TEDxCourtauldInstitute 2017 – Artists’ Connections to the City

On Saturday 11th March, TEDxCourtauldInstitute 2017 collaborated with The Courtauld’s Young People’s Programme to organise ‘Artists’ Connections to the City’, a combined art history and practice workshop for 16-19 olds from schools across London. Courtauld MA Curating student Katherine Campbell explains more about the workshop below!

In today’s increasingly divided world TEDxCourtauldInstitute 2017’s team decided it was important to highlight the many links that unite us and we therefore chose ‘Connections’ as the theme for this year’s programme. We were particularly keen to collaborate with the Courtauld’s Young People’s Programme and run an Insights into Art History workshop to encourage students to explore the many connections that artists have to the cities in which they live, work and travel.

After meeting the team, the students spent the morning discussing how an artist might be connected to a city. We considered the economic draw of the city for artists, looking at the Renaissance systems of patronage and workshops, from the court of 14th Century Mosul to the Bellini brothers’ workshop in Venice in the 15th Century. We also thought about how cities have acted as a hub, bringing artists together and acting as a source of inspiration and how they continue to do so today.

Building on this discussion we moved over to The Courtauld Gallery to look at a selection of artworks from the early 1300s right through to the modern day. Starting our tour with the metalwork bag made in Mosul during the Muslim Il-Khanid dynasty, the students were encouraged to discuss Mosul’s position as a centre for trade and its reputation for intricate metalwork. Moving on to the 17th Century we focused on Peter Paul Ruben’s Family of Jan Bruegel the Elder, thinking about his home in Antwerp and his international career travelling to many of Europe’s capitals. Finally, we looked at artists’ responses to the modern industrial cities of the late 19th and 20th Centuries. This included Camille Pissarro’s Lordship Lane Station, Dulwich, Walter Sickert’s Camden Town series made in response to the construction of suburbs and the subsequent impoverishment of formerly prosperous neighbourhoods of London, and Frank Auerbach’s visceral building site works that document his reaction to post-war London. The students then had time to carry out independent research in the gallery and document particular works that inspired them and which they thought relevant to the workshop theme.

In the afternoon, The Courtauld’s Head of Digital Media Tom Bilson gave the students a tour of the Return to Kurdistan exhibition and an introduction to the endlessly fascinating Conway Photographic Collection and some of its 1 million images. This included a selection of photographs from the Macmillan Report, which was commissioned to document bomb damage in cities across Europe after WWII, photographs of the Festival of Britain during the 1950s, as well as a number of Anthony Kersting’s images of cities and towns in the Middle East, Iraq, Ecuador and other parts of the world taken during the 1940s.

Following Tom’s introduction, the students were able to use the Conway Collection to research cities that interested them. Having collected their own images over the course of the day the students then worked together in groups to create panels that mapped the connections they had made. These panels were inspired by the art historian Aby Warburg’s (1866-1929) Mnemosyne Atlas: a collection of 63 panels through which Warburg explored the ‘memory’ or ‘afterlife’ of Antiquity by bringing together a range of images (photographs, reproductions of works, newspaper clippings) and arranging them into themes on black pinboards so as to make new connections between works of art from across the centuries and world. Just as Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas panels were an eclectic, personal mix of images, so too were the panels that the students created which were exhibited to the public during the TEDxCourtauldInstitute 2017 events the following day.

The students titled their works and below you’ll find some of the ‘connections’ they made!


This panel explores the texture of paintings. The group was particularly influenced by Frank Auerbach’s Rebuilding the Empire Cinema, Leicester Square in the Courtauld Gallery and his manipulation and dense layering of paint on the canvas as a means to express the destruction of the city’s buildings after the Blitz. The group chose to travel backward and forwards in time looking at how events have influenced artists’ style and the texture of their painting.

Best of Britain

This panel took London and cities across Britain as its central theme, with images of bomb-damaged St Paul’s and Canaletto’s vista from Somerset House some two centuries earlier. They were keen to look at the connections, both obvious and less so, that artists have had to London and to Britain across the centuries.

Portraiture & Architecture

This panel explores the group’s personal interest in portraiture and architecture. Taking an image of a church in Goa from the Conway collection as their starting point, they chose to incorporate images from across the world and through history.


Find out more about our forthcoming Insights into Art History workshops!