The Courtauld Gallery

After I’d been to see the Becoming Picasso exhibition, I took the opportunity to go round the gallery and look round the  Courtauld’s own collection. I had visited the gallery before, but that was over twenty years ago so it was a real treat to be able to look around.

The trouble with the big galleries in London is that they have so many paintings it is difficult to know where to start and looking round can be exhausting. But the Courtauld has a a relatively small collection – much more manageable and I felt I could stand and look at the pictures without feeling the need to rush on to something else like I often do when I have the rare opportunity to visit Tate Modern, The National Gallery etc..

Their collection includes works from the early Renaissance up to the 20th century, but is best known for it’s Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings. It includes works by good range of artists – Manet, Degas, Renoir, Pissarro, Morisot, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec and Cézanne. They don’t have many pictures by each of them but the ones they do of are of very high quality.

Where do I start? Well some of the ones I particularly liked were  a Modigliani portrait of a woman – very typical of his work,

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a couple of Matisse Fauvists paintings and paintings by other Fauvists, a Patrick Heron abstract, an absolutely beautiful, simple, wooden Single Form by Barbara (similar to one displayed in Leeds City Art Gallery),

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Single form 1937 by Barbara Hepworth

a room full of Degas’, three beautiful Gauguin’s,

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Te Rerioa (The dream) 1897 Gauguin

a Van Gogh self-portrait (minus ear),

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Jane Avril by Lautrec, a Morisot, Manet’s Folies-Bergère

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A Bar at the Folies-Bergère 1888 Édouard Manet

and a room full of outstanding Cezannes.

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The card players Paul Cézanne

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Montagne Sainte-Victoire (c. 1887) Paul Cézanne

And more.

I was breathless by the time I’d finished and went round again, at least once more! I don’t think I’ll be leaving it another 20 years before I pay another visit .

Berthe Morisot: artist and model

There aren’t many works by female artists in the world’s galleries (although the Pompidou Centre in Paris has tried to address this with its current exhibition elles@centrepompidou). One exception is the impressionist painter Berthe Morisot who has works displayed in a number of major galleries including the Musee d’Orsay and Musee Marmottan in Paris. and the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

Her style is typical of the Impressionists. She uses bright colours and her works capture the essence of her subject,  rather than being photographic or academic. She tended to concentrate on domestic scenes, including paintings of her friends and family. “Le berceau” (see below) which is displayed in the Gare d’Orsay being a typical example. It prtrays her sister Edma and Edma’s baby daughter Blanche.

Le berceau (The Cradle) by Berthe Morisot

Le berceau (The Cradle) by Berthe Morisot

In my view she was a major artist despite the constraints placed upon her as a woman living in the 18th Century. Despite this she managed to balance being a wife and mother with producing some important works, contributing to all but one of the Impressionist exhibitions. Perhaps she could have achieved even more if she had lived in a more enlightened age. There is a good article about her life and work here.

There is another reason why you can’t help noticing Berthe Morisot during a visit tot he Musee Marmotan and the Gare d’Orsay – she appears in a number of major paintings by Manet.

"Le Balcon" by Manet

"Le Balcon" by Manet

Here she is sitting at the front of the balcony

"Berthe Morisot à l'éventail" by Manet

"Berthe Morisot à l'éventail" by Manet

and here she is, with her face hidden behind a fan.

"Berthe Morisot au bouquet de violettes" by Manet

"Berthe Morisot au bouquet de violettes" by Manet

This is probably his most well known painting of her.

Looking at these pictures I can understand why he took her as his subject so often. She was an attractive woman with a dark, mysterious beauty.  No wonder tongues wagged (and continue to wag) about his relationship with her! There is, however, no direct evidence to suggest that their relationship went beyond a close friendship.  She actually married his brother, Eugene, and they had a daughter Julie, who Berthe included in many of her works.  Julie’s diary was published as a book  – “Growing up with the Impressionists: the Diary of Julie Manet” which is an interestig read for anyone interested with the Impressionists and their world.

Growing Up with the Impressionists: The Diary of Julie Manet

Manet: the Man Who Invented Modern Art


An excellent programme shown on BBC2 on Saturday. Not too heavy or too lightweight – I guess you could say it was “middlebrow”, but that suited me!  Presented by the critic Waldemar Januszczak (try saying that name after a few pints – on reflection try saying it when you’re sober) it looked at Manet’s art and his life. He has always been one of my favourite artists – since I learned to start appreciating art in my early twenties. A number of his paintings are particular favourites of mine,  especially Olympia, and despite his character flaws which were explored during this programme (and who doesn’t have those),  I admire his republicanism and leftish tendencies, reflected in his painting “The Execution of Maximilian”, even if he was essentially a “bourgeois radical”. That’s better, in my view, than being a reactionary. He did, after all, come from a bourgeois family – his father was a senior judge.

The Execution of Maximillian

The Execution of Maximilian

When discussing the more famous works such as “Dejeuner sur l’Herbe” and “Olympia”, the progamme “recreated” the pictures with live models. I’m not sure what the intention was in doing this as I don’t think it added to the understanding of the paintings, but I guess it was a device to make the viewer take notice, rather than simply displaying a flat image.

I’m also not sure about the title pf the programme. Did he “invent” modern art? He certainly helped to move art away from the stuffy traditions prevalent at the end of the 18th Century and was a major influence on the Impressionists but I don’t think that he deliberately set out to revolutionise art in the way the title of the programme suggests. I guess that its another device to grab attention.

Manet's Olympia

Manet's Olympia

Despite these reservations watching the programme was a good way to spend some time on a Saturday night at home.

Pictures from Wikipedia