron, the Earl of Essex.

The cast of characters – gardeners, gamekeepers, farmers, millers, kitchen maids and more – might strike us as appealingly nostalgic, capturing a lost golden age. In fact, the English countryside was undergoing tremendous social change while Hunt was painting its denizens, and some of these tensions are apparent in his choice of subject matter. Among the prosperous-looking gamekeepers, we find a poacher – a figure who undermined the age-old order the gamekeeper represented.

Hunt’s portrayals of country people are notable for their sympathetic dignity and their meticulous detail. Many of them come across as portraits of distinct individuals, but in some cases we now know he worked from a costumed model: sometimes the same figure appears in different guises, as in The Kitchen Maid and The Orphan, both modelled by his wife; in another instance, a ‘gamekeeper’s’ incorrect (and dangerous!) hold on a gun reveals that he is more likely a model than the professional of the title.

Whether records of actual rural workers or studies of a posed model, however, all of Hunt’s watercolours suggest a close encounter with his subjects. Disabled from birth and unable to work as freely out of doors as his peers, Hunt made a virtue of necessity by concentrating on figures and still lifes, closely observed in indoor settings. He insisted on working entirely from life and the vivid naturalism of his figures suggests his tireless engagement with the world around him. John Ruskin, a great admirer of Hunt’s work, called his watercolours ‘virtually faultless’. Come to the Drawings Gallery and see for yourself!

By Dr Rachel Sloan