Video- Bridget Riley: Learning from Seurat

Bridget Riley’s early breakthrough encounter with Georges Seurat’s Bridge at Courbevoie, a highlight of The Courtauld’s collection profoundly shaped her artistic development. This exhibition brings together the copy that Riley made of Bridge at Courbevoie in 1959 with Seurat’s original painting to consider this remarkable moment of artistic connection and inspiration.

Dr Karen Serres introduces us to the exhibition Bridget Riley:  Learning from Seurat and the work of Bridget Riley, one of the leading artists of her generation, in our latest video.


You can see more videos from The Courtauld on our YouTube channel.

Bridget Riley:  Learning from Seurat will be on display until  17 January 2015

We’d love to hear what you think. Tweet using #BridgetRiley and @CourtauldGall or find us on Facebook

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.

Showcase Week: The Nude

The Courtauld Prints and Drawings Room Presents…

The week of the 13 – 17 October is an exciting time for the Prints and Drawings Room. For one week only the staff have selected five of our most striking works on paper featuring the nude for public viewing.

Between 1.30pm and 5pm our doors are open without an appointment with each work selected for one day only. Our friendly staff are eager to introduce their chosen works to the public and will be on hand to discuss them and answer questions.

Our Prints and Drawings Study Room Assistants introduce their selection…


Monday 13 October: Bryony Bartlett-Rawlings on Jacopo Tintoretto’s Studies after Michelangelo’s ‘Samson and the Philistines’ from 1550-55.

View of Jacopo Tintoretto’s Studies after Michelangelo’s ‘Samson and the Philistines’ from 1550-55

Jacopo Tintoretto, Studies after Michelangelo’s ‘Samson and the Philistines’, 1550-55

Jacopo Tintoretto explores the body in action in this drawing after Michelangelo’s lost model for a sculpture of Samson and the Philistines, originally designed as a pendant to his David. Although the sculpture was never realised, numerous small-scale copies of the model were produced in the 1550s and Tintoretto would have studied the group from such a model. Throughout his career Tintoretto was fascinated by Michelangelo’s representations of the heroic nude, making numerous studies of them.

Here the figures are shown from behind. Tintoretto explores the musculature of Samson’s twisting, tense body as he raises his arm to launch a blow on his foe. Tintoretto is particularly interested in capturing the position and form of the muscles and upper body of Samson, which he investigates in two further sketches on the sheet.


Tuesday 14 October: Camilla Pietrabissa on Peter Paul Rubens’ Female Nude from 1628-30.

View of drawing by Peter Paul Rubens. Female Nude, 1628-30

Peter Paul Rubens. Female Nude, 1628-30

There are few surviving drawings from the nude female model by Rubens. It may be that female models were uncommon in Rubens’s studio or that the artist’s wife, Helena Fourment, destroyed the drawings, as was the case with a number of his paintings.

In this large study, an opulent reclining female figure seems to emerge out of the bare paper. The draped garments or sheets behind the figure’s head, and the detail of the narrow lace band on her left arm, suggest the possibility of a study after life. Rubens was interested in the plasticity of the body, so he used a combination of red and white chalk as a means to render the different tones of the flesh and the light rippling on its surface.

The figure’s pose is strikingly similar to Ruben’s copy of a painting by Titian (The Bacchanal of the Andrians, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid), and may thus be a reworking of another drawing or painting in preparation for Ruben’s masterful copy (Nationalmuseum är Sveriges, Stockholm).


Wednesday 15 October: Rachel Hapoienu on Georges Seurat’s Female Nude from 1879-81.

View of drawing by Georges Seurat’s Female Nude from 1879-81

Georges Seurat, Female Nude, 1879-81

Life classes at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where Seurat was a student, focussed on the male form. As a result he produced relatively few studies of the female nude, of which this is a rare example. This sheet may have been produced at one of the city’s open studios, or perhaps from a session with a private model.

The drawing is defined by its heavy use of chiaroscuro, or deep shadows, composed through the vigorous web of crayon marks and his use of stumping (smudging the crayon) to produce an image of great atmosphere and drama. The stillness of the figure emerging from Seurat’s infinitely varied and rapid marks exudes an extraordinary sense of restrained energy and sensuality.


Thursday 16 October: Niccola Shearman on Oskar Kokoschka’s Homage to Hellas Volume I – Wrester I (Ringer I) from 1961-62.

View of drawing by Oskar Kokoschka’s Homage to Hellas Volume I – Wrester I (Ringer I) from 1961-62

Oskar Kokoschka, Homage to Hellas Volume I – Wrester I (Ringer I), 1961-62

Oskar Kokoschka wrestled with depictions of the human figure throughout his career. This lithograph belongs to a series resulting from a trip to Greece in 1961.

The journey was evidently a form of pilgrimage for the artist, who believed that it was an insight into the ‘light of the human spirit’ which had led the ancient Greeks to create art from the human image. In retaining his humanist faith in the physical form, Kokoschka was unusual in the post-WWII art world, where a collective despair at the inhumanity of events led the deliberate pursuit of non-figurative abstraction amongst the majority of avant-garde painters.

Having developed a form of ‘blind drawing’ aimed at producing a dynamic image over painstaking linear accuracy, Kokoschka executed his drawings straight onto lithographic transfer paper for later printing in the studio. The resulting print preserves the gestural energy of the crayon in a manner that matches the vigour of the subject, particularly noticeable in the generous sweep of the figure’s robust arms.


Friday 17 October: Rosamund Garrett on Lucian Freud’s Reclining Figure from 1993.

Freud made a number of paintings and etchings of the larger than life character of Leigh Bowery, the performance artist and transvestite fashion designer notorious on the London club scene in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Although he often relished depicting Bowery’s muscular and heavy-set physique, here Freud focuses on the quieter and more reflective side of the man, capturing him in the vulnerable intimacy of sleep.

Referring to his nudes as ‘naked portraits’, Freud chose unflattering poses that are natural in the way that individuals sleep or relax alone. His unusual vantage points and extreme foreshortening rebuke the tradition of the ideal nude. Working from life directly onto the etching plate, the artist’s frank scrutiny of his subject in blatant disregard of any persisting taboos about the body aims, in his own words, to ‘astonish, disturb, seduce, convince’.


Drop in to the Prints and Drawings Room on the mezzanine floor of the East Wing between 1.30 and 5pm from the 13 – 17 October for a thoroughly revealing exploration of the nude in art through the centuries!


Signed, Sealed, Delivered: A Look at Artists’ Signatures in the Courtauld Gallery

Take a tour through The Courtauld Gallery from the Renaissance to the 19th century and find out more about how artists have signed their paintings.

The act of signing a painting can be very meaningful: by applying words onto an image, the artist reminds the viewer that they are looking at a flat surface purposefully created by a real person.

What do artists’ signatures reveal about their status in society and their ambitions?

Room 1: 13th-15th Century, Medieval and Renaissance

Artists’ practice of signing their work is often said to have originated in the Renaissance as a manifestation of the steady rise of the status of the artist, from anonymous craftsman to celebrated creative genius.

However, it is not quite as clear cut as this;  in the Middle Ages and early Renaissance a number of artists were already claiming authorship of their work.

Two examples of early Renaissance signatures, both in Latin, can be found in Room 1.


Bernardo Daddi, Polyptych, The Crucifixion and Saints, 1348

Daddi’s  The Crucifixion and Saints has a long inscription running along the bottom of its central panel, which translates as “In the year of our Lord 1348, Bernardus, whom Florence made, painted me”.

The Virgin and Child by Barnaba da Modena has a signature painted at the bottom which reads “Barnaba da Modena painted [this]”.

Barnaba da Modena,The Virgin and Child, around 1365-1370

Barnaba da Modena,The Virgin and Child, around 1365-1370

Particularly intriguing is the large size of the inscription, out of proportion with the small religious representation. Both Daddi and Barnaba were serials signers and many of their works bear their names. Theirs however are not signatures in the modern sense of the word: they don’t provide a unique proof of identity.

Rather, they are inscriptions proclaiming their authorship of the work. These could even have been painted by someone from their workshop. Their primary value lies in its assertion of origin.

Room 2: 15th-16th Century, Renaissance Europe

The Trinity with Saints  by Alessandro Filipepi (nicknamed Botticelli) has two faded initials ‘AB’ painted at the bottom of the cross.

Alessandro Filipepi (Botticelli), The Trinity with Saints, around 1491-94

Alessandro Filipepi (Botticelli), The Trinity with Saints, around 1491-94

Meant as the artist’s monogram (a motif created by combining two or more initials), they were probably added at a later date and reveal the importance of signatures for art dealers and collectors.

Alessandro Filipepi (Botticelli), The Trinity with Saints, around 1491-94

Alessandro Filipepi (Botticelli), The Trinity with Saints (detail), around 1491-94

It is highly unlikely that Botticelli would ever have signed with these initials, which correspond to a form of his name that he never used.

Room 3: 17th Century, Rubens and the Baroque

A signature however can take many forms, encompassing secret codes, hidden signs and bizarre imagery. Lucas Cranach the Elder’s signature in Adam and Eve conforms to this theory.

Adam and Eve, Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1526

 Lucas Cranach the Elder, Adam and Eve 1526

His signature is painted on the Tree of Life and takes the form of a winged snake-like creature wearing a crown and carrying a ring in its mouth.

Adam and Eve (detail), Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1526

Lucas Cranach the Elder, Adam and Eve (detail), 1526

This version of Cranach’s signature started to appear in his paintings from 1508. Before that date, his paintings are usually marked with his initials.

We are still unsure about the meaning of this winged serpent, which may relate to a noble title or an order of merit given to Cranach. Cranach had a large studio with many assistants and this use of signature – or ‘branding’ – could have been a way of authenticating and controlling the overall production.

The Allegorical Portrait of Sir John Luttrell by Hans Eworth includes an inscription on the rock in the left foreground alluding to the courage and steadfastness of its sitter, along with the date of the painting and the initials of the painter.

Hans Eworth, The Allegorical Portrait of Sir John Luttrell, 1550

Hans Eworth, The Allegorical Portrait of Sir John Luttrell (detail), 1550

Hans Eworth, The Allegorical Portrait of Sir John Luttrell (below with detail), 1550

Although this reference to the subject overshadows the artist’s own mark, it is also a rare example of an artist’s signature in 16th-century England.

Room 6: 19th Century, Impressionism and Post-impressionism

In the 19th century, the Impressionists adopted a different approach to signatures.

They generally signed their works with their surname, a date and sometimes the location where the painting was made.

Claude Monet, for example, liked to sign his work with his full name and the date, most often in a colour contrasting with the background.

Claude Monet, Autumn Effect at Argenteuil,  1873

Claude Monet, Autumn Effect at Argenteuil (detail),  1873

Claude Monet, Autumn Effect at Argenteuil (below with detail), 1873

In addition, Impressionists sometimes included the location where the work was made, emphasizing their practice of painting out of doors and leaving the confines of the studio.

In order to reinforce the myth surrounding his exotic works in the minds of Parisian audiences, Gauguin added to his signature his location, Tahiti, a practice encouraged by his dealer.


Paul Gauguin, Te Rerioa, 1897 (below with detail)

Paul Gauguin, Te Rerioa, 1897 (below with detail)

In Woman Powdering Herself, Seurat’s signature is more discrete. In this painting, the signature is embedded in the fictive frame that Seurat painted around the edge of the canvas.

Seurat, Woman Powdering Herself

Georges Seurat, Woman Powdering Herself, 1890 (Below with detail)

Georges Seurat, Woman Powdering Herself, 1890 (Below with detail)

What artists’ signatures have you spotted? Leave a comment below or Tweet us @CourtauldGall

Seurat's Secret Self-Portrait

The only known self-portrait of Georges Seurat has been discovered more than 130 years after he concealed it in one of his last paintings, Young woman powdering herself (around 1888-1890)

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Recent technical examination has revealed that a bust-length self-portrait of Seurat at his easel initially featured in the upper left-hand corner of the painting.


The voluptuous sitter in this work was Seurat’s twenty-year-old mistress Madeleine Knobloch.

A long-standing myth surrounding this work stated that in the mirror on the wall was a self-portrait of Seurat in the act of painting Madeleine.

However, a friend, who was unaware of the intimate relationship between the painter and his model, said that it looked comical and Seurat decided to paint over his self-portrait before the painting went on view.

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Thanks to advance in imaging technology, it is now possible to see the layers of paint under the surface and prove that the story is true.

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You can read the full report on ‘Seurat’s Hidden Self-Portrait’ by Aviva Burnstock and Karen Serres in the current issue of the Burlington Magazine.