The Courtauld Institute of Art was founded in 1932 through the philanthropy of the industrialist and art collector Samuel Courtauld (1876-1947) who in the same year presented it with an extensive number of paintings from his own collection, mainly French Impressionist and Post- Impressionist works acquired in the 1920s.
Since 1989, the Institute, together with the Courtauld Gallery has been housed in the Strand block of Somerset House, which will be closing in Autumn 2018 for at least two years for major redevelopment.
The exhibition Courtauld Impressionists: from Manet to Cezanne is centred round the loan of twenty-six masterpieces from the Courtauld Gallery which will be shown alongside paintings from the National Gallery's own collection which Courtauld financed and helped to acquire. It contains the largest number of works from Courtauld's own collection ever to be seen at the National Gallery and traces the development of modern French painting from the 1860s to the turn of the 20th Century. Arranged chronologically in twelve sections - each devoted to a different artist - the exhibition includes the work of such key figures as Manet, Renoir, Cezanne, Seurat and Bonnard.
It's particularly interesting to contrast old favourites like Manet's La Loge, (from the Courtauld) which depicts a well known courtesan holding court in her box at the theatre while her bored escort scans the audience looking for action, with the less flamboyant At the Theatre, La Premiere Sortie, (from the National), showing a young girl, modestly dressed and keeping her eyes firmly on the stage.
Another enjoyable study in contrast is provided by Degas' early painting of androgynous young girls and boys preparing to wrestle in Young Spartans Exercising (from the National) hung next to the same artist's infinitely well known study of voluptuous ballet girls in Two Dancers on a Stage (from the Courtauld). Other old friends from the Courtauld include Manet's Dejeuner sur l'Herbe, banned by the Paris Salon in 1863, but still causing a sensation among the rejects and the splendid Bar at the Folies-Bergere, where the spectator has to pause and engage in mental gymnastics to work out the reflections.
From the sophistication of theatre to the innocence of nature as depicted by Cezanne and Van Gogh or the intimacy of Seurat's Young Woman Powdering Herself, these works represent the vision of one exceptional man and enable the viewer to share his delight in these extraordinary works.
Courtauld Impressionists from Manet to Cezanne will be at the National Gallery until 20 January 2019.
For more information see: Courtauld Impressionists: from Manet to Cezanne
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