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

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. 

Showcase Week Starts Today!

The Courtauld Prints and Drawings Study Room Presents…

SHOWCASE WEEK: Land to Shore

For one week only the team of postgraduate Print Room Assistants will be presenting a selection of five of our most striking works on paper for public viewing, thereby marking the third presentation of the biannual Courtauld Prints and Drawings Study Room Showcase Week.  The first two installments highlighted depictions of The Nude and Scaled-Up, while the forthcoming week is dedicated to the study of prints and drawings that deal with the theme of Land to Shore.  The aim of this theme is to focus attention on how artists explore the relationship between land and sea, the extent to which a division is created by the coast or the horizon, and how this is interpreted on paper.  Including drawings and prints from the 1500s to the 1900s by artists from Bruegel to Turner to Kokoschka, this Showcase Week presentation encompasses the impressive breadth of The Courtauld’s collection of works on paper in terms of period, media, geography, and function.

‘Land to Shore’ also complements two exhibitions currently on view in The Courtauld Gallery, both of which focus on different elements of landscape.  The display in the Gilbert and Ildiko Butler Drawings Gallery, Panorama, explores invented, observed, and mapped panoramas while the Gallery’s major autumn exhibition, Soaring Flight: Peter Lanyon’s Gliding Paintings, highlights the artist’s near-abstract paintings of the coast of his native West Cornwall from the 1950s.

Between 1.30pm and 5pm this week our doors will be open without any appointment necessary, and each work will be on display for one day only.  Our friendly Print Room Assistants are eager to introduce their selected prints and drawings to the public and will be on hand to discuss them and answer questions.

The following works will be the focus of each days session:

Monday

Brugel

Pieter the Elder Bruegel (ca. 1525-1569), A storm in the River Schelde with a view of Antwerp, Circa 1559, Pen, brown ink and graphite, D.1978.PG.11

Two-thirds of this striking drawing are dedicated to a vivid study of the motion of waves during a storm. Beyond the receding waves of the river Schelde the city of Antwerp, one of the North Sea’s premier trading ports, can be seen. The visual dominance of the water dwarfs the city and the ships, underscoring the power of nature.

 

Tuesday

Capture

Melchior Küsel (1626-1683) after Johann Wilhelm Baur (1607 – 1642), Coastal Cityscape with Ships, 1670, Etching, G.1990.WL.3018.79

This imaginary harbour scene by the German artist Johann Wilhelm Baur is based upon Venetian cityscapes. Here the manmade quay that cuts at right angles into the water is emphasised through the monumental buildings built along this artificial shoreline.

 

Wednesday

boats

Claude-Joseph Vernet (1714 – 1789), Harbour scene, Naples, around 1750, Pen and ink, brown watercolour, graphite, D.1952.RW.1798

Vernet drew the Darsena (harbour) of Naples several times on his many trips there while living in Italy between 1734 and 1753. Here, using only his pen, ink, and brown washes on paper (left bare in places to depict the surface of the water reflecting sky) he captures the intensity of Mediterranean light.

 

Thursday

Turner

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851), Storm on Margate Sands, around 1835-40, Graphite, watercolour, bodycolour (white and blue) on paper, D.1974.STC.2

J.M.W. Turner produced a number of watercolours depicting the coastal landscape of Margate, a town where he went to school in his childhood and often visited throughout his life. In this vibrant watercolour, Turner focuses on the interplay between land, sea, and sky, as well as light and darkness and atmospheric elements by masterfully combining the use of different media.

 

Friday

Watercolour

In this drawing, Kokoschka achieved rich colouristic effects in the foreground by applying washes in a swift, painterly manner. This vibrancy separates the land from the steel blue sea, rendered in more uniform horizontal strokes.

 

Don't Miss Next Weeks Showcase Week!

Brugel

Bruegel’s A Storm in the River Schelde with a view of Antwerp

Next week marks the start of  ‘Land to Shore’, the third Showcase Week hosted by the Prints and Drawings Study Room.  In response to this years Autumn Showcase display Panorama and exhibition Soaring Flight: Peter Lanyon’s Gliding Paintings the team of Print Room Assistants have selected from The Courtauld Gallery’s rich collection of works on paper, five works that explore the relationship between land and water.

Each day of Showcase Week a different work will be presented by our Print Room Assistants. During the we are inviting visitors to drop by to see the work and learn more about it.  Showcase Week is a fantastic chance for visitors to see works from the collection that aren’t on display and learn more about what the Prints and Drawings Study Room.

We will be starting  Showcase Week with Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s (1564-1637) dramatic study of waves, dominating the distant view of Antwerp in his pen and ink drawing A Storm in the River Schelde with a view of Antwerp. Tomorrow’s print by Melchior Küsel (1626-1683) after Johann Wilhelm Baur (1607-1642) looks at how humans craft landscape in constructing a quay.  Later in the week we will be indulged with works by Claude-Joseph Vernet (1714-1789) (Wednesday 28), Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) (Thursday 29), and Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980) (Friday 30).

This is going to be an exciting week, exploring how different artists engage with the relationship between land and water through printmaking and drawing.  We look forward to welcoming and sharing these works with you.

Visitors are invited to drop in to see and hear about the selected work each day of Showcase Week between 1.30 and 5.00pm.

Introducing: The Second Hand

The Second Hand: Reworked Art Over Time is the collective, culminating project of the MA Curating the Art Museum course at the Courtauld Institute of Art. This year, the 12 students were challenged to respond to The Courtauld Gallery’s summer showcase Unfinished… Works from the Courtauld Gallery running concurrently and adjacent to our own exhibition.  Equipped with special access to The Courtauld collection and the Arts Council Collection, the MA Curating team has responded with The Second Hand, which is running at The Courtauld Gallery in Somerset House, London, between 18 June and 19 July 2015.

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It all started with a ripped drawing. A mysterious, jutting tear at the top right corner of Wyndham Lewis’ 1920 drawing of Ezra Pound effectively decapitates the seated figure and acts as a boundary between Lewis’ drawing and that of another hand. It was in this torn, incomplete state that 37 years later, and after Lewis’ death, fellow artist and close friend Michael Ayrton found this work and took it upon himself to reunite the body with a new head. He “re-finished” it, if you like. Their mutual admiration of each other’s work gave Ayrton the confidence to replicate Lewis’ stylistic draughtsmanship and return the drawing to a state of completion once more: an act which raises questions of authorship, authority, homage, collaboration, and even forced artistic interventions. Why did Ayrton feel the need to intervene and somehow salvage the damaged sketch? What right did he have to add his own drawing of Pound’s head?  What would Lewis have thought of this intervention, had he been alive to witness the result?

Ezra Pound by Wyndham Lewis

Thanks to the ripped drawing, a number of questions and ideas began to germinate in our minds. Is this type of “re-finishing” a common artistic practice? How does it manifest in art history? What are the reasons behind one artist physically altering, changing, or adding to the work of another? What are the different ways in which artists “re-work” existing art? They lead us to explore both the Courtauld and Art Council collections with a more focused intent: to discover works of art that had, at some point, been touched by more than one artist’s hand. And so began our search for the ‘Second Hand’.

Visit the blog of the MA Curating students to read more

Image credit:
Wyndham Lewis; repaired and reworked by Michael Ayrton,
EZRA POUND, 1920 (reworked 1957). Pencil, 35.5 x 51 cm.
The Wyndham Lewis Memorial Trust:
On long-term loan to The Courtauld Gallery, London ©
The Wyndham Lewis Memorial Trust/ The Bridgman Art Library