Bloomsbury Art & Design

Our special display Bloomsbury Art & Design opened last month. It brings together a wide-ranging selection of work by the remarkable Bloomsbury Group. We asked exhibition curator Dr Rosamund Garrett to tell us about curating the display. 

Bloomsbury Art & Design installation.

In November I was appointed the new Bridget Riley Art Foundation Curatorial Assistant at The Courtauld Gallery, a unique role that allows me to work across the entire collection. With Dr Barnaby Wright, the Daniel Katz Curator of Twentieth-Century Art, I was charged with curating our current Special Display: Bloomsbury Art & Design.

This display brings together the highlights of the Courtauld’s collection of paintings, design drawings, ceramics and furniture by the artists from the Bloomsbury Group to look at the movement that shaped early twentieth-century modernism in Britain. It was my first project after having been completely immersed in my doctoral research in a rather different field – Renaissance tapestry – so I was eager to take up the challenge.

Given my specialisation in tapestry, I was keen to display the large rug designed by Duncan Grant, with its bold colours and eye-catching geometric design. Rugs are usually displayed on the floor, but with several large pieces of furniture featuring in the display, floor space was at a premium.  To ensure the rug could be shown I asked our Head Conservator, Graeme Barraclough, if we could do things a bit differently.

Tapestries are often displayed on slant boards: a board at a slight angle that allows the tapestry to be viewed vertically whilst its weight is gently supported across the entire surface. I thought that Grant’s rug would look striking displayed vertically on one of the short walls, and would complement the series of abstract rug designs that we intended to display beside it.

We started drawing up the plans for the slant board, but, after a thorough examination by conservation, the rug was found to be too fragile to be displayed in this way. Graeme, however, is never deterred. He and our technician, Matthew Thompson, devised a new method of display that combined a slant board with a roller, allowing us to display a section of the rug vertically whilst the roller holds most of the weight. Exhibitions always rely on the expertise, creativity and skills of many individuals, not to mention their physical presence – lifting the roller with the heavy rug onto our adapted slant board was no mean feat!

We are fortunate at The Courtauld to have such an extensive collection of Bloomsbury objects, many of which were given to us directly by one of the leaders of the Group, the artist and art critic Roger Fry. Why not pop in to Bloomsbury Art & Design to see the rug on our new display method as well as other works by the group of artists whose radical and experimental art introduced bold colours and dynamic abstract designs to the domestic interiors of Edwardian Britain.

Book Now: Bloomsbury Art & Design
Until 21 September 2017

Taking to the skies in the name of research.

As we open the doors this week to the Courtauld Gallery’s autumn exhibition Soaring Flight: Peter Lanyon’s Gliding Paintings. Curator Barnaby Wright shares with us the great lengths curators will go to all in the name of research…

Toby and Barney with Glider

From left: Toby Treves and Barnaby Wright with Glider

Being a curator can take you to some unusual places. I thought I had experienced my fair share of these during my career at The Courtauld Gallery but I was made to think again the other week as I strapped myself into the tiny cockpit of a glider and moments later was catapulted a thousand feet into the skies above Luton. ‘Strange’, my instructor exclaimed as the launch cable released with a loud bang, ‘this dial says we are going up and this one says we are going down.’ It is at moments like this that commitment to one’s career is gently tested.

I had been persuaded to spend a day gliding by Toby Treves, the co-curator of our exhibition, Soaring Flight: Peter Lanyon’s Gliding Paintings.  Taking up gliding had given him new and vivid insights into the remarkable series of paintings Lanyon produced in the late 1950s and early 1960s, which were based upon his experiences as a glider pilot.  Sitting at the time on a reassuringly earth-bound bench in The Courtauld Gallery, I had agreed to follow suit – after all, our exhibition policy lays great emphasis upon the importance of primary research….

Lanyon’s decision to take up gliding was fuelled by his desire to experience the landscape of his native West Cornwall as completely as possible.  During the 1950s, he produced radical, near-abstract paintings of the tough coastal landscape around the Penwith peninsula.  One day in the summer of 1956 Lanyon was walking across a high cliff top when he looked up,  saw three gliders soaring overhead and realised that this was the experience he needed.  He began gliding seriously in 1959 and went solo for the first time in 1960, clocking up many flying hours over the next few years.  Freed from a land-bound perspective, Lanyon poured his new gliding experiences into his art, producing paintings that offer a thrilling sense of his encounters with the land, sea and air, collapsing the multiple perspectives of his flights into each new composition.  The paintings were also profoundly shaped by Lanyon’s new-found glider pilot’s knowledge of the character of the air – its different movements, textures and forces, as well as the dangers and life-lines that it presents as one navigates through the thermals and up-draughts that are the invisible map essential for the glider to successfully complete a flight.  Lanyon’s gliding paintings stand as a unique achievement of twentieth-century art, reinventing and furthering the tradition of landscape painting in ways that can also be seen to engage deeply with the pressing existentialist concerns of the Post-War world. Sadly this remarkable project was cut short by Lanyon’s unexpected death in August 1964 whilst recovering from injuries sustained in a gliding accident.

I may have had some initial reservations about following Lanyon into the skies, but my day gliding was both enlightening and exhilarating.  It is quite unlike the experience of powered flight, even in a small airplane.  Rather than just enjoying the view of the land below from a stable altitude, in a glider one is fully immersed scanning both land and sky for signs of possible thermals, swooping around to feel them out and then being lifted up, enabling you to soar further afield.  This unique experience of movement in all directions through space is fundamental to Lanyon’s gliding paintings and helps to explain why they are so unlike straightforward aerial views,  so familiar from photographs or from peering out of the window whilst flying over Heathrow.

The Courtauld’s exhibition is the first devoted to Lanyon’s gliding paintings and is an opportunity to see this extraordinary body of work.  It brings together major paintings from public and private collections internationally, some never before exhibited in this country, alongside a small group of his related constructions.

BARNABY WRIGHT (BA 1999, MA 2000, PhD 2005) DANIEL KATZ CURATOR OF 20TH CENTURY ART

Soaring Flight: Peter Lanyon’s Gliding Paintings is on display at the Courtauld Gallery from 15 October 2015 until 17 January 2016. For more information visit courtauld.ac.uk/gallery/exhibitions/2015/Lanyon

 

Watch Barney in action

Auerbach’s Back!

Back in March we announced the news that two major works by Frank Auerback have joined The Gallery’s permanent collection – Rebuilding the Empire Cinema, Leicester Square, 1962, and Summer, Tretire, 1975.

 

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These works came from the private collection of Auerbach’s close friend, the late Lucian Freud and have been allocated to The Courtauld Gallery by HM Government Acceptance in Lieu Scheme, which is administered by Arts Council England.

 

The works will be in room 13 from this week as part of our British modern display alongside works from Lucian Freud, Walter Sickert and David Bomberg as well as: Leon Kossoff, Christ Church, Spitalfields, Early Summer and Frank Auerbach Head of Leon Kossoff which are new loans to the gallery.

 

Book your ticket now

Nick's Picks – Our Guide to Fathers Day Gifting

With Father’s Day just a few weeks away, we asked Nick Turner, Buyer at The Courtauld Gallery Shop, for his top five gift ideas for Dad.

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Gift Membership to The Courtauld Gallery, from £55 per year
Gift Membership is a wonderful present for art lovers that lasts all year. Members can participate in a special events programme, take advantage of discounts in the Gallery Café and shop, meet with curators and enjoy free entry for themselves plus a guest the whole year round.

 

Bloomsbury Blue Cufflinks, £35
These unique cufflinks are inspired by designs from the Omega Workshops. Established in 1913 by the painter and influential art critic Roger Fry, the Omega Workshops were an experimental design collective, whose members included Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and other artists of the Bloomsbury Group.

 

Cezanne Tie, £30
This vibrant tie takes its inspiration from Cezanne’s Lac d’Annecy, currently on display in The Courtauld Gallery.

 

The Courtauld Gallery Masterpieces, £10
This publication invites you to explore in the masterpieces from across The Courtauld Gallery’s Collection, stretching from the early Renaissance to the twentieth century. It includes iconic Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings such as Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Berègre, van Gogh’s Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear and Cézanne’s Montagne Sainte-Victoire, as well as drawings by Michelangelo and Rembrandt and rare works of decorative art.

 

The Courtauld Gallery Prints
Our prints service offers 40,000 high quality digital images of paintings, drawings, architecture and sculpture from The Courtauld Gallery and The Courtauld Institute of Art. Prints are available in a range of sizes, finishes, and can be supplied framed or unframed.

 

Father’s Day gifts are a great way to spoil your dad and though it can be hard to find the perfect gift for Father’s Day, hopefully Nick has made it a little easier.

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Crazy in Love

According to the shop displays and florists since New Year’s Day, the celebration of love and chocolate is around the corner. To celebrate Valentine’s Day here at the Gallery, we took a look at our collection’s best depictions of love.

 

The Nerli Chest, Biagio d’Antonio, 1472

Chest and spalliera with the arms of Vaggia Nerli and Lorenzo Morelli (The Nerli Chest)

One of a pair of chests made to celebrate the marriage of Vaggia Nerli and Lorenzo Morelli, the Nerli chest was intended for the bride.

Though made in celebration of matrimony, the chest itself seems more a celebration of maternal love than marital affection. It shows the story of the punishment of schoolmaster in ancient Falerii who wanted to offer his pupils to the Romans, betraying them. The Roman officer Camillus saved the children from this fate and gave them rods with which to beat the schoolmaster, a reminder for Vaggia Nerli to protect her children.

Perhaps the moral is that to love your children is to teach them how to protect themselves… with a big stick.

 

Peter Paul Rubens, Family of Jan Brueghel the Elder, 1613-15

Peter Paul Rubens, Family of Jan Brueghel the Elder, 1613-15

This one is so sweet it hurts, rendering me unable to make a joke. Rubens and Jan Brueghel were close friends and Rubens created a tender portrait of his friend and his family. 

Catharina Brueghel sweetly draws her two children closer, gently touching her son Pieter’s shoulder as he plays with her bracelet. She clasps hands with her young daughter Elisabeth as the little girl stares adoringly up at her mother.

 

Thomas Gainsborough, Portrait of Mrs. Gainsborough, Circa 1778

Thomas Gainsborough, Portrait of Mrs. Gainsborough, Circa 1778

Family legend holds that Mr. Gainsborough painted a portrait of his Mrs. every year on their wedding anniversary.

Sadly we only know of 5 portraits of Mrs. Gainsborough by her husband, but this portrait is a beautiful testament to their (sometimes fraught) relationship. When painting family, someone the artist knows well, the experience is vastly different from a commissioned portrait or working with a professional model.

This painting is more informal, the technique looser than in other Gainsborough portraits.

 

Georges Seurat, Young Woman Powdering Herself, ca 1888-90

To finish, a secret love. The woman in the was Seurat’s mistress Madeleine Knobloch. It was only after Seurat’s death that his family learned of her relationship with Seurat and the two children she bore him.

As can be seen in this infra-red photograph, which shows the paint layers underneath the surface, Seurat originally represented himself in the small mirror, painting Madeleine as she applied her makeup.

A friend, unaware of the romantic relationship between painter and model, made fun of Seurat’s inclusion of himself and Seurat angrily painted himself out, replacing his face with flowers in a vase on the corner of a table.

In 1890, Madeleine lost both Seurat and their eldest son to an infectious disease, probably diphtheria.