Picture this
Writers' talks in the Courtauld Gallery

In October 2010 Somerset House Writer in Residence, Romesh Gunesekera, hosted the second series of Picture This at Somerset House: Writers’ Talks in The Courtauld Gallery.

Six eminent writers took inspiration from the remarkable permanent collection in The Courtauld Gallery, each choosing a painting which particularly moves, engages or

challenges them.

Media Partner: The Guardian


Ali Smith

Cezanne: Etang des Soeurs, The Courtauld Gallery, London

"The Courtauld Gallery is one of the most consistently inspiring spaces in London."

Ali Smith was born in Inverness in 1962 and lives in Cambridge, UK.  Her novel The Accidental was named the 2005 Whitbread Novel of the Year and shortlisted for the 2005 Man Booker Prize, and the 2006 Orange Prize.

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Amit Chaudhuri

Renoir: La Loge, The Courtauld Gallery, London

“The Courtauld is probably the best small museum for European art in the world. What its elegant, unfussy spaces give to the viewer are some of the great treasures of Western art: paintings you have by heart, but find astonishing when you finally face them, and other superlative achievements whose existence you knew nothing about.”


Amit Chaudhuri is one of the leading novelists today writing in English (“one of his generation's best writers,” The Guardian). His latest novel, The Immortals, was a New Yorker, San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe and Irish Times Book of the Year.

He is also an internationally acclaimed critic, and was one of the judges of the Man Booker International Prize 2009. Among the prizes he has won for his fiction are the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, the Society of Authors' Betty Trask Award and Encore Award, and the Indian Government's Sahitya Akademi award. He is Professor of Contemporary Literature at the University of East Anglia, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

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Ruth Padel

Bruegel: Landscape with the Flight into Egypt, The Courtauld Gallery, London

"I am fascinated by painters, especially those Bruegels, who use landscape to re-interpret stories which began in the stones, sand and scrub of the Middle East. When they re-set them in Europe are they appropriating holy land or re-seeing their own land as holy?"


Ruth Padel is an award-winning poet and Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. As inaugural Writer in Residence at Somerset House, she curated the first series of Writers’ Talks at The Courtauld. Her books include Silent Letters of the Alphabet on poetry’s use of silence and a debut novel, Where the Serpent Lives. She is currently Resident Writer at UCL Institute of the Environment.

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Andrew Motion

Rousseau: The Toll Gate, The Courtauld Gallery, London

“Thinking and talking about pictures is one of my life's greatest pleasures, and the chance to share this pleasure with others is delightful.”

Andrew Motion was born in 1952. He read English at University College, Oxford, and subsequently spent two years writing about the poetry of Edward Thomas for an M. Litt. From 1976 to 1980 he taught English at the University of Hull; from 1980 to 1982 he edited the Poetry Review and from 1982 to 1989 he was Editorial Director and Poetry Editor at Chatto & Windus.

He is now Professor of Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He was knighted for his services to literature in 2009. Sir Andrew is a council member of the Advertising Standards Authority and, since last July, Chairman of the Museums, Libraries & Archives Council. Andrew Motion was Poet Laureate from 1999 until 2009.  His new collection of poems is The Cinder Path and Ways of Life: Places, Painters and Poets is his latest collection of essays.

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Michael Morpurgo

Cezanne: Montagne Sainte-Victoire, The Courtauld Gallery, London

"An artist paints stories. I tell them. Cézanne for me is one of the great storytellers. To read his paintings is to lose oneself in the landscape and the light."

Michael Morpurgo is the former Children’s Laureate and best-selling author of over 120 books for children including Private Peaceful, Kensuke’s Kingdom and War Horse, which first performed at the National Theatre in 2007, and will be made into a forthcoming film by Dreamworks.

Michael was awarded an OBE for services to literature in 2007. His latest novel is Shadow published on 30 September.

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Margaret Drabble on VAN GOGH's

Margaret Drabble

Van Gogh: Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, The Courtauld Gallery, London

“The Courtauld Gallery and its collection have been a source of inspiration for many writers, myself included, and I am delighted to have an opportunity to talk about one of its many great paintings. The interaction of painting and literature is a subject of great interest and I'm very pleased to be included in this series of talks.”

Margaret Drabble, novelist and critic, was born in Sheffield in 1939 and educated at Newnham College, Cambridge.  She has published seventeen novels, from A Summer Birdcage (1963) to The Sea Lady (2006), and her most recent work is a memoir, The Pattern in the Carpet: A Personal History with Jigsaws (2009). She edited The Oxford Companion to English Literature (1985, 2000).

Her third novel, The Millstone, has just been reissued in the new Penguin Decades series representing the Sixties, and a volume of short stories will appear in the spring of 2011. She was appointed DBE in 2008.

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Click here to listen to podcasts of previous Writers' Talks events with Philip Pulman, Colm Tóibín, Jackie Kay and others