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Six Remarkable Highlights from The Courtauld Collection

Discover iconic works by some of art history’s biggest names and find out where to see them as our collection tours the world

Courtauld Connects will transform our historic home at London’s Somerset House. Our Gallery has closed temporarily while work is underway, providing a rare opportunity for iconic works from our collection to tour a selection of national and international institutions. Here, we profile six highlights — and share details of where each can be viewed in person:

1. Paul Cézanne, Montagne Sainte-Victoire with Large Pine

1. Paul Cézanne, <i>Montagne Sainte-Victoire with Large Pine</i> image

Samuel Courtauld’s crucial position as a collector and supporter of the Impressionists was made possible thanks to the commercial success of his family firm, making his collection inextricably linked to British industry. In the early 20th century, Courtaulds Ltd became the largest manufacture of artificial silk, rayon, a revolution in the textile industry. The Courtauld Ltds plant in Coventry employed 4,720 people by 1928 and became the single largest factory in the UK. That same year Courtauld, then Chairman of the company, purchased Cézanne’s Montagne Sainte-Victoire with Large Pine. This highly significant work reimagined the representation of landscapes focusing, not on minute, ornamental detail, but on form and colour. The painting’s fragmented composition is considered a marker of Cézanne’s status as a pioneer of modernism.

The work will be in display at the  Herbert Art Gallery and Museum from 21 September 2018 10.00am – 20 January 2019, offering visitors the chance to examine a ground-breaking work of 20th-century art history and consider connections between the Parisian avant-garde and the socio-economic history of Coventry.

2. Auguste Renoir, La Loge

2. Auguste Renoir, <i>La Loge</i> image

Painted in 1874, Renoir’s La Loge, is one of the masterpieces of Impressionism, and a highlight of The Courtauld Gallery’s collection. The work depicts an elegant couple gazing out from a box at the theatre, and epitomises the Impressionists’ interest in the spectacle of modern life. At the time La Loge was painted, theatre in Paris was booming; it was estimated over 200,000 tickets were sold each week.

The work was the most significant of those Renoir submitted to the first Impressionist exhibition in Paris in 1874, where the ambiguity of its subject matter and virtuoso technique helped establish the artist as one of the leaders in this radical new movement. The sitters were Renoir’s brother Edmond and Nini Lopez, a model from Montmartre who was known, unflatteringly, as ‘Fish-face’.

During The Courtauld Gallery’s transformation, this work will form part of two exhibitions exploring Samuel Courtauld’s taste and contribution to the recognition of Impressionism in the UK. It will join unprecedented displays of masterpieces from Samuel Courtauld’s collection at The National Gallery and the Fondation Louis Vuitton, presenting more than 100 works by artists including Manet, Seurat, Cézanne, Van Gogh, and Gauguin.

3. Paul Cézanne, The Card Players

3. Paul Cézanne, The Card Players  image

Cézanne’s paintings of rural life in Aix-en-Provence, where he retreated after enjoying little commercial or critical success in Paris, are considered to be some of his masterworks. One of his greatest endeavours was to depict the people that lived there, and he pictured his gardener and local peasants playing card games and smoking clay pipes through numerous sketches and studies, before producing the ambitious and ground-breaking Card Players series. The version that The Courtauld holds shows exemplary balance and emotion – the men’s pensive faces show marked concentration – while still exercising the artist’s vital exploration of modular forms and intense colour. The painting is now on show the National Gallery, London.

4. Édouard Manet, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère

4. Édouard Manet, <i> A Bar at the Folies-Bergère </i> image

Considered to be one of Manet’sfinest works, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère was also the last major painting to be completed before the artist’s death in 1883. It depicts the revelry of the infamous Parisian entertainment hall yet focuses on a young woman called Suzon – who was a real-life barmaid. Manet’s incongruous perspective, where crowded reflections fail to match the reality of the foreground, present Suzon as isolated and divorced from her patrons, while her bare hands, suggestive lean and direct eye-contact have been interpreted as a scandalous nod to prostitution.

The expansive work has come to represent the electrifying essence of life among the Parisian demi-monde. It joins other masterpieces from The Courtauld Collection at The National Gallery, before returning home to Paris for the largest loan exhibition The Courtauld has ever organised to be held at the Fondation Louis Vuitton.

5. Amedeo Modigliani, Female Nude

5. Amedeo Modigliani, <i>Female Nude </i> image

Amadeo Modigliani’s sensuous nude was considered an affront to good taste when it was first exhibited. Modigliani’s use of pared back and elongated features referenced African, Oceanic and Egyptian sculpture, somewhat rejecting the grand tradition of European classical aesthetics. His expressive, animated brushwork was also the antithesis of the prevailing style for smooth surfaces. However, it was his depiction of pubic hair that caused moral outrage, and ultimately resulted in his first and only solo exhibition being shut down.

Modigliani’s avant-garde practice sent shockwaves through the art world, not least because he refused to represent women as idealised muses, but rather as strong, powerfully sexual individuals – this painting is a prime example. It is currently on show at Ulster Museum in Belfast as part of the year-long thematic programme Hear Her Voice, which highlights female visibility within the collection. The area also has historic connections with The Courtauld, as the neighbouring town of Carrick was once home to a Courtaulds Ltd textile factory, which employed 2,000 workers in its heyday.

6. Édouard Manet, Le Déjeuner sur L’Herbe

6. Édouard Manet, <i>Le Déjeuner sur L’Herbe</i> image

Manet’s iconic painting of a naked woman picnicking with her clothed male counterparts still has the power to shock today and is perhaps one of the most widely replicated and parodied works of art in history. The piece has often been referred to as the birth of modern art, due to its translation of classical motifs into a contemporary setting, where men and women are presented as real individuals, resulting in any elevated, allegorical reading being erased.

The work was famously rejected by Paris’s official academy on grounds of vulgarity and, while its subject matter still caused shock at the alternative Salon des Réfusés, its style was also controversial: Manet ignored the accepted premise of creating an illusion of real space, instead creating a jarring flatness that celebrated abrupt changes in light and colour, making the figures seem somewhat detached from their setting. This unprecedented flatness paved the way for modern re-imaginings of pictorial space.

The works above are just some of the exceptional paintings, decorative arts and rare objects that make up The Courtauld Collection, which spans the early Renaissance to the 20th century.

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