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The Courtauld Collects! 20 Years of Acquisitions

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The Courtauld Collects! 20 Years of Acquisitions

17 June - 19 September 2010

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“Celebrate one of the treasures of the London art world …”
The Times

This display explored some of the exceptional new additions to The Courtauld’s collection twenty years after its move to Somerset House. Highlights included works ranging from Turner, Degas and Seurat to Anish Kapoor and Damien Hirst. The show also unveils one of the most important new acquisitions, Joshua Reynolds’s late masterpiece Cupid and Psyche

The Courtauld Gallery is sometimes described as a “collection of collections” and has grown historically through the generosity of private individuals who have endowed it with the remarkable collections which they formed.

This grand tradition of philanthropy, initiated at the Gallery by Samuel Courtauld in the 1930s, still survives and continues to extend and enhance The Courtauld Gallery’s world-famous collections.

The display celebrated the achievements of the first twenty years at Somerset House and looked forward to the future development of the collections.

Supported by the Finnis Scott Foundation


 

This exhibition presented a rich selection of works of art acquired by The Courtauld Gallery since it moved to Somerset House twenty years ago.  The Courtauld Gallery is sometimes described as a ‘collection of collections’ and has grown historically through the generosity of private individuals who have endowed it with the remarkable collections which they formed.  This grand tradition of philanthropy, initiated at the Gallery by Samuel Courtauld in the 1930s, continues to extend and enhance The Courtauld Gallery’s world-famous collections.

In 2007 the Gallery was bequeathed a magnificent group of over fifty major British watercolours, including nine works by Turner, assembled by Dorothy Scharf.  Alongside such extraordinary acts of philanthropy the Gallery has also grown through gifts of single works of art and, very occasionally, by direct purchases made with the assistance of charities such as The Art Fund.

The display presents a wide range of works by celebrated masters and lesser-known figures. Highlights include watercolours by Turner and Constable, a beautiful drawing by Ingres (once owned by Samuel Courtauld) for his celebrated Grande Odalisque, fine Victorian watercolours by the esteemed Frederick Walker and a rare 18th century pastel by John Russell showing one of the porters of the Royal Academy at Somerset House.

Also on display are sculptures by Degas and Rodin and paintings by Peploe, Reynolds (for who see more below), Lely and Roger Fry, as well as oil sketches by Seurat.

Most recently the sculptors Sir Anthony Caro, Phillip King and Richard Long have presented examples of their early work to the Gallery, helping to extend the collections more fully into the second half of the twentieth century.

Another very recent gift is a series of prints by leading contemporary British artists, including Damien Hirst and Anish Kapoor.

 

Joshua Reynolds' Cupid and Psyche

The centrepiece of Courtauld Collects! 20 Years of Acquisitions was the newly-conserved Cupid and Psyche, a late masterpiece by Sir Joshua Reynolds.

Cupid and Psyche
Cupid and Psyche after restoration in 2010

The painting entered The Courtauld Gallery under HM Government’s Acceptance in Lieu Scheme in 2004. Having been in the same private collection since 1923, it had not been on public display for 85 years, and its condition had deteriorated.  The canvas had buckled and had started to detach from its stretcher, and the composition was obscured behind many layers of heavily discoloured yellow varnish.

Cupid and Psyche before restoration
Cupid and Psyche before restoration

The cleaning of works by Reynolds is notoriously difficult, given his use of experimental media and techniques, but painstaking conservation lasting three years has now revealed the full subtlety of Reynolds’s achievement.

The story of Cupid and Psyche tells how the god Cupid is enraptured by the beautiful mortal Psyche and makes love to her in his palace at night so as to hide his true identity. The following evening Psyche secretly creeps into her lover’s bedchamber where she finds him asleep. However, Cupid is awoken by a drop of oil which spills from her lamp. Enraged he flies away and it is only after a series of arduous trials that the lovers are reunited.

Cupid and Psyche was one of three large history paintings which Reynolds exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1789. At that time the Academy occupied the premises at Somerset House which, since 1990, have been home to The Courtauld Gallery. Reynolds was the Academy’s founding president and in 1789 he was a senior artist at the height of his fame.  Cupid and Psyche met with great acclaim and the free and confident manner of its execution and graceful composition were much admired by contemporary reviewers.

The painting makes rich references to the art of the past, including the 16th century Italian artist Correggio. However, it also reveals Reynolds’s deep interest in nocturnal effects.

Landscape by Moonlight
Peter Paul Rubens Landscape by Moonlight, c.1635-40 © The Courtauld Gallery, London

He owned Rubens’s celebrated Landscape by Moonlight, now also at The Courtauld, and used it as an example of night lighting in one of his celebrated Academy discourses.  Reynolds was an advocate of painting by candlelight as a ‘practice very advantageous and improving to the artist’.
The painting remained unsold in Reynolds’s lifetime but it was the highest priced lot in the artist’s studio sale selling for 230 guineas to the collector Samuel Rogers in 1802.

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