André Derain: The London Paintings
27 October 2005 – 22 January 2006

One of the highlights of the Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery’s displays of twentieth century painting is André Derain’s (1880-1954) exhilarating view of The Thames at Tower Bridge, 1906-07. Derain produced the work as part of a series of thirty London canvases, of which twenty-nine have been identified, scattered throughout collections across the world. Until recently relatively little was known about this important body of Fauve paintings. However, fresh research into his correspondence and the exciting discovery of Derain’s two London sketchbooks has changed all this, allowing us to re-date the group and completely revise our understanding of his working methods and artistic theories. Organised in the light of this new research, André Derain: The London Paintings is the first museum exhibition devoted to the series and brings together twelve of the most important canvases, together with one of the previously unexhibited sketchbooks.

When the Parisian dealer Ambroise Vollard dispatched André Derain (1880-1954) to London in March 1906 the young artist had much to live up to. The previous year Derain had emerged as one of the most radical artists in Paris following the exhibition at the Salon d’Automne where he and Henri Matisse had first revealed their groundbreaking new approach to painting. Characterised by the unrestrained use of pure colour, exuberant brushwork and an overwhelming sense of energy, their work represented what Derain described as “a complete renewal of expression”. Derain’s excursion to London was designed to secure avant-garde status by producing a series of paintings that would rival Claude Monet’s celebrated London views, which had been exhibited in Paris to huge acclaim in 1904. Accordingly, Derain’s London paintings offer a vision of the city that confronts the conventions of Impressionism and explores a new language of painting.

Although it had previously been thought that Derain produced all these canvases en plein air the sketchbooks contain close preparatory drawings for several paintings and his correspondence reveals that his three visits to London between 1906-7 were of no more than two weeks each, suggesting that many of the works where completed in his Paris studio. Moreover, both his sketchbook and his letters reveal that he spent a significant amount of time in museums, particularly the British Museum, where he was enthralled by the ethnographic collections, and the National Gallery, where artists ranging from Rembrandt to Turner were a source of inspiration.

This exhibition was made possible by personal support and generous gifts of a group of individuals. The group wish to remain anonymous; however, we would like to take this opportunity to celebrate their commitment, support and encouragement.

Barnaby Wright
Exhibitions Curator, Hermitage Rooms

Gainsborough to Turner: British Watercolours from the Spooner Collection
17 November 2005 – 12 February 2006
Edward Dayes (1763-1804), Somerset House from the Thames, 1788. Graphite, pen and ink, watercolour & bodycolour on paper, detail

Following highly acclaimed exhibitions at the Huntington Library and Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, California and the Wordsworth Trust, Grasmere, the Spooner collection is now on display at the Hermitage Rooms. This is a rare opportunity to see around 80 works from this little-known but important collection formed by Yorkshire engineer and entrepreneur, William Wycliffe Spooner and his wife, and bequeathed to the Courtauld Institute on his death in 1967.

The exhibition spans the ‘golden age’ of watercolour painting from around 1750 to 1850, and includes outstanding landscape and figurative subjects by Thomas Gainsborough, Francis Towne, Alexander and J.R. Cozens, Thomas Girtin, John Sell Cotman, John Constable and J.M.W. Turner. A key work is one of Spooner’s early purchases, Edward Dayes’s Somerset House from the Thames, which took pride of place in his house. The fact that this picture is now shown in the very building depicted would, no doubt, have given him immense pleasure. The exhibition demonstrates the power and beauty of the medium through a number of Spooner’s favourite subjects, from picturesque architectural scenes to sublime mountain landscapes. Above all, it demonstrates the inventiveness and imagination of watercolour artists during this extraordinary period of British art.

Dr. Joanna Selborne
Curator of Prints and Drawings