For the first time in London for 70 years, the National Gallery displays major Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterworks from the Courtauld Gallery, purchased in the 1920s by Samuel Courtauld. These paintings alongside paintings from the National Gallery’s own collection are shown in a new exhibition entitled Courtauld Impressionists: From Manet to Cézanne.
The exhibition tells the story of how two exhibitions of French Impressionist paintings in London in the late 1910s and 1920s had a profound impact on Courtauld who began to build up a two collections, one for himself and his wife and one for the nation. The collections of mainly French modern art were made at a time when the appetite for this kind of art in the UK was low, but Courtauld was a great supporter of Cézanne’s work in particular.
This exhibition of over forty works is centred around the loan of 26 masterpieces from the Courtauld Gallery, which is closing temporarily in September 2018 as part of a major transformation project. The exhibition traces the development of modern French painting from the 1860s to the turn of the 20th century and is arranged chronologically in 12 sections – each devoted to a different artist – includes the works of such key figures as Daumier, Manet, Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, and Bonnard.
Highlights from Courtauld’s private collection, now part of the Courtauld Gallery, include Renoir’s La Loge (Theatre Box) (1874), Cézanne’s The Card Players (about 1892–6) and Lac d’Annecy (1896), Toulouse-Lautrec’s Jane Avril in the Entrance to the Moulin Rouge (about 1892), Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882), and Seurat’s Young Woman Powdering Herself (about 1888–90).
These pictures hang alongside major works acquired for the national collection through the Courtauld Fund. This was set up in 1923 by Courtauld himself for the acquisition of modern French paintings and the works that were purchased now form the core of the National Gallery’s post-1800 collection. They include Renoir’s At the Theatre (La Première Sortie) (1876–7); as well as Seurat’s Bathers at Asnières (1884), Cézanne’s Self Portrait (about 1880–1) and Van Gogh’s A Wheatfield with Cypresses (1889) which were the first paintings by these three artists to enter a British public collection.
Walking around the relatively small and intimate exhibition, the visitor attention is drawn to many of the iconic Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings on view, Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882) has been favourite in the Courtauld Gallery for decades and the same can be said for Seurat’s Bathers at Asnières (1884) at the National Gallery. Perhaps the most interesting part about the exhibition is to consider the different styles of the artists, although considered Impressionist and Post-Impressionist, each artist developed their own particular style which became instantly recognisable.
There are a couple of artists that perhaps not so recognisable like Daumier and Bonnard but the main part of the exhibition is given over to the ‘greats of the period which include Manet, Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh, Monet, Degas, Pissarro and Gauguin.
This remarkable exhibition is a testament to the taste and generosity of Samuel Courtauld who went against critical and public opinion when he began to start his collection. He saw something in the then new French modern art that was new and exciting and he was determined that it would find its place in his private collection and public collection. Even he would probably have been surprised by the way that Impressionist and Post-Impressionist has gained favour amongst the art establishment and the general public over the last century. Whilst many of these picture have been on public view in London, the unique nature of this exhibition is likely to make it extremely popular with critics and the public.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
For more information and book tickets, visit the National Gallery website here
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