The Courtauld Collection on Tour

The Courtauld Collection on Tour

Ernst Vegelin (PG Dip 1993, MA 1994, PhD 1999), Head of The Courtauld Gallery, talks about how Courtauld Connects is bringing our masterpieces to new international audiences

When I told my mother that the Gallery would be closing for two years, she said something to the effect of ‘Darling, you will be able to put your feet up for a while’. None of us anticipate doing much of that. In fact, the Gallery will be busier than ever, but, importantly, busy in different ways. The closure offers a rare opportunity to suspend the urgent pace of our regular cycle of activity and concentrate on other strategically important priorities. One example is our aim to push forward with the full online cataloguing of the collection. Closure also presents opportunities to bring The Courtauld to new audiences and to develop new relationships.

Our close existing relationship with the National Gallery, London is a mainstay of the closure period. The exhibition Courtauld Impressionists: From Manet to Cézanne (until 20 January 2019) opened to superlative reviews at Trafalgar Square just ten days after we shut our doors at Somerset House. This collaboration brings together a selection of paintings acquired by Samuel Courtauld for his private collection with works purchased by him for the nation through The Courtauld Fund. Following soon after the exhibition, from 27 March 2019 until 19 April 2020, The Courtauld will have a room in the National Gallery to present rotating displays from our collection. Additionally, some 25 works will be interspersed amongst the National Gallery’s collection displays, further helping to ensure that many key items remain on permanent public display.


Perhaps the single most high-profile and impactful project planned over the next two years is the major exhibition The Courtauld Collection: A Vision for Impressionism, organised in collaboration with the Fondation Louis Vuitton (20 February to 17 June 2019). This spectacular exhibition will position Samuel Courtauld as one of the great collectors of the 20th century. It will bring together all the masterpieces in the Gallery’s collection with outstanding works formerly owned by Samuel Courtauld that are now in other museums or private collections.

Over the past few years the Fondation Louis Vuitton has presented a series of striking exhibitions celebrating the contribution of major private collectors. Indeed, Icons of Modern Art: The Shchukin Collection (2016/17) was perhaps the show of the decade. It has always surprised and somewhat frustrated me that Samuel Courtauld’s role as a collector and philanthropist is so little known; our partnership with the Fondation Vuitton is the perfect opportunity to project his name internationally. It is an opportunity not to be squandered and I hope that we will look back on this as a step change in the wider awareness not just of Samuel Courtauld but, by extension, of the institution he helped found.


Following Paris, a selection of approximately 50 works from the collection will travel to Japan for a three venue touring exhibition developed in collaboration with the newspaper and media group Asahi Shimbun. The exhibition will open at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum in September 2019 and will then travel to the great cities of Nagoya and Kobe.


This project will form part of the Japan-Britain Year of Culture organised by the British Council leading up to the Tokyo Olympics. From the days of my first visits to Japan I have always been struck by the Japanese appetite for art, as demonstrated not only by astonishingly large audiences but also by their immense attentiveness and deep engagement with all supporting sources of information. Well over one million people will see these various Courtauld exhibitions during our closure.

Of a very different character is our newly established regional programme, which forms part of a wider initiative called Courtauld National. Pictures of the calibre of Cézanne’s Card Players and Montaigne St Victoire, Degas’s Two Dancers on a Stage, Modigliani’s Female Nude and Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’Herbe have already travelled to partner museums in Hull, Belfast, Coventry and Preston; all important former Courtauld Ltd factory towns. This ambitious programme will continue during the closure period and beyond.


With support from the Art Fund we will also be working with the Subject Specialist Network in Islamic Art and Material Culture at Birmingham Museums, to organise a tour to four regional museums of a selection of works from The Courtauld Gallery’s small but exceptionally fine collection of Islamic metalwork. Additionally, we have established a new partnership with the Science Museum for Illuminating Objects, our successful interdisciplinary internship programme. Imperial College and the Royal College of Art are likely to be among the higher education institutions participating in this. A separate collaboration with Royal Holloway is also being explored and may focus on the collection of works on paper.


Finally, although many museums quite understandably suspend loan activity during major capital projects, the Gallery is committed to continuing its support of important exhibitions nationally and internationally. We will also be making a number of exceptional extended loans, including to the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh, the Spanish Gallery in Bishop Auckland, the Kunsthaus Zurich, and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. This is an ambitious and rich portfolio of activity. It seems fair to say that in many respects the Gallery is not closing at all.

Originally published in the 2017/18 edition of The Courtauld News

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