The collection of works on paper has grown rapidly since The Courtauld was established in 1932 and it continues to develop through gifts, bequests and direct acquisitions. At its origins are a series of remarkable and complementary private collections, including principally those assembled by Samuel Courtauld, Sir Robert Witt and Count Antoine Seilern.
Samuel Courtauld’s (1876–1947) collection of works on paper is indivisible from the celebrated collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings which he assembled in the 1920s. The collection includes outstanding drawings and prints by Cézanne, van Gogh, Seurat, Manet, Toulouse-Lautrec and Gauguin.
In 1952 Sir Robert Witt (1872-1952), bequeathed more than 3,000 drawings and approximately 20,000 prints to the Courtauld. This remains the core of the Gallery’s holdings of works on paper and Witt may properly be regarded as the founder of the collection. Witt bought mainly Italian and British drawings, including many by Constable and Gainsborough, as well as fine examples by Dutch and Flemish artists of the late 16th and 17th century. He often acquired drawings by lesser-known figures, notably a large group by Guercino, since recognized as one of the most innovative Italian draughtsmen of the 17th century.
Count Antoine Seilern (1901-1978) left his collection of about 350 drawings to the Institute in 1978. His taste was formed by the collections of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, where he lived until 1939. Scholarly and highly discerning in his approach, he bought exquisite Old Master drawings. His exceptional collection includes many of the greatest single works in the collection, including examples by Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Dürer, Rembrandt, Rubens and Giambattista Tiepolo, to name just a few. The collection also includes a number of fine Impressionist drawings and an extensive collection of works on paper by his fellow Austrian, Oskar Kokoschka.
As a founder of the Omega Workshop Roger Fry (1866-1934) owned an extensive collection of early 20th century avant-garde designs by artists such as Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell. These were donated in 1958 by Fry’s daughter, Pamela Diamand.
Professor Anthony Blunt (1907 – 1983), Director of the Courtauld Institute from 1947 to 1974, formed a collection of about 150 Renaissance and Baroque architectural studies. This was acquired by The Courtauld in 1984.
The Courtauld Institute of Art’s collection is especially rich in 18th and 19th century British watercolours. The greater part of these holdings was bequeathed to The Courtauld by William Wycliffe Spooner (1882-1967), a Yorkshire industrialist, in 1967. In 1974, thirteen J.M.W. Turner watercolours owned by Sir Stephen Courtauld (1883-1967), Samuel Courtauld’s younger brother, were bequeathed in his memory by his family. Further English drawings and watercolours were presented by Sir John Witt, Sir Robert’s son. Most recently, Dorothy Scharf who died in 2004, bequeathed her exceptional collection of more than 50 British watercolours to The Courtauld. This bequest included eight works by Turner.