Open Courtauld Hour

Open Courtauld Hour: A Night at the Theatre

Detail of dancers from a Degas Painting

Join The Courtauld for our fifth online series, ‘Open Courtauld Hour’ 

The pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on our theatres, dance companies and performers. This last Open Courtauld Hour of the season is therefore devoted to shedding a light on the creative industries that much of our collection is indebted to. The Courtauld is custodian to a number of artworks that capture the essence of movement — works in particular by Edgar Degas and Auguste Rodin. These artists had a fascination with bodies in extreme acrobatic poses, with the subject of the dancers (either performing or at rest) coming up again and again. However, it is easy to forget the artists depicted and focus on the artist depicting. The hidden figures of the theatre, the stories of dancers themselves, are lost in many conversations around the representation of ballet in art. Behind the canvas, the coteries of ballerinas signpost the complex and contradictory lives of those who lived and breathed the theatre. Ballerinas-in-training, derisively called “petits rats,” often came from working-class or impoverished backgrounds. As our collection shows, Degas fashioned the ballerinas with snub noses and slightly simian features to suggest, according to contemporary ideas of physiognomy, this lower social class. Looking deeper at our collection challenges the assumption that ballet was and is the domain of the affluent. This event will also consider the ways in which diverse dancers have in fact graced the stage and acted out their pivotal role in the theatrical industry for many years.

For this hour, we are joining forces with Alexandra Gerstein (McQueens Curator of Sculpture & Decorative Arts at The Courtauld), Vanessa Ewan (Senior Lecturer and Course Leader in Movement at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama), Natasha Gilmore (Artistic Director of Barrowland Ballet) and Nandi Bhebhe (Original cast member of Whiteout, Barrowland Ballet) for an immersive event centered around the paintings, drawings and sculptures of dancers in our collection. This Open Courtauld Hour invites you for a virtual ‘Night at the Theatre’ — a chance to engage with the artistry of ballet, both movement and history, through revisiting some of our most loved works.

This online mini series will provide concise one hour packages of pop-up talks, performances and in detail object study sessions that explore and celebrate our collection, research in art history, curation and conservation.

The series will touch on pertinent issues — magnifying contemporary thinking in society through the field of art history. These episodes will explore how the public, artists and galleries are adapting to a digital world, showcasing art historical research in light of this global pandemic and providing a platform for creative practice in the age of social distancing.

Most importantly, as art is relevant to all, these informal sessions will give attendees the chance to access, engage and read art and art history through a different lens— revamping and rethinking art historical discussions through retelling hidden stories. These episodes will platform new perspectives, new ways into art practice, looking at art and reading its history through themes that impact us all.


This event has passed.

1 Jul 2021

8pm - 9pm BST

Free, booking essential


Booking closes 30 minutes before the event start time.  
If you do not receive the log in details on the day of the event, please email 



Open Courtauld Hour - Episode 3, S5: A Night at the Theatre

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