The Exhibitionist: The Reopening of the Courtauld Gallery

By Ed Vaizey

2 years ago

What to expect from the Courtauld in 2022

Ed Vaizey discovers much to admire in the reopened Courtauld galleries

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The Exhibitionist: The Reopening of the Courtauld Gallery

The other day I got sent a pitch deck for a tech start-up called Ikono TV. The idea behind this company is very simple: it ‘streams’ paintings to your TV. The purpose is to provide a sense of calm and wellbeing, as your customers or patients stare at the wall, waiting for their appointment, watching a succession of masterpieces.

As Ikono’s pitch deck makes clear, there is no shortage of evidence that visual art calms you down and provides relaxation. There is even evidence, provided by the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, that staring at art can reduce your labour by two hours! So instead of screaming for an epidural, you might want to shout at your partner, ‘Show me the Monet!’

The Blavatnik Fine Rooms at The Courtauld Gallery

Photo © Hufton+Crow

Which is a nice way for me to segue to what I really want to talk about – the Courtauld galleries, which have just re-opened after a major refurbishment. The Courtauld Institute of Art, to give it its proper title, was established in 1930 by three men: Viscount Lee of Fareham, Samuel Courtauld, and Sir Robert Witt. Lee is better known these days as the man who donated his house, Chequers, to the prime minister. Courtauld was a textile millionaire, who provided not only the money and the Courtauld’s first home, but also many of the Impressionist paintings that make up the bulk of its excellent collection.

The Courtauld spent the first 60 years of its life at Home House in Portman Square but moved to Somerset House when Margaret Thatcher worked out Somerset House was quite expensive real estate for the Inland Revenue, and they should be turfed out. The Courtauld moved into space that had once been the first home of the Royal Academy, and thus is housed in London’s oldest purpose-built exhibition space.

For the last three years the galleries have been modernised, and they have just re-opened to spectacular acclaim. The Great Room is now known as the LVMH Great Room, which is a nice bit of post-Brexit colonisation by the French, and houses the amazing Impressionist collection. The Blavatnik Fine Rooms provide the setting for works from the Renaissance to the 18th century. New rooms are devoted to 20th-century art and the Bloomsbury Group.

Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear (1889), The Courtauld, London

Photo © Jim Winslet

There are some smashing exhibitions to look forward to, to help entice the public to the all-new galleries. These include an inaugural exhibition in the newly named Denise Coates Exhibition Galleries called Modern Drawings: The Karshan Gift, featuring work by European and American masters including Georg Baselitz, Joseph Beuys, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Gerhard Richter, Louis Soutter and Cy Twombly. February sees a real spectacular, the first exhibition devoted to Van Gogh’s self-portraits across his entire career. The exhibition takes as its springboard Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, one of the most iconic works in the Courtauld’s collection and will bring together an outstanding selection of over 15 self-portraits from collections around the world.

All of this has been realised by the generous support of the Lottery, and the ubiquitous philanthropist Len Blavatnik – true contributors to the wellbeing of Londoners and tourists alike as we slide into 2022.


Featured image: Benedict Johnson


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