Converging on the Object: The Courtauld Metal Bag

By Clara Chivers

The Converging on the Object symposium took place just before closing of The Courtauld Gallery exhibition Court and Craft: A Masterpiece from Northern Iraq. ‘The Courtauld Bag’, a piece of Islamic metal work dated c.1300, is the focus of this exhibition, which argues that the object is of the Mongol Ilkhanid dynasty. Court and Craft, alongside this symposium, marks a significant moment in the history of The Courtauld, which is consciously widening the scope of their scholarship into non-western art. The bag is intriguing; there are questions about its provenance, date and purpose. The coordinator of the symposium Dr Sussan Babaie aptly descried the event as ‘a response to the challenges posed by the silence of the object.’ Converging on the Object was a hugely rewarding day. By approaching the ‘Courtauld Bag’ through their various specialities, the speakers brought it to life and this interdisciplinary approach opened up the transcultural possibilities for its interpretation.

Curator at The Courtauld Gallery, Alexandra Gerstein, revealed how the gallery came to acquire the bag. Considering the collecting practices in 19th-century England, Alexandra discussed the object within the context of the collecting of Thomas Gambier Parry (1816-88), whose collection is now at The Courtauld. Judith Pfeiffer from the University of Oxford dated the bag in the Ilkhanid period of Mongol rule (1255-1353 CE). She explored the richness of the visual and literary changes which reveal the complex and ongoing cultural exchange during this time.  Pfeiffer focused the historian and statesman Rashid al-Din, who developed a new vision of the human past and present. As the Mongols adopted Islam, Islam itself changed, which had significant ramifications for its material culture.

Ruba Kana’an from the Aga Khan Museum analysed the bag into the marketplace and the context of Mongol traders and craftsmen. This paper explores the rich material culture of Mosul and by focusing on legal texts it reveals how metalworks were commissioned. Many of the objects in the exhibition describe Mongol ritual feasting and so a timely (post lunch) speaker, Paul D. Buell of the Max Plank Institute, Berlin shed analysed Mongol food and drink.

Ladan Akbarnia from the British Museum presented an interesting comparative piece: a coffer at the the Brooklyn Museum. Comparing this to the Courtauld Bag was an opportunity to discuss the fluidity of cultural identity, East-West cultural connections and Chinese synthesis in the post-Mongol period. Independent Conservator Diana Heath offered us a wealth of information from her close technical examination, showing some fascinating images from before and after the conservation work occurred.

In a thought-provoking finale, the contemporary Iraqi-born artist, Jananne Al-Ani, discussed her recent series of film and photographic works. It became clear how her artistic practice impacts the way she understands the surface of the bag. For Jananne the intricate patterns on the surface of the object naturally translate into the abstract forms of desert landscapes from her aerial photographs.


The Courtauld Metal Bag

The Courtauld Metal Bag

In her conclusion, Sussan remarked that the bag remains ‘alive.’ Indeed, the symposium considered only a handful of ways this piece could be interpreted and showed that there were many other avenues of research. In the final discussion Professor Deborah Swallow commented that the notion of the limitless ways in which we can see objects is an inspiring metaphor for what our discipline of art history is about.

Seventeenth-Century Oil Paintings on Canvas from Safavid Iran: People from ‘Parts Unknown’

As part of the pioneering Persian and Islamic arts lecture series at the Courtauld, eminent Persianist scholar Dr Eleanor Sims examined the case of ‘people from parts unknown’. The works in question were two suites of almost life-size oil paintings from the second half of the seventeenth century, which, being unsigned and un-dated, have both ambiguous origin and purpose. Their style is eclectic, and the subject hybrid, fusing the technique and pictorial conventions of contemporary European ‘prospect portraits’ with anonymous subjects dressed in luxurious Persian, Georgian and Armenian fashions. The suites are further paired off into couples of men and women who turn to each other from the left and the right.

The works are the subject of Sims’s current research, but both scholar and subject have been well acquainted throughout her career. Having originally catalogued the paintings for an exhibition in London in 1975, Sims’s talk presented new ways to think about the emergence this material, which has often been a subject of scholarly disagreement. Questions of who painted these figures is an issue which is perhaps no longer as relevant now as it may have been in the more connoisseurial atmosphere when the images surfaced in the 1970’s. Instead, Sims focuses on the possible intention of the paintings though an expert analysis of the costume of the figures, the curious nature of the objects that adorn the interior settings, any stylistic similarities to European equivalents and the cultural context in which they were produced.

Isfahan, Persia’s seventeenth century capital, was an international showplace populated by a cosmopolitan community including farangi envoys and missionaries from Europe as well as a prominent Armenian community established in the New Julfa quarter of the city. Sims’s analysis of these works interprets them as having been made in Persia, possibly by a European artist working there or within a dedicated atelier producing this type of image. They function then as the grandest of postcards representing the diverse ethnic groups that one would encounter in early modern Isfahan: a souvenir for the European traveller to take home from his Eastern grand tour. Similar large scale figural paintings were not unusual at this time, but could be found around the city in niches of buildings (such as Armenian houses or on the exterior walls of the Chehel Sotun Palace, which also turned a hand to the depiction of the exotic foreigner but from a Persian point of view). The intention of a European clientele is derived from the rectangular shape of the canvas, which hints at an element of portability. These suites lack the architectural jigsawing of their Persian equivalents that have intentionally arched tops in order to fit snugly to a façade.

The parallels drawn with Mannerist inspired image series including those by Spanish artist Francisco de Zurbarán (Jacob and His Twelve Sons, c.1640-44) placed the Isfahani oils in a context of contemporary practice. Sims’s identification of quotations from European sources, including those from portraits of Charles I and his wife Henrietta Maria that were owned by Shah Safi (r. 1629 – 1642) amongst others, further demystified stylistic elements within the Safavid canvases and made direct connections with their possible sources. The two suites of ‘people from parts unknown’ still pose more puzzles for the viewer, particularly the enigmatic blonde male which remains without a matching female equivalent but who possesses a strikingly individualized face. Their abusiveness is however an enduring factor in their fascination, and some of the pairs recently provided the grand finale to the exhibition Sehnsucht Persien in Zurich earlier this year. They have too evidently provided a fertile riddle for Sims to decipher, but one that she eloquently unravels to great effect.


Flip, Linger, Glide: The Movements of Magazine Pictures and Their Publics c. 1915


Coles Phillips, cover design, Good Housekeeping, February 1915

Coles Phillips, cover design, Good Housekeeping, February 1915

Jennifer Greenhill’s talk focused on the illustrations of early 20th -century female periodicals, especially the work of American illustrator Coles Phillips (1880-1927).  As owner of an advertising agency and illustrator of mass-consumption magazines, Phillips is a fitting character to challenge the prevailing historiographical interpretations of magazine illustration. On one hand, Greenberg and other modernists scorned magazine illustrations as mere kitsch. On the other, many museums display illustrations and magazine covers framed on the walls, like ‘high-art’ paintings. Greenhill certainly considers illustrations art. However, she also focused on their role within magazines, where they can be flipped over, lingered on, or glided through.

Greenhill placed particular importance on the interface between the reader’s body and the printed image. She argued that certain illustrations respond to typical patterns in reading, inviting and expecting specific forms of engagement from their beholders. Although illustrations in early 20th-century magazines generally conformed to the ‘pretty girl’ type and invite a gender analysis, Greenhill’s main focus was on the formal properties of magazine cover-images, which visually compelled the reader to directly interact with the magazine’s materiality.

Reflecting this approach, Greenhill’s lecture featured a number of detailed visual analyses, the most sustained of which focused on Coles Phillips’ 1915 cover design for Good Housekeeping. Showing a young woman immersed in a book, the cover promoted a positive image of the female readership as contemplative and engaged, a representation that was relatively rare at the time. At the same time, the cover also functions as advertisement for the magazine, which was more book-like in its format and more literary in content than its competitors. Uncluttered by text, the cover easily became a collectible, a practice which publishers explicitly encouraged.

Most noticeable in this Good Housekeeping cover is Phillips’ signature fade-out technique. Whilst some forms are described in detail, others lack any outline and merge into the background. Thus, the fade-out technique emphasised two-dimensionality. Yet some parts of the image, like the folds in the woman’s dress, are accurately described and tactile in their three-dimensionality. At the boundary of flatness and illusion, the cover evokes art historian Alois Riegl’s concept of ‘haptic vision.’ Showing Phillips’ sketches along with the printed copy of his designs, Greenhill demonstrated how tactility and openness were already major bconcerns at the pre-production stage.

Titled ‘A Brown Study,’ as in the contemporary phrase denoting a state of deep thought, the 1915 cover puts a commercial spin on the contemporary fascination with psyche and self-discovery, staple themes of the Good Housekeeping. Indeed, Phillips illustrations often challenge the rising popularity of photography, demoting its high-art ambition by emphasising its commercial associations.

Greenhill’s lecture was a work-in-progress for a chapter in a forthcoming book. Yet by tightly basing her arguments on visual evidence, she delivered an inspiring and eye-opening talk.

War Memorials of the Great War: Britain, France, Germany: Jay Winter

Jay Winter

Jay Winter

People have died in thirty-one separate armed conflicts so far in 2014, the centary year of the outbreak of the Great War, thought at the time to be the war to end all wars. The fact so military conflict continues to claim lives and the approaching anniversary of the start of the Great War, meant that Jay Winter’s seminar ‘War Memorials of the Great War: Britain, France, Germany’ certainly hit home. The very name of the Great War of 1914- permanence and remembrance: to be great, whether for better or for worse, is to be remembered. Yet how does one memorialise war that remains not so great? Conflict memorialisation is riddled with blame and atrocity, therefore how do we remember these events effectively without lessening the horror of the event? And how does it remain current, a message to be passed on to future generations?

The implications of glory and greatness formed one dimension within Winter’s seminar, whilst the other culminated in an exploration of the cult of names that developed as a result of the Great War, as names became substitutes for the deceased; developments in artillery in the early 20th century reshaped modern warfare, rendering the bodies of the deceased unrecognisable. The other half of Winter’s seminar focused on a perhaps unanswerable question: how does one memorialise the lives of five million men who have vanished? To my mind he seemed to highlight the issue of how the memorials that have attempted to do so have in-corporeally vanished in front of our eyes today, receding into landscape of our surroundings.

The questions that formed the core of Winter’s seminar are, in my opinion, unanswerable – and although Winters brought them to light, his attempts to answer them were rooted in his perception of the Great War. The use of names, tangible materiality and the abstraction of monuments seemed to be his answer, derived from the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme. The development of warfare has of course progressed even further, if we consider for example the invention of nuclear weapons – more damage can be done, more lives can be lost and this seems to indicate that memorialisation needs to develop to keep pace with these horrific changes in the very nature of warfare.


Engulfed and in Motion

Regine Rapp, Art Laboratory Berlin: Some notes on the Phenomenon of Perception in Contemporary Installation art, Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Ilya Kabakov, The Man Who Flew into Space from His Apartment, 1988 (from the exhibition "Ten Characters" at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York). Photo: D. James Dee // Image Courtesy of Ilya Kabakov: VG Bild Kunst Bonn

Ilya Kabakov, The Man Who Flew into Space from His Apartment, 1988 (from the exhibition “Ten Characters” at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York). Photo: D. James Dee // Image Courtesy of Ilya Kabakov: VG Bild Kunst Bonn

In a continuation of this term’s investigations into the relationship between art and perception, this week’s Frank Davis Lecture concerned the spatial aesthetics of installation art. Central to the research of Dr Regine Rapp from the Art Laboratory Berlin is the application of reception theory in assessing the multisensory experience of the viewer when entering the spaces shaped by artists. Combining the physical with the conceptual, this lecture aired new experiments into age-old issues of reactions both to illusion in art and to the authority of exhibition spaces.

With multiple visual and audio examples, Dr Rapp’s talk examined how the viewer’s presence in and motion through an installation both completes the work and also induces a sense of being engulfed by an environment.  Depending on the situation, the response can be a kinaesthetic one, brought about by the body’s physical engagement with an environment, and/or a synaesthetic one that mixes sight and sound to disorientate and to distort the expected sensation of space and time. The former effect was exploited by the subversive strategies of Russian artist Ilya Kabokov working around the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union. His Total Installations worked by constructing an oppressive atmosphere that in one example took the form of a cramped artist’s room in a soviet communal flat, the chaotic pressure below contrasting with the sense of relief where the occupant had catapulted his or herself through the ceiling and into space. Dr Rapp commented on the 3-D trompe l’oeil effect of such works and their references to a controlled state environment, as illustrated for instance by the same artist’s hanging sculpture of flies arranged to form the outline of a Russian orthodox onion dome, itself position in a roped-off space.

frankdavisThere is an interesting element of institutional and consumer critique to the Transformation Installations in which Belgian artist Guillaume Bijl stages the deadening non-site environments of airports and trade fairs. While the audience would no doubt have agreed with the alienating effect of these carefully composed ‘still-lifes’ of the everyday commercial landscape, the productive insights to be gained from the splicing of illusion and disenchantment in cavernous expo halls were less convincing. Perhaps one had to be there …  Where I would like to have been is in the Hebbel Theatre in Berlin for the experience of the Ghost Machine, a guided solo walk behind the scenes and back in time mediated by audiovisual technology. Describing the physiological surround effects achieved by the artist’s recording of a script through a dummy head, Regine Rapp suggested that Janet Cardiff and Georges Bures-Miller’s interactive walks present a new form of art work that might be characterised as a ‘trompe l’oreille’. Certainly, in expanding the embodied aspects of exhibition and performance, this last example illustrated very well the project’s focus on the physiological response at the heart of reception studies. If there was something missing from the equation however, perhaps it was the weight of scientific evidence that, conversely, has been the prime concern of previous lectures. For more on this side, go to the  for information on recent collaborative research into the phenomenon of synaesthesia.

Every picture tells a story

The Newsreel, the Daredevil and the Cameraman: character and play in the interwar newsreel, by Dr Sara Beth Levavy. Modern and Contemporary Seminar, Monday 4 November.

With a focus on the pivotal role of the cameraman in the newsreel films of the interwar years, the new Andrew Mellon postdoctoral fellow introduced Monday’s seminar participants to her on-going research project and subject of a PhD from Stanford University. Drawing from a wealth of observations on the function of newsreel as a representation of contemporary vision and experience, Dr Levavy’s paper provided plenty of evidence for the existence of a specific genre that belongs as much to the story of Hollywood as it does to the history of journalism. Clips of engineering triumphs and death-defying antics helped to relay the visual excitement of the extraordinary in the everyday as framed for an American public of the 1920s and 30s: footage which, once circulated in often purpose-built movie houses, would frequently be recycled into feature films by the big corporations.

Pathé News Synopsis Sheet, no. 69, 1928 (Library of Congress, Motion Picture and Recorded Sound Division)

Pathé News Synopsis Sheet, no. 69, 1928 (Library of Congress, Motion Picture and Recorded Sound Division)

Reflecting on a production policy of thrills, spills and modernity in motion, Dr Levavy explained how the industry specialised in the rapid repackaging of ‘news’ to offer what she describes as ‘a meditation on the new’. A key figure in the important illusion of real-time experience was that of the cameraman, who with a fluid position both inside and outside the frame could embody the roles of character and operator, thereby functioning as the human intermediary between audience and screen.  And it really did come as news to much of the  contemporary audience just how closely these crafted characters can be identified with the standard super-hero as personified by crusading journalist Clark Kent, aka Superman. Not only was this trope – combining an incorruptible search for truth with lightening speed and the all-important aerial view – consciously immortalised on celluloid in Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman (1928), but there are acres of film depicting cameramen risking life and limb to bring the latest real-life spectacle to a news-hungry public.

For those of us with a passing familiarity with British or European newsreel, there was perhaps an expectation of a certain perspective on some of the grittier reality of this era, if not actual images of war, or indeed propaganda. Responding thoughtfully to such issues, Dr Levavy was careful to point out the deliberate suspension of ideological critique from her study. Partly this is due to a tacit acknowledgement of its established presence in the wider discourse. Chiefly, however, it is because she takes her methodological lead from a body of material constructed precisely to exclude such perspectives; a fact underlined succinctly by her consideration of an alternative title to her PhD, ‘There was always a monkey’. Instead, there are other questions to be asked of a genre that sits between entertainment and reportage. Concerning the standardised exhibition structures, these include the intriguing figure of the cameraman at the heart of a construction that is seen to represent a particular world – but one that only exists within the cinema.

Artist’s Talk: Shirin Neshat

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Artists’ talks provide both the chance to observe an artist’s public self-fashioning, and to venture behind the scenes of art production. Shirin Neshat’s profuse account of her professional trajectory insists on the collaborative origin of her work. Her narration is marked by two moments of rupture: the first when she decided to quit her art education, which she deemed too conventional and too focused on the discovery of talent; the second when she decided to give up photography and take up video instead, creating double-channel projections that could circulate outside of the elitist world of contemporary art. In her words, she is “addicted to new beginnings,” such dramatic changes having ultimately increased her will to collaborate with other artists, actors, curators, or directors. (In fact, this very event was conceived as collaboration between the newly appointed member of the Courtauld faculty, Sussan Babaie, the director of the London Film School, Ben Gibson, and the independent curator, producer and writer, Vali Mahlouji).

The talk started off with the projection of a video entitled Passage (2001) conceived and realized with American musician and composer Philip Glass. Amidst a stark yellow desert, a traditional Islamic funeral ceremony is being prepared: the camera intercuts between the procession of men, carrying the body enshrouded in white cloth and the circle of women digging the grave with their hands. Nearby, a young girl plays with small stones. The procession reaches the burial site as the soundtrack climaxes and the overall tone becomes highly dramatic; a fire ignites behind the girl and encircles the gathered group.


This short film integrates all distinctive features of Neshat’s work: the portrayal of the two separate worlds of men and women, the reassessment of traditional rituals, the choice of contemporary political debates that are of interest both for Islamic and Western audiences (after all, the artist moved to New York as a young adult, in 1978, bridging both cultures in her biography). After being attacked by activists, artists and critics for her work, she has resolved to make highly stylised films and photographic installations, in the attempt not to take any political position. Even when asked about her personal religious belief, she is evasive: Neshat is careful to keep any matter of possible political conflict aside.

What emerged out of this talk, then, was the existential difficulty of being a successful artist directly confronting such politically charged issues: as a consequence of her success, Neshat is constantly pushed by galleries to make recognisable (and sellable) work all the while being criticised by members of the same artistic milieu. Confronted with a young audience such as the Courtauld’s, Shirin Neshat felt compelled to offer this advice: fight to make any creative work available to wider audiences, consider making tangents, and most importantly, collaborate.

Ways of Seeing

“Visual Insights: What Art Can Tell Us About the Brain”

Professor Margaret Livingstone, Tuesday 22 October 2013.

For the second Frank Davis memorial lecture of 2013, the Courtauld community and guests were given a privileged glimpse into the workings of our own visual processing by Margaret Livingstone of Harvard Medical School. Applying developments in neurobiology to a study of pictorial reception, Professor Livingstone’s research in recent years has explored the evidence that artists also spend a lot of time trying to figure out how we see. Along with plentiful information on the finely tuned operation of neurons within the visual pathway, it was the interactive experience – facilitated by red-green cinema specs – which cemented for the audience the evidence of how the brain processes retinal responses to pictures, faces, and pictures of faces.

Claude Monet, Autumn Effect at Argenteuil, 1873. The shimmering effect of the reflection can be explained by equal values of luminance in the colour choices.

Claude Monet, Autumn Effect at Argenteuil, 1873. The shimmering effect of the reflection can be explained by equal values of luminance in the colour choices.

Those who had turned up to hear the big neurological reveal on the secret of the Mona Lisa’s smile were not to be disappointed, but first we needed the basic picture. Through diagrams illustrating the opposing actions of ganglion cells on the retina, which can both fire or repress signals depending on the area receiving light, Professor Livingstone demonstrated the dominant principles of luminance and contrast at the base line of vision. This evidence helps to access the employment of light and shadow throughout the history of art, from the uniform brilliance of haloes in a Duccio altarpiece to Impressionist experiments with movement created by subtle variants in light value. Such effects were further explained by a diagram of the primate brain showing the division of two distinct functions: the ‘what system’ which has developed to recognise objects, colour and faces; and the ‘where system’ which takes the more general role of detecting spatial relations of depth, distance, figure/ground, and movement. These separate functions are behind the puzzling effects of optical illusions and those red-green patterns familiar from optical examinations; and, as illustrated with works by Monet and Mondrian, are expertly manipulated by visual artists. Correspondingly, we were shown how it could be the difference in acuity between central and peripheral vision which is behind the enigmatic smile of the Mona Lisa.

Returning to the visual peculiarities of artists themselves, the lecture concluded with an intriguing insight into the properties of stereovision and the likelihood of ocular misalignment or of dyslexia as a contributing factor in the artist’s particular facility in translating volumes into flat pictures. A graph based on Rembrandt’s depictions of his own eyes in a series of painted and etched self-portraits provided a convincing argument in favour of the research, as of Professor Livingstone’s parting comment; namely, that ‘if you can make a graph of the unlikeliest thing, you can get published’. The background to this science and its application to artistic vision are explained in Margaret Livingstone’s book, Vision and Art (2002), available in the Courtauld Library.

Throwing shapes in the Kenneth Clark lecture theatre

Tuesday 8 October 2013, First Frank Davis lecture on ‘Part-Whole relationships in Vision Science’, given by Professor Johan Wagemans, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Science, KU Leuven


Michael Baxandall commented that perception is 95% hardwired and 5% cultural; with most of our interest falling into the latter segment. Launching this term’s Frank Davis lectures on the science of vision, Professor Johan Wagemans of Leuven University in Belgium gave art historians an opportunity to contemplate that neglected 95%. With associates in a team of experimental psychologists, Wagemans is running an ambitious project to develop methods of mapping the role of perceptual organisation in the composition and appreciation of visual art. Demonstrating both general principles of the Gestalt psychology that underlie the multi-layered project, and technical data gained through targeted experiments, this lecture on part-whole relationships in art and vision presented a wealth of detail at a pace that was perhaps demanding for a non-scientific audience; but in a good way!

Beginning by testing our response to a series of visual puzzles, including surrealist illusions and artful cows, Wageman promised further dynamic moves when he offered to ‘throw some shapes’ on the screen. These resolved themselves into an illustration of the lecture’s central argument; namely, that vision is organised according to wholes which are not only greater than, but different to, the sum of the parts. While many might have been familiar with the general principles, it is the hard science behind pictorial observation that is new here; and the results demonstrate impressive progress in quantifying what happens when we look at pictures. The specific focus of this lecture concerned the perception of volume in planar designs, in experiments which recorded observational patterns relating to a series of line drawings of female nudes by Picasso.

Perceptual ambiguity of figure-ground organization in vision science and visual art. Stimuli from Kogo et al (2011); artwork by AMVK.

Through a range of computer graphics designed to register different perceptual features – including a convincing contour map showing depths of relief (see first photo) – it was revealed how the perception of 3D features on a flat surface, and the meaning of individual line structures, depends on the viewer’s apprehension of the pictorial space as a whole. What the research aims to isolate in such experiments are those workings of the biological matrix within the brain which seek out meaningful patterns; a function referred to as the ‘creative microgenesis’. What was less clear to many in the audience was how far experiential and cultural associations could be ruled out of the equation, especially when the lines concerned represent aspects of the familiar female form. To the question of how these experiments perform in relation to abstract art, the answer was an honest ‘disappointing’. Nonetheless, there is no doubting the robust potential of these developments for analysing pictorial perception, as was illustrated at the close of the lecture with a series works by contemporary artists created in parallel with vision scientists in the dynamic interdisciplinary project known as ‘Parallellepipeda’. For more on this and a range of articles published by the Leuven project, go to

The Art of Collecting: Questioning Status and Practices

In this workshop, held on Thursday 13 June, Courtauld students Agathe Jacquemet and Amélie Timmermans set out to explore why and how people and organizations collect art. The afternoon began with a short video of three different collectors discussing why they collect, what defines them as a collector, and how they purchase and develop their collections. Following the video, Jeffrey Boloten, Co-Founder and Managing Director of ArtInsight Ltd, introduced the workshop’s speakers, who represented both private and public collections.

The first half of the afternoon was devoted to private collections and featured Philip Hook from Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Department and art advisor Alex Heath, who is Chairman and Managing Director of International Art Consultants Ltd. Hook’s lecture, titled Why Collectors Collect, presented a pie chart of the various motives for developing private collections: spiritual enlightenment, investments, status, and aesthetic/intellectual pleasure. Overall, Hook promoted the virtues of collecting for spiritual enlightenment and intellectual pleasure, concluding with, ‘You need to see your art in order to stay alive’. Heath’s lecture, titled Advising Collectors in their Collections, approached private collections from the opposite angle, examining the methods and factors essential to advising a broad range of collectors. Having little background knowledge on economic and financial theories, I found Heath’s treatment of art as a good to be consumed and his discussion of the importance of wealth management in building private collections to be particularly interesting.

The second half of the workshop had a very different tone, focusing on building public collections, particularly the Art Fund’s, discussed by Head of Policy and Strategy Sally Wrampling, and the Courtauld Gallery’s, discussed by the Head of the Gallery Ernst Vegelin. Wrampling presented several of the Art Fund’s joint purchases from the past few years and explained the process of helping other institutions acquire works with Art Fund support. She stressed the importance of the support of Art Fund members and donors to the success of the Fund over the years. Vegelin’s lecture highlighted the importance of three of the Courtauld’s own private collectors: Samuel Courtauld, Lord Lee of Fareham, and Sir Robert Witt. It was particularly relevant in light of the current exhibition at the Gallery, Collecting Gauguin: Samuel Courtauld in the ’20s, which showcases the benefits of Samuel Courtauld’s foresight in building his own collection. According to Vegelin, ninety-five percent of the Courtauld’s collection is composed of gifts, making it a prime example of the fruits of meticulous private collectors. It also made it a fitting topic to end the workshop with, as it illustrates the transformation of private collections into public ones.

The Art of Collecting provided an impressive range of speakers and topics, highlighting the difficulties with and complexity of developing and managing both private and public collections and opening up further debate on the changing function and status of collecting art in the twenty-first century.