Drawings Highlights - The Courtauld Institute of Art

Drawings Highlights

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Drawings Highlights


Executed on paper, drawings and prints are highly sensitive to light, and as a result they cannot be on permanent public display.  However, selections from the collection are shown regularly in a dedicated space in the Gilbert and Ildiko Butler Drawings Gallery.

The collection can be viewed by appointment in the Drawings & Prints Study Room.

The Renaissance

In the Renaissance the medium of drawing increasingly gained importance as an expression of artistic creativity.

Drawings not only functioned as workshop material, but also served as a means to explore ideas for paintings and sculptures. For the first time they were also created as finished works of art to be collected.

Including works from the most famous Italian artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, but also from Northern artists like Albrecht Dürer and Pieter Bruegel the Elder The Courtauld’s outstanding collection of Renaissance drawings is one of the finest in Britain.

Seventeenth Century

The Baroque saw some of the most splendid, powerful draughtsmen of all times, excelling in energetic spontaneity and grandeur.

Most of them are represented with stupendous works at The Courtauld: Whilst the large collection of drawings by Rubens and Rembrandt is part of the Princes Gates collection, bequeathed by Count Antoine Seilern, those by the North Italian artist Guercino were collected by Robert Witt.

The extraordinary design for the Louvre’s East façade is a masterpiece of the collection of Anthony Blunt which focuses on architectural drawings.

Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

The Courtauld houses a celebrated collection of Italian and French drawings of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Both Tiepolo’s and Canaletto’s refined pen and ink drawings, vividly finished with wash, mark highlights of late Venetian art.

The most important artistic positions in the history of French drawing from Rococo to Romanticism can be studied in fine works, such as Watteau’s sensual Satyr pouring Wine,  Ingres’ exquisite linear Study for ‘La Grande Odalisque’ and  Delacroix’s Studies of felines, an example of his close study of nature interpreted with great spontaneity.

British Watercolours

Watercolour painting came to prominence in Britain between 1750 and 1850, during which time it was transformed from a means of recording topography into a highly expressive art form.

Works by all the major artists of this so-called ‘Golden Age’ of watercolour are admirably represented at The Courtauld.

Notable examples include a number of rustic scenes by Gainsborough, Thomas Girtin’s immaculate view of Peterborough Cathedral façade, sublime mountainous landscapes by Francis Towne and J. R. Cozens, and a magnificent collection of watercolours spanning the career of J.M.W. Turner.

Impressionism and Post-Impressionism

Like the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings the core of the Courtauld collection of drawings, watercolours and pastels by the same artists was formed by Samuel Courtauld.

The most important groups are by Degas and Cézanne. Both explored the artistic possibilities of the drawing medium by integrating colour and line in innovative ways.

The collection offers the possibility to study drawings by most artists of the period such as Manet, Renoir, Gauguin van Gogh, Seurat and Toulouse-Lautrec, giving insight into their individual creative thinking most apparent in the private medium of drawing.

Twentieth Century

The Courtauld houses one of the most important collections of drawings by the artists of the Bloomsbury Group and the Omega workshop, Roger Fry, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. At the beginning of the 20th century these British avant-garde artists aimed at a expressive simplification of form in their designs which mainly functioned as patterns for objects such as carpets, costumes and screens.

Building on the rich tradition of French drawing of the 19th century, Matisse and Picasso both developed highly individual graphic languages which can be studied in fine examples at The Courtauld.

An example of pure abstraction, the predominant art movement after World War II in Western Europe, is provided in the German-born French artist Hans Hartung’s calligraphic Composition in black and yellow, an equivalent in drawing to the literary technique of automatic writing, developed by the Surrealists.

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