Hidden gem: the Courtauld Gallery
To introduce the Time Out Art section’s new series that champions London’s hidden art gems, we turn the spotlight on a bounty of painting treasures: the Courtauld Gallery
London has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to major museums and galleries. The National Gallery, Tate Modern and Tate Britain cover all bases from early Renaissance to the cutting-edge of contemporary practice. Prefer the ancient to the modern, or design to fine art? The peerless archaeological and historical collections at the British Museum and the V&A have a treasure trove of choice. The Hayward puts on quality contemporary exhibitions and the Royal Academy stages high-profile loan shows. All this is fantastic for London but it does mean that our smaller museums and collections and also some of the less famous (but no less great), works in our major collections don’t get their fair share of attention.
From next week we will be highlighting both collections and individual works of art which deserve a brighter moment in the spotlight in a new monthly feature: Hidden Gem. We might feature the small but perfectly formed Estorick Collection, with its wonderful selection of futurist work; the National Gallery’s select and subtle Corot landscapes; or the Wallace Collection, which is bursting with great paintings such as Fragonard’s ‘The Swing’, whose risqué subject matter of a young nobleman enjoying the view up a coquettish young lady’s skirt as she is pushed on a swing by the shadowy figure of a priest, is as scandalously saucy in the twenty-first century as it was in the eighteenth.
First on the list to be awarded the ‘hidden gem’ accolade is the Courtauld Gallery. Tucked away in Somerset House, the Courtauld may not have a major visible presence, but it contains many of London’s major artworks and, unlike the National or the Tates, there’s no need for a ticketed time slot to control overcrowded galleries. In fact, on most visits one has the luxury of the place almost to oneself; surprising as the Courtauld has several paintings that would be the centrepiece of any blockbuster. Cranach’s witty and humane ‘Adam and Eve’ was rightly a star turn at the Royal Academy’s recent ‘Cranach’ show. It’s currently on tour but can usually be viewed in the Courtauld alongside several wonderful Rubens and works by Botticelli, Goya, Tiepolo and Lippi. And this is before we even get to the magnificent impressionist and post-impressionist holdings; the sumptuous Monets, gorgeous Renoirs and dazzling fauvist canvases.
The Courtauld’s group of Cézannes is the best in the country; this week they will all be on show together for the first time, along with the institution’s collection of watercolours, drawings and letters. There will be some outstanding paintings, both famous (‘The Card Players’) and less well known (the wonderfully crystalline water depicted in ‘Lac d’Annecy’ looks good enough to dive into). The Courtauld also holds perhaps the greatest painting by the most important artist of the nineteenth century; Manet’s astounding ‘A Bar at the Folies-Bergère’, which is famous for its baffling mirror-image reflections and Sphinx-like barmaid. Given the richness of the collection as a whole , the Courtauld more than deserves its place as one of London’s great hidden gems.
Off the beaten art trackFoundling Museum It tells the story of the Foundling Hospital for abandoned children, but also contains old masters including works by Gainsborough and Reynolds. Hunterian Museum Along with the pickled specimens and surgical instruments, one can also find works of art by, among others, Jan van Rymsdyk and George Stubbs.Kenwood House More famous for the picnics and concerts in its grounds, Kenwood House is also home to masterpieces by Rembrandt, Turner and Vermeer.Petrie Museum Among the Petrie’s 80,000 Egyptian and Sudanese artefacts is the world’s largest collection of Roman-period mummy portraits.St Bartholomew's Hospital Museum Art in hospitals is usually of the fruit-and-flowers still-life variety but St Barts also boasts two magnificent classical paintings by Hogarth.
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