Courtauld Impressionists: From Manet to Cézanne review

Art National Gallery , Trafalgar Square Until Sunday January 20 2019
4 out of 5 stars
Courtauld Impressionists: From Manet to Cézanne review
© The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

Short of Banksy reinterpreting ‘Guernica’ accompanied by bottomless prosecco, it’s hard to think of a more solid banker of a show than this. The Courtauld Gallery is being refurbed for two years, but the decorators have hardly had time to stick the radio on, than its greatest impressionist hits are back on display, with support from iconic works from the National Gallery. Seven and a half quid gets you three rooms of solid gold: Manet’s ‘A Bar at the Folies-Bergère’ takes pride of place in room one. Happily, its troubling weirdness has survived the trip of a few hundred yards down the Strand intact. The way it turns physical ‘where am I?’ into social ‘where am I?’ is an art experience like no other. By the time you get to Van Gogh’s swirling, menacing ‘A Wheatfield, with Cypresses’, you’ve seen Degas dancers, Cézanne still-lifes, Monets, Toulouse-Lautrecs, Pissarros and that Seurat painting of the man with John Lennon’s nose and funny hair sitting on a riverbank with his top off. If that sounds trite, crass, simplistic etc, that’s maybe because this show is a bit simplistic: there are so many familiar faces at this party you could probably walk round it with your eyes shut and still enjoy it. There is a curatorial narrative here about textile magnate Samuel Courtauld seeing something in these artists that other people failed to, and having the cash to do something about it, but I should think that will be of zero interest to approximately 95 percent of people who go and see it. So what? There’s no harm in reminding yourself why these paintings are so famous. You’ve seen them before, go see them again. (I did miss the Courtauld’s very creaky floor, though.)

By: Chris Waywell

Venue name: National Gallery
Contact:
Address: Trafalgar Square
London
WC2N 5DN
Opening hours: Open daily 10am–6pm, Fridays 10am–9pm. Closed Jan 1, Dec 24–26.
Transport: Tube: Charing Cross
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