7 favorite artworks from the Courtauld Gallery collection

I have to admit that I get a little annoyed when several art-loving acquaintances of mine tell me that they have never been at the Courtauld Gallery! And even more when some of them have already been at the Somerset House which is located at the same courtyard; in fact you pass through Courtauld to get to the Somerset House exhibition halls! Fortunately the persons that haven't experienced the pleasurable and educational visit to this fine museum are very very few.
 
Written by George Margaronis
 
Courtauld Gallery, one of the finest small museums in the world, is a journey through the history of art; the collection displays art from the 1300s to the second half of the 20th century! It includes art from masters of painting such as Lorenzo Monaco, Fra Angelico, Botticelli, Rubens, Gainsborough, Goya, Turner, Manet, Monet, Cezanne and Van Gogh as well as drawings by Michelangelo, Durer, Rembrandt. From all that magnificent treasury of art, I picked and share with you my seven favorite paintings from the museum's collection or better the seven reasons I keep visiting this charming place! (Although I have to admitt that I also keep re-visiting the courtyard for the delightful water fountain which excites everyone's inner-child!)
 
 
The Seilern Triptych - Robert Campin
 
Whenever I stand in front of a religious commission such as this, my eyes are always looking for the donor; usually a serene, virtuous, pious figure, humbly kneeling on the side. The thing I find fascinating is that it is this depicted donor that commissioned, approved, carried and devoured the triptych and it is his actions that brought this masterpiece to us as a token of his need to be depicted in the same scene with Christ or Madonna or the Saints. A quite common practice for the upper class of the time which could be considered quite a hubris if you think about it in terms of the early-Christian doctrine. There is no written evidence about the commissioner of this masterpiece (one of the finest specimens of Early Netherlandish Art) but I am sure that he would be more than pleased with Campin's work!
 
blog_courtauld_1425.jpg
Master of Flemalle (Robert Campin?) (c.1375-1444), Entombment Triptych. Height: 65.2 cm (centre) (integral frame and double-arched top); Width: 53.6 cm (centre); Height: 64.9 cm (each wing); Width: 26.8 cm (each wing) © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London.

 
Adam and Eve - Lucas Cranach the Elder
 
Everything about this painting is fascinating to me; in fact I am most intrigued by details such as the relatively lean bodies of Adam and Eve (Adam is not particularly muscular while Eve is elegantly small-breasted), the animals that have gathered around the couple to witness this decisive moment (which reminds me of a similar assembly of animals in the Nativity scene), the refined detail of the surrounding vegetation, the reflection of the roe in the watering hole, the contrast of the human flesh and the deep green of nature. And furthermore, I am fairly sure that Adam, while giving the Forbidden Fruit to Eve, is scratching his head wondering if he is doing a huge mistake!

 
The Trinity with Saints - Alessandro Filipepi Botticelli
 
The thing that excites me about this artwork is that everything is so evidently wrong in terms of proportions! John and Mary Magdalene appear larger than Jesus although they are closer to the viewer, God is also larger than Christ despite standing behind the Cross, the angels (putti, to be exact) are also larger than the Crucified Jesus while standing (or flying) in the background! Meanwhile the Archangel Raphael and Tobias, appear to walk in the landscape below the Cross, closer to the viewer but significantly smaller than every other figure in the painting. And, still, this set of peculiar options actually works! 
 
blog_courtauld_1526a.jpg
Left: Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553), Adam and Eve, 1526, The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London. Right: The Trinity with St Mary Magdalene and St John the Baptist, the Archangel Raphael and Tobias, Botticelli (Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi) and assistants, 1490-1495. Tempera on panel, Height: 214 cm; Width: 192.4 cm © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London.

A Bar at the Folies-Bergère - Édouard Manet
 
When I was an art student, back in the optimistic 1990s, I was fascinated by the whole cabaret-scene of the Belle Epoque! The atmosphere of the Follies-Bergère, Toulouse-Lautrec sketching the dancers of the Moulin-Rouge and the penniless artists who were enjoying heavy drinking and love-making while waiting to be recognized were the elements of myth for my friends and me! Manet's painting, for me, represents all these amazing stories from the late 19th century when everything was new and everything was possible! The (deliberate) inaccuracy of the woman's reflection is an additional reason that makes admiring this painting even more enjoyable!
 
blog_courtauld_1882.jpg
Edouard Manet (1832 – 1883), A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, 1882, Copyright: © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London.


Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear - Vincent Van Gogh
 
The fact that Van Gogh chose to depict himself bearing the wounds of an act of desperation, during which he mutilated his own ear, is to me one of the most artistically brave and psychologically inexplicable actions of modern art! And, to some extend, the very first and one of the most dramatic performance-art pieces in history!
 
blog_courtauld_1889.jpg
Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890). Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, 1889Oil on canvas, 60.5 x 50 cm© The Courtauld Gallery, London.

 
Female nude - Amedeo Modigliani
 
The reason I am fond of this artwork is the fact that the elongated face of the woman in this nude strongly reminds me of the statues of Pharaoh Akhenaten during the Amarna period thus combining two great loves of mine: Egyptian art (of all periods) and Modigliani's unique, charmingly decadent, mastery!
blog_courtauld_1916.jpg
Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920), Female Nude, 1916 (circa), The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London.


The Prometheus Triptych - Oskar Kokoschka
 
There are no words rich enough to describe the beauty of this monumental work! It was commissioned in 1950 by Count Antoine Seilern for the decoration of the entrance-hall ceiling of his house and took Kokoschka over six months to create this masterpiece; a fusion of mythological and biblical narrative mixing the myths of Prometheus and of Hades, Persephone and Demetra with the Apocalypse, resulting to one of the most captivating works in the Courtauld Collection!
 
blog_courtauld_1950_5.jpg
Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980), Triptych. From left to right: Prometheus. Apocalypse. Hades and Persephone, 1950 (January to July), The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London/DACS 2003.

 
USEFUL INFORMATION
Address: Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 0RN
(see map below)
Visit the museum's website
 
Save
Save
Save
Save
Save
Save
Save
Save
Save
Save

Share this article

Media