Many of the drawings selected for our display have never been seen outside of the protected space of the Courtauld Print Room – the place where drawings are kept, conserved and studied by students and scholars. Through this project, we were also able to go a bit further in the study of this part of the collection and to bring together drawings with books and some ornamental prints normally housed in the book library.
The French drawings we have selected from the Courtauld collection were originally acquired by Professor Anthony Blunt (1907 – 1983) and Sir Robert Witt (1872-1952).
As a specialist on seventeenth- and eighteenth-century French and Italian art, as well as writing on artists as diverse as Picasso and William Blake, Anthony Blunt published a continuous stream of articles and books from the late 1930s until his death in 1983. Director of the Courtauld from 1947 to 1974, Blunt had begun to collect paintings, drawings and prints in the 1930s. By the 1960s he was a keen, though occasional buyer and seller of old master drawings and prints. The collection of almost 200 drawings bequeathed to the Institute in 1984 shows Blunt’s special interest in architecture and ornament from Early Modern Italy and France.
In 1952 Robert Witt bequeathed more than 3,000 drawings and approximately 20,000 prints to the Courtauld. This remains the core of the Gallery’s holdings of works on paper and Witt may properly be regarded as the founder of the collection. Witt bought mainly Italian and British drawings, including many by Constable and Gainsborough, as well as fine examples by Dutch and Flemish artists of the late 16th and 17th century. He often acquired drawings by lesser-known figures with the aim of making them available to the Courtauld students for further study.
Exploring the culture of architectural drawing since 2015, the Drawing Matter Collections Trust runs a family of activities overseen by Niall Hobhouse. Such activities are grounded in a remarkable collection of architectural drawings and models from the Renaissance to the present day.