Coming soon: Panorama in The Drawings Gallery

 

Peter Lanyon may have been one of the first artists to draw inspiration for his paintings from his experiences of flying high above the earth in a glider. But if the technology available to him was relatively new, the practice of painting or drawing landscapes and cityscapes from a lofty viewpoint was not – artists have been doing it for centuries, sometimes by climbing to the highest point available, sometimes using their imaginations to lift them above the landscape.

 

Panorama, the fifth display in the Gilbert and Ildiko Butler Drawings Gallery, uses drawings and prints from The Courtauld’s collection to explore some of the ways in which artists used this enduring format before the age of powered flight to express a range of different ideas, from political and military might to Romantic notions of the sublime.

 

Some of the works on view were made on a scale that mirrors the immensity of their subject matter. Adam Frans van der Meulen’s View of Courtrai, made in 1667 on the eve of the city’s conquest by the French army, records the splendid appearance of Courtrai before its defences were breached on a span so broad that it required three sheets of paper joined together.

 

View of Courtrai smaller version

Adam Frans van der Meulen (1632-1690), View of Courtrai, 1667, © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

 

Canaletto was no stranger to panoramic views of cities, and the display boasts a handful of his works: an expansive view of London from an imagined vantage point above Old Somerset House (more or less where our current River Terrace now sits), and a pair of etchings depicting the vast square of Prato della Valle in Padua. Canaletto had first undertaken the composition as a painting, but when he decided to include it in his album of etchings, Views of Venice (1741-44), he had to split the view in half so that it would conform to the size and format of the other prints. Put the two prints, Santa Giustina in Pra’ della Valle, Padua and Pra della Valle, Padua side by side and the complete view of the square is reconstituted: the key to the join is a tiny figure in a cloak at the centre.

 

Other artists managed to create a sense of unbounded space on much smaller sheets. The earliest work in the display, Roelandt Savery’s Mountain landscape (1607), is less than 30 cm across, but thanks to his skilful handling of the black and red chalks, the misty atmosphere he conjures up makes the scene appear vast.

Roelandt Savery (1576-1639), Mountain landscape, 1607, © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

Roelandt Savery (1576-1639), Mountain landscape, 1607, © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

Nearly two centuries later, John ‘Warwick’ Smith accomplished a similar feat in his watercolour The Valley of Terni. Smith visited the valley in Umbria, a favourite stop on the Grand Tour, in the late 1770s, but the watercolour was probably made years later, worked up from on-the-spot sketches and the artist’s imagination and memory. The foreground is alive with detail of almost crystalline refinement, but it fades off into the palest and finest of washes in the distance to create a highly Romantic landscape celebrating the awe-inspiring power of nature.

The Valley of Terni smaller version

John Irthington (Warwick) Smith (1749-1831), Valley of Terni with the river Nera after the waterfall of the Marmore and the village of Papigno, © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

 

There’s more to see, including drawings and watercolours by J M W Turner, Francesco Guardi, Thomas Girtin and Francis Towne that explore further possibilities in this unique and long-lived format. We hope you’ll come along and see for yourselves.

 

Panorama opens 26 September 2015-10 January 2016.

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.

Work in Focus from Impress: MA Curating Exhibition 2014

By Charlotte North, MA Curating Student

 

In Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art, now showing at The Courtauld Gallery until 20th July, we have defined ‘print making’ as any physical act of pressure that leaves behind an indent or impression. For us, prints can be conceptualised in this way whether or not their production has involved a printing plate, ink or paper.

Two Richard Long works displayed in Impress illustrate the pressure and physicality involved in this expanded definition of printmaking: A Line Made by Walking (1967) and River Avon Mud Hand Spiral (1984).

Installation view of A Line Made by Walking in Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art. Photograph by Jack Cornish.

Installation view of A Line Made by Walking in Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art. Photograph by Jack Cornish.

 

A Line Made by Walking was created through the method that its title suggests. In a field in Wiltshire, Long walked repeatedly along a patch of grass until his action produced a visible impression in the landscape. Long then photographed his performative—and otherwise transient—gesture, making it permanent as an art object.

Long’s use of his own body in the natural environment to create a work that was both ephemeral and enduring was considered to be radical at the time. In fact, A Line Made by Walking is still considered to mark a seminal moment in art history, particularly because of the important role it played in the development of British Land Art.

To create River Avon Mud Hand Spiral, Long collected mud from the River Avon near his hometown in Bristol. He then dipped his hand in the natural material and impressed it repeatedly to a sheet of paper in the form of an immense spiral.

Installation view of River Avon Mud Hand Spiral in Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art

Installation view of River Avon Mud Hand Spiral in Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art. Photograph by Jack Cornish.

 

When viewed in the gallery, River Avon Mud Hand Spiral expresses a powerful sense of dynamism and energy; the force in Long’s movements can be seen in the splatter effect that surrounds his handprints. The repeated action also suggests a ritualistic routine and a sense of determination or even urgency.

Despite being visually divergent, these works by Long reveal several key similarities: they were both produced through a physical engagement with the landscape; they make use of simple, geometric forms; and they are both impressions that have been brought about by the weight and movement of the artist’s body.

It is this latter aspect of the works that made them integral to our thinking when planning this exhibition. Long’s works are not considered to be prints in the conventional, media-defining sense of the term, but they are the results of very direct and physical acts of impression. They can therefore be understood as compelling examples of expanded print making in contemporary art.

 

Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art runs until 20 July 2014.
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Work in Focus from Impress: MA Curating Exhibition 2014

By Jazia Hammoudi, MA Curating Student

Great Mosque, Samarra, Iraq is one of two superb blind embossed prints that the London-based artists Langlands & Bell generously lent for Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art, on display in The Courtauld Gallery until 20 July.

The print is one of ten ground plans of famous mosques from around the world represented in the Enclosure and Identity portfolio. Langlands & Bell have long been interested in the socio-political implications of architecture. Dealing with religious buildings, along with political infrastructure, cultural institutions, and historic sites is part of their rich artistic practice.

View of Great Mosque of Samarra in Iraq. Courtesy of Langlands & Bell

Great Mosque, Samarra, Iraq. Courtesy of Langlands & Bell

Blind embossing, a kind of stamping without ink, creates visually subtle prints that emphasize texture and dimension.

In Great Mosque, Samarra, Iraq, this process accentuates the mosque’s precise geometry, making for an elegant, sculptural image.

As an example of print making expanded, it speaks to the ways that centers’ of worship organize our lives and communities, sometimes invisibly.

The prints in Enclosure & Identity use architecture to investigate how religious institutions, along with secular and political organizations, play a major role in structuring identity within societies and in global contexts.

A view of the Great Mosque of Samarra‘s minaret, Malwiyah. Image courtesy of Architecture & Design Website

A view of the Great Mosque of Samarra‘s minaret, Malwiyah. Image courtesy of Architecture & Design Website

On another note, displaying the architectural plan of this particular mosque feels particularly relevant in light of recent history. This historically significant building has been heavily damaged in recent years due to intermittent warfare.

It was commissioned by the Abbasid Caliph (head of state) Al-Mutawakkil in the 9th century, and is one of the largest mosques in the world, measuring 240 meters long by 160 meters wide. It is particularly famous for its spiral minaret, the Malwiyah — ‘snail shell’ in Arabic – which stands 52 meters high.

Part of the top of the Malwiyah, was bombed in 2006 during the Iraq War. As a result, UNESCO declared the city of Samarra, including the Great Mosque, a World Heritage Site in 2007. Hopefully it will remain intact and inspire artists for centuries to come.

 

Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art runs until 20 July 2014.
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Final Stages and Opening: MA Curating Exhibition 2014

Kirsten Tambling and Bethany Wright , MA Curating The Museum Students

And we’re open! Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art opened its doors on Thursday for a special private view.

View of the galleries during the opening of the MA Curating Show, Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art

Opening of Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art

It was exciting to see the exhibition space turn back into a public gallery at the Courtauld, because over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been spending most of our time there – hanging the works, lighting the works and putting up the interpretation panels.

One of our artworks, Nicky Hirst’s Wall 1, had to be specifically installed by the artist, using electrical cabling and a drill. So for three of those days we had the privilege of seeing Nicky at work bringing her piece to life, and drilling holes in the walls.

View of the Artist Nicky Hirst installing her artwork called Wall 1

Artist Nicky Hirst installing ‘Wall 1’

When we actually got in the space after months of planning and talking, we found that some of the works we’d chosen had a different sort of ‘presence’ from the one we imagined – perhaps they were slightly bigger, or more imposing, or seemed to have a different sort of emphasis.

So even though we’d planned our layout reasonably clearly in advance, we still spent a lot of time reordering things and trying new things out – which became part of the fun.

One of the works that became an anchor for us throughout these discussions was Richard Long’s River Avon Mud Hand Spiral. Its massive size and its power from a distance made it an ideal ‘vista picture’ – a work you see through the door of the previous room – and we knew we wanted it to be the first thing visitors saw.

View of the Final exhibition 'vista', Richard Long’s River Avon Mud Hand Spiral

Final exhibition ‘vista’, Richard Long’s River Avon Mud Hand Spiral

We had been imagining the sightline from the entrance to our show for months, and seeing the interplay between the two Richard Long works, Mona Hatoum’s + and –, and Anna Barriball’s Sunrise/Sunset V was a poignant moment for us all.

When we had the works up and arranged, the next task was to light them. There are a lot of works of paper in our show, and these usually have to have a light level below 50 ‘lux’ – the standard measure of light for conservation – and so we had to make sure we kept measuring the light levels and reconfiguring them as necessary to keep them low.

View of a member of staff standing on a ladder to light the gallery space for the exhibition

Lighting the exhibition space.

A particularly challenging work to light was Cornelia Parker’s Small Thought, a circuit board covered in silver filigree.

We wanted the silver to shimmer gently as it hung on the wall, but we found with head-on lighting this was impossible. After experimenting with lots of different options, eventually we discovered that the best way to achieve the effect we were after was to light the viewer, rather than the work, so that they reflect the light back onto the work, and make it glow.

View of artwork 'Small Thought' by Cornelia Parker, in the hands of a student installing the show

Installing Cornelia Parker’s Small Thought

Impress responds to the Courtauld’s current Bruegel to Freud: Prints from the Courtauld Gallery.

This explores The Courtauld’s collection of prints, one of the biggest parts of their collection but also the least known. When we came to discuss our own exhibition, and how it would respond to The Courtauld’s show, we decided that we wanted to consider the act of ‘print making’ more generally.

Since all the best known printing techniques – etching, engraving, woodcut, and so on – involve the exertion of physical pressure onto a surface, we decided that we would take this idea of pressure as our cornerstone.

One of the works that was part of our discussions from the beginning was Richard Long’s photograph A Line Made By Walking. Here, the pressure of the artist’s body on the grass creates a ‘line’, like a footpath, in a field. It’s a ‘print’, but it doesn’t use ink, plate or paper.

The final exhibition includes ‘blind embossed’ prints, pencil rubbings, engravings created by the pressure of the sun and, of course, Richard Long’s handprints in River Avon Mud Hand Spiral. Another work, Richard Wentworth’s Nature, Mort reduces ‘print making’ to its essentials: it’s a metal bolster lying on a pillow.

The private view was an opportunity to show the final exhibition to everyone who has contributed to it, and helped us, over the last few months. It was a very proud moment for us all – and we would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who made it possible.

Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art runs until 20 July 2014.