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

Van Gogh’s Ear. The True Story

By Dr Karen Serres , Schroder Foundation Curator of Paintings

As curators, we spend so much time with the collection we care for that it is both rare and exciting when new facts emerge about one of our paintings. This was the case of a few years ago when an independent art historian living near Arles, Bernadette Murphy, came to discuss Vincent van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with a Bandaged Ear. She was undertaking research about van Gogh’s time in Arles, including his network of friends and the specific timeline of events following his notorious dispute with Gauguin that led to the mutilation of his ear. She had fascinating things to say about the Self-Portrait, painted just a few days after van Gogh left the hospital. She talked about the novelty of the dressing used to heal his wounded ear, about van Gogh’s adoption of the heavy coat traditionally worn by shepherds in the region and about the room in which van Gogh stood, the ground floor studio of his little house in Arles. To paint this self-portrait, Van Gogh may have used the very mirror he looked into to cut off his ear a few weeks earlier.

Van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1889) Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, 1889 © The Courtauld Gallery, London

Bernadette’s research is now encompassed in a book, out today, called Van Gogh’s Ear. The True Story. It considers Van Gogh’s stay in the south of France in forensic details and unpicks a lot of the myths created and repeated around Van Gogh’s self-mutilation, including the nature of his wound. Until now, most accounts have trusted the painter Paul Signac who asserted that Van Gogh cut off a portion of the lobe of his left ear. Bernadette tracked down early sources, such as newspaper accounts and first-hand testimony, to prove that in fact the painter cut off his entire ear. She also argues that he survived such a wound thanks to the intervention of Felix Rey (whose portrait by Van Gogh is in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow), a young doctor who had recently come to Arles and was trained in new treatment techniques.

The book is a testament to Bernadette’s resolve during a seven-year quest and to the fact that the most unexpected avenues of research can yield the greatest rewards. It also shows that there is still light to be shed on even the most scrutinized of episodes.

Bernadette’s findings are also included in an illuminating exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam that examines all the manifestations and theories surrounding van Gogh’s mental illness, On the Verge of Insanity. It opens a much-needed dialogue between art historians and medical professionals to understand the nature and extent of van Gogh’s illness, but also to counter the idea that he was simply a slave to his demons. Van Gogh was a willful and deliberate artist that shaped his world on the canvas and created works of art that resonate more than ever with viewers.

Tis ‘The Seasons’

This week a new display opened at The Courtauld Gallery following an important new acquisition of work by the American artist Jasper Johns (born 1930).

The Seasons

Between 1984 and 1991, Johns focused on the theme of the four seasons and produced a significant body of work, which included paintings, drawings and the nine prints gifted to The Courtauld Gallery. Johns’ The Seasons are complex works, weaving together themes relating to artistic creation, the passage of time and the artist’s own biography. Most prominently, Johns’ own shadow appears in each of the compositions, cast across themulti-layered imagery.

This body of work comes from the generosity of Barbara Bertozzi Castelli, the widow of Leo Castelli, the legendary New York dealer who ‘discovered’ Johns in the 1950s. It was with Castelli that Johns first exhibited The Seasons series in 1987. The works bear a personal dedication —‘For Leo’— in pencil on each sheet. This gift was made possible by The American Foundation for The Courtauld Institute of Art.

Don’t miss this unique opportunity to view Johns’ work, rarely shown in the United Kingdom on display in room 14.

Book online

Free for Friends

Dancing our way to Coventry!

We have been working in partnership with the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum to bring to Coventry the world famous Edgar Degas masterpiece Two Dancers on a stage. In this exclusive display, see Edgar Degas’ painting Two dancers on a stage alongside three of his related works.

Dancers

Two Dancers on a Stage 1874 Edgar Germain Hilaire Degas, Copyright: © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

Coinciding with the display of artworks, the History Center in Coventry is showcasing a selection of items from the Herbert’s collection relating to the Courtaulds company and their links with Coventry.

Coventry played a key role in the success of the Courtauld company. In 1905 the company built its first viscose plant in Coventry, employing thousands of people. The wealth generated enabled Samuel Courtauld to develop his magnificent collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, which form the basis of The Courtauld Gallery collection.

The Herbert Art Gallery & Museum have taken the industrial heritage of the Courtauld textile factories as a starting point and celebrated Samuel Courtauld’s belief that great art should be made as widely available as possible.

See this iconic representation for yourself and discover world class art in Coventry at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum.

Free Admission

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.