Exhibition Archive

THE WITT COLLECTION:
FOUR CENTURIES OF DRAWINGS

3 April - 20 June 2004

Thomas Girtin, North Devon
Thomas Girtin (1775-1802), View of Appledore, North Devon c.1798, watercolour and bodycolour on paper

Coinciding with the re-opening of the Courtauld Institute Gallery after a re-installation, The Witt Collection: Four Centuries of Drawings featured over 50 drawings from the collection of Sir Robert Witt (1872-1952). Comprising some 4,000 drawings and representing all of the main European schools, the collection contains many exceptional works, including sketches by Constable and Gainsborough, a masterful group by Guercino, and many distinguished Dutch and Flemish landscape drawings.

Sir Robert Witt, lawyer and founder-Secretary (later Chairman) of the National Art Collections Fund, began creating a library of photographs and prints of paintings early in his career. He eventually amassed over 600,000 images which came to form the core of the Witt Library, now housed at the Courtauld Institute. Aware that the collecting of drawings was a relatively neglected field in the inter-war years, he decided to form a collection to complement his library of reproductions. Buying widely, he generally avoided the fashionable and expensive, searching out a variety of subject matter, styles and techniques. He often bought the work of artists who were little valued at the time, commenting in 1936 that nowhere in the world is it possible to find so many interesting and attractive examples as in this country, or at such ridiculously low prices.

An early and active supporter of the Courtauld Institute from the date of its founding in 1932, Witt bequeathed his collection of drawings on his death in 1952. This exhibition provides a rare opportunity to view some of the masterpieces from his collection, including many works never before on public display.