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What Is the Courtauld Gallery?

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  • Written By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2016
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The Courtauld Gallery is a small gallery of art that is connected to London’s Courtauld Institute of Art. It is one of the smallest British museums, but houses an impressive collection of works, primarily in the impressionist and post-impressionist genres. The gallery was once accessible exclusively by art students and others affiliated with the institute. It still plays an important role in education and teaching, but is open to the public most of the time.

Samuel Courtauld, an English aristocrat and art lover, founded the Courtauld Institute of Art in the early 1930s as a way of promoting art knowledge among elite Londoners. It was Courtauld’s own personal collection of works that formed the basis of what is now the Courtauld Gallery. The gallery and institute both were incorporated by the University of London in the mid-1960s, but remain stand-alone entities. Students who attend the Courtauld Institute are technically classified as University of London students, and have the privileges and benefits that come with that status. Applications, curriculum, and degree programs are all handled internally, however, and are not directly governed by the larger university.

The gallery is notable for its collection of rare and valuable paintings by well-known artists. Permanent displays include works by Michelangelo, Van Gogh, and Cezanne; Monet, Manet, and Renoir are also represented. Although the gallery is predominantly made up of paintings, it also includes some sculptures, sketches, and watercolors.

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Nearly all of the work on display in the Courtauld Gallery is part of the gallery’s permanent collection, though curators do from time to time arrange for loans or visiting collections. The gallery puts on several different exhibitions each year of different periods or styles in art history. It also occasionally lends out its own works for similar visiting exhibitions, both within the UK and abroad.

The Courtauld Gallery represents one of only a few types of museums that are focused as much on educating historians as educating the general public. Institute students typically share curatorial and display arrangement duties with full-time staff. This way, budding gallery owners, art historians, and preservation specialists can earn hands-on training in a working gallery. Requiring student labor also helps to reduce operating costs.

All of the Courtauld Gallery’s artwork is housed in Somerset House, a building dating from the mid-1700s that sits directly on the Thames. Institute classrooms, archive rooms, and temperature-controlled storage spaces are all on-site. The gallery is on the ground floor and is open to the public on most days. Closures for holidays, special installations, and institute learning days are common.

The gallery is one of 12 museums that make up London’s famed “Museum Mile.” This mile (about 1.6 km) stretches from the Thames up to the British Library on Euston Road. Visiting museums on this path is relatively easy, as all are within walking distance of one another.

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