Archive: 75th anniversary
Anita Brookner, novelist
“When I became a student at The Courtauld Institute in the 1950’s what had been a private addiction developed into a way of life, with galleries and libraries places of first resort, and congenial study an ideal which has remained constant. In those early days our teachers – Anthony Blunt, Margaret Whinney, Johannes Wilde, and the noble exiles of the Warburg Institute, conjured out of us a desire to learn and to go on learning. I am sure that I speak not only for myself when I say that I regarded The Courtauld less as an institution than as an alternative family, entirely benevolent in the disinterested way that real families can not always sustain. I stayed on for some thirty years, latterly as a member of staff, and when I retired I took to writing novels, a displacement activity that has proved far less enjoyable. I was more than fortunate to have known The Courtauld during its formative years, and my hope for the future is that it does not sacrifice that early intimacy in its entirely admirable expansion which has enabled many others, both here and abroad, to appreciate its unique legacy.”
T.J. Clark, Art Historian
“[I remember] John Golding saying gently to me in a seminar – I had been holding forth, as I recall, on Boccioni’s Dynamism of a Cyclist – ‘So… Do I gather you think the painting is a good one?’ It stuck with me, that question. There is a difference, I came to realize, between a painting being interesting (or, worse, being made interesting by an argument you want it to embody) and its being aesthetically a success. It’s a lesson I go on learning.
John Elderfield, Chief Curator of Paintings and Sculpture, MOMA, New York
I came to The Courtauld with an art student's experience of how art is made and interest in the investigative act of seeing; I learned at The Courtauld that these things could form part of a rigorous, scholarly study of works of art, and that the unraveling of historical puzzles could afford an enjoyment almost equal to that to be found in the pleasures of sight.
I believe that The Courtauld can and should be a pioneer in grounding the increasing enthusiasm for the study of contemporary art in awareness of the pleasures and puzzles that make up our experience of earlier art, and that form the context from which contemporary art emerges.”
David Elliott, Director of the Istanbul Modern Art Museum
I came to The Courtauld after a History degree in Durham and a year working as an art assistant at Leicester Museum and Art Gallery, curious to get a handle on this new discipline. I remember in my first or second week asking about the methodology of art history. Little did I realise that this was rather like asking about The Courtauld Rugby team, another of my faux pas at this time. Both questions, of course, were never really answered, except obliquely. Then I soon realised that chronology was King and I started to play for the BBC Second XIV.
Dr Jas Elsner, Fellow, Corpus Christi College, Oxford
“Studying for an MA was a wonderful experience; I did Byzantine Iconoclasm and had never had the chance to go into such depth into a topic with free range of so amazing a set of libraries as the Warburg, Conway and Courtauld. The greatest advantage for me personally of Somerset House over Portman Square was that one could pop into the Gallery between classes or at odd moments for a few quiet seconds with Cézanne's Lac d'Annecy or Still Llife with Plaster Cast, or Cranach's Adam and Eve.”
Gabriele Finaldi, Director Adjunto de Conservación e Investigación, Museo Nacional Del Prado
“During the course of my first year at The Courtauld in 1985, I got together with a couple of other students to invite Professor Gombrich to come and talk to us. Michael Kitson, then Deputy Director of the Institute, suggested we ask him simply to reminisce as he would probably not be keen to give a full-scale lecture. Sir Ernst curtly told us that Courtauld students already had too many lectures and he would speak about "Methodology".
At the end of his talk he invited questions and I diffidently asked
if he could offer a word of encouragement to first-year students unsure
of whether art history had been the right choice for them, of which,
at that stage, I was one. He answered even more curtly: "If
you don't know why you are studying ze history of art, you should
not be studying it". It was not the answer I was expecting and
it was mildly embarassing for me, but it proved tremendously
helpful and I was able to return to my art history studies with a renewed
focus and enthusiasm.”
Andrew Graham-Dixon, broadcaster and art critic for the Sunday Telegraph
“Studying at The Courtauld meant a great deal to me. I particularly remember the teaching of Michael Kitson, who supervised my eventually unfinished PhD for years and in the process helped me immensely in my fumbling efforts to understand how to look at paintings. Michael was a huge encouragement to me long after I had left the Institute and had begun to write books and articles, and to make television programmes about art. I remember him coming to the lauch of my firt big BBC series, A History of British Art, and saying rather drily, as he puffed on a Silk Cut cigarette, "So, at last, you've finished your PhD, although not in the usual form - bout bloody time too!"
I also vividly remember the teaching of Anita Brookner, and in particular her wise advice to pay attention to every last detail in a work of art - "because nothing is a mere coincidence". Art history is taken far more seriously as a discipline in this country, now, than it was in my student days, and I believe The Courtauld has played a very significant role in that. Long may the institution thrive.”
Mark Jones, Director of the V&A
“My hope for The Courtauld's future is that it will become the place to understand applied as well as fine art and architecture in every great visual culture. Best wishes for your 75th anniversary.”
Tim Knox, Director, Sir John Soane Museum
”The Courtauld Institute in its days at Home House, Portman Square, was an extraordinary institution. Stepping inside that incredible domed Adam Staircase lifted the spirits immediately. Lecture slides were dispensed from cabinets beneath an Adam ceiling supported by porphyry columns, while next door we listened to lectures in velvety darkness, observed by a huge portrait of a Renaissance cardinal by Pulzone.”
Jay Massey, Art Historian and Trustee of the Friends of The Courtauld Institute
“All of us who have obtained a post-graduate degree at The Courtauld Institute of Art share a profound admiration for the quality of its academic programme, the excellence of its research facilities and the intimacy it provides with its superb collection; as students we had the extraordinary privilege to observe the restoration of The Courtauld's early Renaissance masterpiece, the Deposition from the Cross by Robert Campin, the Master of Flémalle.”
Helly Nahmad, art dealer
“By far my best memories of The Courtauld Institute of Art were John House’s discussions on Impressionism in his small library. Admiring a stunning array of masterpieces by Claude Monet on the slide projector on rainy afternoons was truly mesmerizing experience that I shall always remember.”
Griselda Pollock, Professor of Social and Critical Histories of Art, University of Leeds
[The Courtauld] has a rich and diverse staff, solidly grounded in the many aspects of the expanded and theoretically enriched practices that now constitute art history. As a historian of the field of art history, and someone perpetually engaged by the still unfinished business of working out what it is to think about and think with art, historically and in the present moment, The Courtauld is for me an institution with a history and a place in history to be examined in the larger context of the institutionalisation of art historical practices. Its future in our field must be for its current representatives to decide. Its legacies for me lay more in providing an introduction to a field to which I have remained loyal but which I had to reconfigure for myself in response to its official repression of class, gender, race and sexuality as factors to be considered and its intellectual uncertainties that characterized the moment of my encounter.
Johnny van Haeften, art dealer
“Vita Brevis, Courtauld longa"