Courtauld Impressionists: ”From Manet to Cézanne review”. Much loved treasures to be seen afresh.
avourite paintings from the Courtauld Gallery reveal the collector’s eye. Heir to one of this country’s great textile manufacturing firms, Samuel Courtauld (1876-1947) – highly original in his then unfashionable fascination with the art of his own lifetime – bought some of the best known and best loved paintings now in the public domain. Britain was late to embrace the art of the impressionists and post impressionists, so the collecting powers and inspirational acumen of Courtauld is of crucial importance. What was also crucial was his financial and intellectual backing of the first specialist academic institution in Britain for the study of art history. The Courtauld Institute opened in 1932 and was first housed in the Robert Adam-designed Home House (now a club) in the West End, which had been Courtauld’s own residence.
All these masterpieces, large and small, are well known, so what is the purpose of bringing them together in this way? By making this excellent display, the viewer begins to understand the collector’s eye, and the lasting consequences of enlightened philanthropy which ensures there is not a monopoly of taste: we think of the National Gallery as a government supported museum, of course, but its foundation was by gift and the highest part of its holdings are gifts and bequests.
The contents of this selective jewel box is almost overwhelming, so take your time to slowly savour. In the next gallery, take a breath for five small Degas, which show his humane range of poetic yet curiously realistic portraits; the monumental Seurat, Bathers at Asnières, 1884, factory chimneys belching smoke in the far distance, framing the working classes at leisure by the river. Toulouse-Lautrec and Renoir lead us on to perhaps the toughest room, the compositions still so unexpected and commanding, the colour so subtle, dark yet luminous. Nine Cézannes, feature some of his favourite subjects: card players, still lifes centred on studio objects and fruits, provençal landscapes, a self portrait.
And of course there is also Daumier, Pissarro, Monet, Bonnard, not to mention the powerfully rhythmic Van Gogh. Saint-Rémy, where he had voluntarily gone to live in an asylum in the penultimate year of his short life. It is a painting, seemingly pastoral, which somehow indicates perfectly the turbulent intelligence of this extraordinary group of intertwined artists, friends and rivals. It was bought by the National Gallery with the Courtauld Fund in 1923.
This selective sampling of over 40 paintings, with 26 coming from the Courtauld galleries, puts into sharp focus the astonishing achievement of these painters who somehow convinced us as well as themselves to see the observed world in new and enlightening ways.
Information and Images are shared from an Article by Marina Varzey, published in The Arts Desk, on September 24th, 2018. Image Credits: no information available.