Over the last six weeks the Friends of the Courtauld Institute has hosted a fascinating series of lectures by Directors of major museums which have been beneficiaries of the National Heritage Lottery Fund. They have taken the audience through the stages of fundamental thinking that the opportunity to remodel and expand has stimulated. New physical forms will alter the way they display their collections, how they educate their visitors, how they make closer links with the public, for instance through computers and opportunities to handle objects.

The Courtauld’s own lottery-funded project is now complete. The gallery opened last October with a new and dynamic hang. Sculpture now features more prominently, for instance in the Renaissance 'Madonna’ gallery (Room 2) where a sculpture and reliefs enhance the paintings. An enfilade of casts from the former Society of Antiquaries stretches the length of the Strand side of the gallery, the classical sculptures often relating to pictures on the walls and ceilings. Pictures have been more closely hung, according to themes and schools. For the first time visitors are lingering in these galleries of old master paintings before they climb to the Impressionist galleries upstairs.

The relocated drawings gallery is home to a most dynamic print exhibition featuring the work of Canaletto, Tiepolo and Piranesi. In this exhibition the fully-sighted visitor may benefit from features originally intended for the partially sighted. For instance magnifying glasses illuminate the minuscule but exquisite details of Canaletto’s imaginary views of Venice. Labels in large print stand out from the wall underneath the engravings, rather than at the side, needing only a movement of the eyes down and up rather than a craning of the neck, so easy for everyone. In the middle of the room the Tiepolo etchings are set out on slanting stands on a table, with chairs in front of every one for comfortable viewing. At either end of the display table are signs 'Please touch’, referring to etching plates and prints made by contemporary artists inspired by some aspect of the three old masters’ work. On one plate inspired by Piranesi’s Carceri, the visitor can follow the four stages of print-making, becoming ever more complicated. The new features add up to an dynamic and interactive experience that is a pleasure, the most effective learning experience, where one can participate as well as look.

Jane Ferguson - Editor