Artistic Exchanges: Corot, Costa, Leighton (National Gallery)

If you plan on visiting the National Gallery this summer, you won’t want to miss the sun-drenched Mediterranean landscapes currently on view in “Artistic Exchanges: Corot, Costa, Leighton.”  The paintings in this display reconstruct the interactions between three of Europe’s foremost artists of the nineteenth century: France’s Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875), Italy’s Giovanni Costa (1826-1903), and Britain’s Frederic Leighton (1830-1896).  “Artistic Exchanges” insightfully draws attention to the admiration these men had for each other’s work, as well as their shared appreciation of the natural world.

Corot - Avignon from the West (1836)

Camille Corot – Avignon from the West (1836)

Eager to establish a landscape tradition in his native country, the Roman-born Costa sought inspiration from foreign artists such as Corot, who was keenly interested in painting the poetic effects of light and atmosphere.  Corot’s Avignon from the West (1836), for example, unites land and sky with one another through a harmonious pattern of sunshine and shadows.  The interplay of light and form became a salient feature in Costa’s own compositions, such as Bocca d’Arno (c. 1895), a sweeping riverscape bathed in subdued blue-grey tones.  The panoramic views of Italian countryside favored by Costa made a subsequent impact upon Frederic Leighton, a fellow admirer of Corot.  Throughout his life, Leighton regularly traveled to Italy for painting excursions, on which trips he was occasionally accompanied by Costa after the two met in 1853.

Frederic Leighton - An Outcrop in the Campagna (perhaps 1866)

Frederic Leighton – An Outcrop in the Campagna (perhaps 1866)

The intimate exhibition space encourages viewers to draw comparisons between the landscapes by all three featured artists.  Leighton’s An Outcrop in the Roman Campagna (c. 1866), for example, employs the broad, lateral format favored in Costa’s paintings.  Meanwhile, the loose application of pigment in this landscape resembles Corot’s mode of handling in The Roman Campagna, with the Claudian Aqueduct (c. 1826).  The two artists’ treatment of light is also similar, so much so that a different painting by Leighton—The Villa Malta, Rome (1860s)—was originally attributed to Corot.  One of the most striking similarities of design appears between Costa’s A Morning at Botri, near Lerici (1878-81) and Corot’s The Leaning Tree Trunk (c. 1860-65), both of which the motif of sinuous branches backlit against a vaporous sky.

Giovanni Costa - A Morning at Botri, near Lerici (1878-81)

Giovanni Costa – A Morning at Botri, near Lerici (1878-81)

At the same time, the display also highlights the stylistic characteristics that made each artist’s approach to landscape painting unique, such as Costa’s delicate brushstrokes, Leighton’s solid forms, and Corot’s soft-focus delineation.  Corot’s large series The Four Times of Day, which hangs in the adjacent gallery, is a fitting compliment to “Artistic Exchanges,” particularly because it was Leighton who originally purchased this work from the artist in 1865.

Overall, these landscapes construct a compelling visual argument that emphasizes how these three artists influenced one another over the course of their careers. It also underlines the international nature of landscape painting during the nineteenth century.

Lindsay Wells is an MA student at the Courtauld.

Artistic Exchanges is in Room 42 of the National Gallery from 7 May – 3 September 2014 .

Design to the T: The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945-2014 (Victoria and Albert Museum)


Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Squeals of delight slip from the lips of students, older ladies and a few gentlemen at the Victoria and Albert Museum’s new exhibition of Italian fashion from 1945 to the present, a show promising to be both comprehensive and glamorous. And, like a good stilista, or fashion designer, the V&A delivers with great taste.

Displaying Italian trends chronologically, the exhibit is divided into five sections. Each section is designed differently and provides a palette for the clothing on view. Wood covers the walls and the floors in the first room that is dedicated to Giovanni Battista Giorgini’s fashion shows in Sala Bianca, or ‘White Hall’ in Florence’s Pitti Palace in the 1950s. When the gowns are displayed in front of this organic material, rather than standard white walls, they take centre stage.


Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The next section, ‘Tailoring,’ is a room with black walls and black felt-like floors bringing the viewer into the designer’s studio. The wall text is displayed on an oversized wooden textile spool, subtly reminding the viewer of Italian fabric factories. In the 1960s, the popularity for ready-made suits and garments tailored to individual clients increased. As much as the stitching of skirts and non-matching menswear suits impressed me, I could not help but examine the unexpected wallpaper. A detail of a pattern for tailoring (1960) covered the walls, marrying historical documents with contemporary design.

The third room, ‘Made in Italy,’ demonstrates the campaign of the same name that ensured style. In the new fashion capital, Milan, manufactured fashion became wildly popular in the 1970s. The wall text notes that a stilista ‘aimed not to create the perfect outfit but the perfect style.’ The floor-to-ceiling mirrors in this section enable visitors to gape at and appreciate each detail of each outfit from multiple angles. More importantly, the mirrors reflect the viewer and their style in tandem with the fashion on view. The mirrors force the questions: What is your personal style? How does your ensemble measure up to the ones on display?


Dolce & Gabbana: Ankle boots, black leather stiletto heels with gold, white and pink embroidery, Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The showstopper is the section about The Cult of the Fashion Designer. Since the 1990s, designers have become celebrities, often more photographed than their own designs. Upon entering this room, paparazzi cameras flash and click on a large video screen in the white circus tent that hovers over the runway-like display. The dressed mannequins’ shadows grow larger-than-life against the white fabric echoing the image of the celebrity designers who made them.

This exhibition reminds the public of a time when fast fashion was not consumed daily. The way in which the show demonstrates Italian designers’ dedication to each stitch is with its own attention to exhibition design. Like all the shoes that are displayed with one foot slightly in front of the other, as if the mannequin is taking a step forward, Italian fashion is leaping into the future. The question is not whether Italian fashion has a future, but how other designers will keep up with the Italians’ pace.

Aimee Rubensteen is an MA student at the Courtauld.

Design to the T: The Glamour of Italian Fashion is at the V&A til the 27th July 2014.