Bruegel to Freud: Prints from The Courtauld Gallery

Dr Rachel Sloan, Assistant Curator on Works on Paper

What makes up the largest portion of The Courtauld Gallery’s collection? You might be surprised by the answer…

Prints. Over 24,000 of them, to be precise.

The second Summer Showcase display to highlight a particular aspect of the Gallery’s permanent collection, Bruegel to Freud: Prints from The Courtauld Gallery explores this largest but least well known portion of the collection.

This display of 30 prints spans five centuries and covers most of the major printmaking techniques, from engraving to etching, lithography, wood engraving, woodcut and drypoint.

View of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, The Jockey, 1899.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901), The Jockey, 1899, Lithograph

Selecting the display from such a vast collection was certainly a challenge, similar to that undertaken by my colleagues Joanna Selborne and Lizzie Jacklin for their parallel display of prints from the Witt Library, Purpose and Process: British and French Printmaking, 1600-1900.

In choosing the works, I wanted to give visitors an idea of the breadth and depth of the collection, to highlight its strengths and to give a sense of the way its three principal donors shaped it.

The vast majority of the print collection comes from Sir Robert Witt (1872-1952), one of the founders of The Courtauld. Witt created an image library to serve as a research and educational tool for students, scholars and curators, and the more than 20,000 prints that formed part of it (along with thousands of photographs and catalogue cuttings) are mostly reproductive – that is, they reproduce works of art in other media.

Purpose and Process focuses on this aspect of the Witt collection, so I decided to highlight instead some of the small but choice group of ‘master prints’ (prints conceived and executed by artists as original works of art) that came from the Witt Library – a very rare etching by French Mannerist Jacques Bellange, an exquisitely detailed print by Jacques Callot that was made for a city festival in Florence and intended to be mounted and distributed to spectators in the form of a fan, and an allegory of the visual arts by Flemish artist Johannes Stradanus that gives pride of place to printmaking, to name a few.

Jacques Callot, The Fan (The Battle of King Weaver and King Dyer), 1619, Etching

Jacques Callot, The Fan (The Battle of King Weaver and King Dyer), 1619, Etching

Many of The Courtauld’s Old Master prints came to us from Count Antoine Seilern (1901-1978), a scholar-collector who bequeathed them along with his superb collection of paintings and drawings. Some of the gems from his collection included in the display include important early engravings and etchings by Andrea Mantegna and Parmigianino and masterpieces by a trio of eighteenth-century Venetian artists – Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Canaletto and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.

View of the etching 'smoking fire' by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778).

Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778), Smoking fire, 1749-1760, Etching

It’s also thanks to Seilern that we have a rare impression of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s enigmatic Rabbit Hunt, the only print the artist executed himself. With stunning naturalism, Bruegel depicts a vast landscape in which is hidden a hunter aiming at two rabbits who appears to be stalked by another hunter himself – perhaps an illustration of the proverb ‘He who pursues two rabbits at once, will lose both.’

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Rabbit Hunt, 1560 Etching,

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Rabbit Hunt, 1560 ,Etching

The Courtauld’s renowned collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art includes prints alongside paintings and drawings (many of them given by Samuel Courtauld himself), and they’re well-represented here, with an etching by Edouard Manet, a wood engraving by Paul Gauguin, and lithographs by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Pierre Bonnard.

The display also gives us a chance to show how artists have continued to turn to printmaking in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, with prints by Picasso, Matisse, Lucian Freud, Chris Ofili and Linda Karshan. Together, they give a taste of how artists today continue to revive and reinvent printmaking techniques, turning them to different ends.

Linda Karshan, N.E. 1, 2002, Etching and drypoint

Linda Karshan, N.E. 1, 2002, Etching

We hope you’ll come and make a few discoveries of your own among the Courtauld’s prints.

Bruegel to Freud: Prints from The Courtauld Gallery runs 19 June-21 September.

Tiepolo's Magician: Our Drawing of the Week

In the weeks leading up to Christmas 2013, for one morning per week, you can see a print or drawing from our collection in the intimate setting of our Print Study Room. Next up is Tiepolo’s ‘A Magician (?) surrounded by a a group of figures’. 

Bryony Bartlett-Rawlings, Prints and Drawings Study Room Assistant, explains why she chose this drawing and what it means to her. You can see the drawing for yourself on  Wednesday 27 November, 10am-12.3opm. 

I first discovered the rich collection of prints and drawings at The Courtauld when studying for a Masters there in 2005. I found it really inspiring to work directly with this collection that covers such a broad period in the history of art; from the Renaissance through to the present day.

After leaving The Courtauld I worked at the V&A as Assistant Curator of Paintings and Drawings. This September I returned to The Courtauld to begin my PhD on early 16th-century Italian prints and drawings. I am delighted that I am also able to return as Print Room Assistant and work once again with the collection.

My favourite display that I curated whilst at the V&A was Venetian Visions. This showcased Venetian art, and in particular prints and drawings, from 1703-1797.

Although I knew Giovanni Battista Tiepolo’s paintings from trips to Venice and the Veneto, it was only through working on Venetian Visions that I discovered the artist’s drawings.

Tiepolo is a particularly interesting draughtsman.

He used drawings to develop designs for paintings and sculpture as well as compositional studies. These drawings reflect the artist’s mastery of different media and create powerful images, described by one contemporary as ‘all spirit and fire’.

I’ve chosen this drawing as I feel it exemplifies Tiepolo as a draughtsman.

The identity of the figure in a turban is unclear. He occurs frequently in Tiepolo’s work and is often interpreted as a magician.

Tiepolo's drawing of A Magician (?) surrounded by a group of figures

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo,
A Magician (?) surrounded by a group of figures,
1730-1740

Figures group around the magician, who points down to the lower centre of the sheet. Rapid lines of pen and wash emphasise his powerful gesture. Fluent pen strokes capture the figures that huddle together, looking down to where the hand points.

The arrangement of the figures recalls that of A Magician pointing to a burning head from the series Tiepolo’s of etchings, the Scherzi di Fantasia.

This drawing may be an early sketch for that etching. The Scherzi di Fantasia often show mysterious figures wearing classical and oriental costume gathered around a magician. The exact meaning of these etchings is still unknown.

For me, both his drawings and etchings provide an intimate insight into Tiepolo’s working process and inventive mind.

You can see Bryony’s choice this Wednesday 27 November 2013, 10am – 12.30pm.