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:



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.




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.




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.




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.




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!


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.

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.

Q&A: What's it like being a curator?

Dr Rachel Sloan, Assistant Curator of Works on Paper on how she got into curating, her favourite part of her job, and her advice to aspiring curators.

Dr Rachel Sloan

What was your path into curating?

I went to university in the States and did a joint degree in English and history of art. I had planned to go on to postgraduate work in English, but a part-time job at my university’s art gallery and a year abroad in London – a considerable portion of which was spent visiting museums here and on the continent – persuaded me that I would be much happier in a museum.

I came back to London to do my MA and PhD at The Courtauld, during which time I volunteered in the Paintings department at the V&A and served as a researcher for the National Inventory Research Project. After completing my PhD, I returned to the States for a few years, where I did a graduate internship in the Drawings department of the J Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, followed by a curatorial research fellowship at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. I’ve been at the Courtauld Gallery since January 2012.


How did you come to specialise in prints and drawings?

The subject of my PhD was the interaction of Symbolist artists in France and England in the late 19th century, and a number of the artists I worked on were prolific and talented draughtsmen and printmakers. Studying their work first hand in the intimate setting of a print room was thrilling. After I finished my studies, I found that more and more of my scholarship focused on prints and drawings, and when I had the opportunity to work with drawings at the Getty, it seemed like a natural step.

But my interest in drawings actually reaches much farther back. I remember visiting a small show of Italian Renaissance drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago when I was quite young – perhaps ten or eleven? – and finding that I preferred looking at the drawings to looking at finished paintings. There’s something ghostly and elusive about drawings, like a direct – if fleeting – glimpse into an artist’s imagination.


What does your job involve on a daily basis?

There isn’t really such a thing as a typical day for a curator! I spend quite a lot of time working with the collection, whether organising an exhibition or display (working with prints and drawings, which are light-sensitive and can only be displayed for relatively short periods of time, means that the next one is always on the horizon), researching a single work, or working with our print cataloguer.

Gallery technician Jack Kettlewell and assistant curator Rachel Sloan hanging a Cézanne watercolour

Rachel and Gallery technician Jack Kettlewell hanging a Cézanne watercolour for the exhibition ‘Mantegna to Matisse: Master Drawings from The Courtauld Gallery’


One of my major responsibilities is managing the Print Study Room, so I might be overseeing one of our busy drop-in sessions (to which anyone is welcome to come on Wednesday afternoons during term time), assisting with a class, or teaching a class myself.

Sometimes I’m not even in the Gallery – I might be attending (or sometimes speaking at) a conference, visiting an exhibition or an art fair, or accompanying a work from the collection when it goes on loan to another museum.


What’s your favourite thing about being a curator?

Getting to work directly with incredible works of art and having regular opportunities to share them with a wide range of audiences, whether in an exhibition, a session in the print room or a lecture. The tremendous variety and hands-on nature of the work. The fact that no two days are the same.


And what is the hardest part?

The fact that no two days are the same!


What has been your career highlight so far?

Something that’s currently in progress – I’m working on a small show on English and German Romantic landscapes. I’ll keep you posted!


What is it like to work at The Courtauld Gallery?

Being able to work with such an excellent collection is a real privilege, and one of the most rewarding aspects of working in a university gallery is that we share the collection with such a wide audience – in a single week in the Print Room we might have as visitors a class from the Courtauld Institute, a renowned scholar from another institute, and members of the public who are thrilled to be able to spend time with a single print or drawing.

Being part of a relatively small staff (there were twelve of us when I arrived, which has grown in the last year to fifteen) means that there’s a great sense of camaraderie and cooperation – on a major project (like an exhibition), everyone pitches in.


What kind of qualities do you think a curator needs?

A passion for original works of art, a keen eye for detail, excellent communication skills (both verbal and written), the ability to work happily both in a team and independently… and tenacity! It takes a tremendous amount of time and hard work to become a curator, and of course once you start working, the work doesn’t stop. Not that I’m complaining – there’s nothing I’d rather be doing.


What is your favourite piece of art in The Courtauld collection?

That’s a difficult question – especially considering that there are about 7000 drawings and 22000 prints to choose from! The Turner watercolours are amazing (though if I had to choose just one, it would probably be On Lake Lucerne looking towards Fluelen).

On Lake Lucerne looking towards Fluelen

J M W Turner, On Lake Lucerne looking towards Fluelen, c. 1841

As far as prints go – again, a tough choice, but I think I might choose Canaletto’s Views of Venice – there’s something tantalisingly eerie and unsettling in his prints that is much less present in his paintings.

Canaletto, Imaginary View of Dolo with Market

Canaletto, Imaginary View of Dolo with Market, c. 1741-44

I also have a sentimental favourite that’s neither a print nor a drawing: Gauguin’s Te Rerioa.

Two years before The Courtauld moved to Somerset House, Samuel Courtauld’s collection was sent on a tour of major American museums, and I remember being taken to see it when it stopped in Chicago. Not only did I find Te Rerioa enchanting on the wall, it was also the image on the cover of the catalogue, which my mother bought. I grew up with it staring up at me from my parents’ coffee table. Maybe my coming to The Courtauld was fate…

Paul Gauguin, Te Rerioa

Paul Gauguin, Te Rerioa, c. 1897

What would your advice be to any aspiring curators?

Spend as much time with works of art as you can – learn to consider them as objects, not just images. Not having a first degree in the history of art isn’t a barrier to becoming a curator (many curators have studied literature, languages, history or even science at undergraduate level), but postgraduate study is becoming increasingly important, if not essential. Polish your writing and speaking skills.

Internships are really important – get as much, and as varied, hands-on experience in museums as you can, whether it’s working as a research assistant, giving gallery talks, helping with admin on an exhibition – all of it will be valuable. (Undertaking an internship at a smaller institution will likely allow you to gain a more varied experience than you might at a larger one.) Grab any opportunity you can.

Lastly – don’t give up! Becoming a curator is by no means an easy or straightforward process, and the competition for jobs is intense, but if you’re truly passionate about it, persevere.


For another perspective on life as a museum curator read V&A Curator Glyn Davies’s diary of what his job involves.