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Students' stories

Students' stories

Lily Foster

I am currently a first-year research student, studying early-twentieth-century British and French painting. But two years ago, I was sitting at my desk in the offices of a hedge fund on 45th Street and 5th Avenue in midtown Manhattan. In front of me was a private equity model: an Excel workbook, each cell of which I had probably sweated over, cried over, or worse, which, in the moment of great reveal, would show how much money my firm would likely gain or lose by buying a particular business. In one hour, I was scheduled to unveil the workbook’s revelations to my boss. In four hours he hoped to act on said revelations and leave the office for a holiday weekend. Unfortunately, no matter what number I put in the cell for the business’s ‘current value,’ my spreadsheet insisted that the ‘future value’ would be ‘##?!’. I did not panic.

Or rather, my panic was already directed elsewhere, since I was also planning to tell my boss that I would be leaving the job I’d held for four years in order to get a master’s in British Modernism at The Courtauld.

This isn’t the story of an exuberant escape from the corporate grind. I loved my job — the content was stimulating, the environment collegial and rigorous — but the urge to continue studying art history seemed to only get stronger over time.

As an expert in tortuous decision making, I continued to chew my nails over the pros and cons of leaving my job even after arriving in London. But there was also an immediate sense of gratification, or of finally scratching a persistent itch, when I got to The Courtauld, and began spending my days reading, writing, and looking at paintings by Walter Sickert, Gwen John, and others at the Tate and the National Portrait Gallery. And this unmistakable, fundamental satisfaction made it clear that I did not want to go back to my job in September 2012. Rather, I wanted to pursue a doctorate in art history. But it was not obvious that continuing my studies would be a financial possibility for me. It is only thanks to my donors’ contributions that I had a real choice between starting a PhD in London, and returning to my Excel workbooks in Manhattan. And I think this must be among the greatest privileges, to be able to select the profession that you most want to do.

To my donors, I would like to extend a deeply felt thank you, and say that, over the next few years, I will be doing my best to live up to the gift my donors have provided.

Valerie Whitacre

I am incredibly grateful to have received the Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Scholarship, which afforded me the opportunity to earn my MA at one of the most prestigious art history institutions in Europe.

My time at The Courtauld not only improved my intellectual skills, but also gave me the opportunity to meet other professionals in the visual arts community and to begin networking while very early in my studies. I felt an early advantage at graduation, having already built relationships with and benefited from the insights of those much more accomplished than myself.

After graduating from The Courtauld, I undertook several internships and temporary posts. These included working on a private London photography collection, assisting gallerist Zelda Cheatle in organising a conference at The Courtauld Institute of Art, collaborating with the Sony World Photography Organisation, and training with Philippe Garner in the Christie’s Photography Department in London.

Each of these experiences introduced me to many different facets of the art world. With the guidance and encouragement of each of my employers, I was also able to benefit from their expertise in vintage photography. In particular, Courtauld alumnus James Hyman, gave me the chance to work with him on his growing photography programme, which began as an extension to his exhibition and sales focus in Modern British Art.

Since 2008, I have worked with James to exhibit at multiple international photography fairs, including AIPAD and Paris Photo. More recently, we have succeeded in bringing the vintage photography programme and his Modern British Painting programme to the ‘haut-niveau’ art fairs including Masterpiece London and Frieze Masters.

Without the generosity of the Jungels-Winkler Scholarship, I would not have been able to pursue an advanced degree in art history. It was the scholarship— and the prestige of the institution with which it is affiliated— that led me to my current path, and to which I owe much of my success to date.

Sanjay Dhar

Until the late 1980s in India, education in the conservation of cultural material was limited to on-the-job training of government employees in museums and similar institutions. I was among the trainees to join the first postgraduate diploma introduced at the National Museum, New Delhi. On completion, I then had an opportunity to assist in the setting up of a conservation laboratory for the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH). My development as a professional and a student of conservation science is largely due to the range of challenges that a large and culturally diverse country like India has to offer.

Through the years, the damage and loss of beautiful wall paintings in India—the direct result of a lack of trained personnel, relevant professional institutions and understanding of the paintings’ technical diversity—was a source of personal anguish.

In 1995, my colleagues and I made a decision to develop expertise in wall painting conservation with a challenging project in Rajasthan, western India. Technical literature was scarce and the internet’s impact had not yet been realised. The slow and tortuous journey through this project helped in developing a team of dedicated professionals and a cautious methodology.

After a decade, I decided to launch the first private consultancy in the conservation of wall paintings in India with my first foray into Ladakh in the Himalayan region of North India. The wall paintings in Ladakh present multiple challenges, including logistical problems, an extreme environment and a poor understanding of the original materials and techniques of the spectacular paintings.

In 2009, I was presented with an opportunity to undertake a part-time PhD at The Courtauld Institute of Art as an Akzo Nobel Scholar. The Courtauld’s Conservation of Wall Painting Department has re-defined education and training in this field of conservation and has made a significant contribution to the way wall paintings are conserved today. I believe that my research on Assessing and Managing Risk: Himalayan Wall Paintings will make a material contribution to the manner in which Himalayan paintings are preserved for the future.

I am currently in the process of conducting technical studies to understand and develop the scope of imaging techniques for risk assessment at the sites identified for my case studies.

The opportunity of pursuing research at The Courtauld Institute of Art is literally a ‘dream come true’ thanks to the generous support of my donor.

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