The Courtauld Gallery, Somerset House opened their doors today to the press for a sneak preview after a three-year refurbishment and modernisation scheme. The £50m project was money well spent, as the gallery has now been brought into the 21st century with new lighting flooring as well as a state of the art gift shop and cafe. The gallery reopens to the public on 19 November 2021.
The Courtauld is one of London’s best-loved galleries
Founded by collectors and philanthropists in 1932, the Gallery is most famous for its iconic Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces, making it one of the UK’s most significant art collections. The organisation has been at the forefront of the study of art through advanced research and conservation practice, innovative teaching, the renowned collection and inspiring exhibitions of its gallery, and engaging and accessible activities, education and events.
The collection, which ranges from the Middle Ages to the 20th century, has been completely redisplayed and reinterpreted across the elegantly refurbished galleries. In addition, new spaces have been created for The Courtauld’s acclaimed temporary exhibitions and projects that highlight the institution’s research-led educational mission.
Designed by Stirling Prize-winning architects Witherford Watson Mann with gallery design by Nissen Richards Studio, the redevelopment revitalises and opens up the building conceived by Sir William Chambers in the 1770s to create an inspiring setting for the 21st century. The project has been supported by £11 million from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, £10 million from philanthropists Sir Leonard and Lady Blavatnik, the Blavatnik Family Foundation, and generous donations from foundations, individuals, and other supporters.
The Blavatnik Fine Rooms, spanning the second floor, provide the stunning setting for a series of new displays of works from the Renaissance to the 18th century. Highlights will include Botticelli’s large-scale The Trinity with Saints, unveiled after a three-year conservation project, and The Courtauld’s celebrated collection of works by Peter Paul Rubens.
The Courtauld’s renowned collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces, including Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère
(1882), Van Gogh’s Self- Portrait with Bandaged Ear (1889), and the most significant collection of works by Cézanne in the UK will be presented in the spectacular, newly restored LVMH Great Room, London’s oldest purpose-built exhibition space.
An epic modern painting by the great Austrian Expressionist Oskar Kokoschka – over eight metres long and considered to be one of the artist’s most important works, will be displayed at The Courtauld for the first time in over a decade. Presented in the Katja and Nicolai Tangen 20th Century Gallery,
The Myth of Prometheus (1950) will be exhibited alongside a selection of photographs by Lee Miller documenting Kokoschka working on this vast composition in the home of Count Antoine Seilern, who would later present it to The Courtauld.
A new gallery has been created on the first floor to present The Courtauld’s significant collection of paintings and decorative arts from the Medieval and Early Renaissance periods, including fine examples of Islamic metalwork, alongside works from Italy and Northern Europe. In addition, Courtauld’s significant collection of works by the Bloomsbury Group will be given a dedicated space in the Gallery. This will showcase the group’s radical designs for furniture, ceramics and textiles alongside paintings and drawings by Bloomsbury artists Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Roger Fry and others.
Two brand new galleries on the top floor provide a new home for The Courtauld’s programme of temporary exhibitions. The Denise Coates Exhibition Galleries opens with Modern Drawings: The Karshan Gift (19 November 21 – 9 Jan 22), showcasing an outstanding group of drawings by European and American masters including Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Georg Baselitz and Cy Twombly, assembled by the late collector Howard Karshan and generously given to The Courtauld by his wife, the artist Linda Karshan.
Temporary exhibitions will also be on view in the Gilbert and Ildiko Butler Drawings Gallery. Starting with Pen to Brush: British Drawings and Watercolours (19 November 21 – 27 Feb 22); and in the new Project Space, Kurdistan in the 1940s (19 November 2021 – 30 May 2022) will draw attention to The Courtauld’s little-known photographic collections.
A further highlight is a new large-scale painting by the renowned contemporary artist Cecily Brown – specially commissioned for the curved wall at the top of The Courtauld’s historical staircase. Entitled ‘Unmoored from her reflection’, the picture responds to its setting and The Courtauld’s collection. Brown twists the codes and conventions of past art to create a dreamscape of painting that pushes back and forth between abstraction and figuration. The Garcia Family Foundation has supported the commission.
Enhanced visitor facilities include a newly constructed shop in the Deborah Loeb Brice Vaults and the colourful new Art Café, decorated in the interior style developed and championed by the Bloomsbury Group.
The gallery’s teaching and research facilities have been enhanced with new collection study spaces and the complete refurbishment of the suite of teaching and research facilities within The Courtauld’s world-leading Department of Conservation. This has been made possible thanks to a significant gift from The Linbury Trust. Visiting schools and community groups will also benefit from the new Leon Kossoff Learning Centre and the Edmond and Lily Safra Studio, which will provide a dedicated space for educational activities exploring art, art history and our collection.
Top Photo: A new large-scale painting by the renowned contemporary artist Cecily Brown