This rich display of drawings and prints from The Courtauld collection, designed to accompany the exhibition Frank Auerbach: London Building Sites 1952-62, focuses on the twin themes of construction and destruction. Ranging from the 15th to the early 20th centuries, the selected works lend insight into the various ways in which artists have interpreted the relationship between human ambition and nature through the built environment.
The display begins with a powerful vision of the ideal city by sixteenth-century Flemish artist Hans Bol and moves through mythological and biblical examples of destruction and human endeavour, epitomised by the image of the Tower of Babel. Artists such as John Constable and John Sell Cotman offer contrasting depictions of ruination as it occurs over time, as architecture gradually deteriorates and is absorbed by nature. A final series illustrates urban destruction and reconstruction, with works like John Christian Schetky’s Conflagration at the Tower of London of 1841 and Edward Dayes’ Somerset House from the Thames. Focusing on the city as artistic palette, they offer a visual prelude to Auerbach’s representation of London building sites in the 20th century.