By the early 20th century, the Courtauld family business had become a major international company, having successfully developed and marketed rayon, an artificial fibre and inexpensive silk substitute. Samuel Courtauld took charge of the firm from 1908 as general manager and as chairman from 1921 to 1946.
Personal lifeHe was educated at Rugby School.
He became interested in art after seeing the Hugh Lane collection on exhibition at the Tate Gallery in 1917. However, his career as a collector started in 1922 following an exhibition of French art at the Burlington Fine Arts Club. Courtauld was one of the first collectors to display interest in French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings. During the 1920s, he assembled an extensive collection including masterpieces by Vincent Van Gogh (Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear) or (Peach Blossom in the Crau) previously owned by Anna Boch, Édouard Manet (A Bar at the Folies-Bergère), Paul Cézanne (Montagne Sainte-Victoire) and Pierre-Auguste Renoir (La Loge). The core elements of his collection were accumulated between 1926 and 1930, though his passion dwindled somewhat following the death of his wife Elizabeth (known as Lil) in 1931. Samuel founded the Courtauld Institute with Viscount Lee of Fareham and Sir Robert Witt in 1930.
Samuel provided the bulk of the money for the founding of the Courtauld Institute. His wealth came from the textile business, but on both sides of his family there were connections with the arts and traditions of patronage going back several generations. Courtauld loved pictures and wrote poems about them. On the advice of Roger Fry and others he bought French Impressionists and Cézannes and took out a lease on the best Robert Adam house in London, Home House, 20 Portman Square, in which to display them - a novel and stunning combination. His example was emulated by his younger brother Stephen, who converted the medieval ruins of Eltham Palace into an Art Deco mansion. Samuel Courtauld was the real Maecenas of the trio, and when his wife died in 1931, he made over the house in Portman Square, together with the pictures, for the use of the new institute until such time as permanent accommodation could be found for them. In the event the Portman Square house was to be the institute's home for almost sixty years.
Courtauld also created a £50,000 acquisition fund for the Tate and National galleries, helping lay the foundations of national collections of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art.
Becoming Picasso at the Courtauld
The incubation of genius
A dark and momentous turning point for the young artist
The painting captures a moment when Picasso, aged 19, “found his own voice as an artist,” says Barnaby Wright of the Courtauld Gallery. With its bold outlines, melancholy mood and sombre palette, it anticipates the artist’s blue period, yet it sits comfortably alongside the gallery’s post-impressionist works. It is now at the centre of “Becoming Picasso”, a tightly focused exhibition on view until May 26th, which considers this pivotal moment in Picasso’s career.
Picasso came to Paris for the first time in 1900, joined by Carles Casagemas, his closest friend and a fellow painter. He threw himself into mastering the craft of his French contemporaries, and managed to make enough of an impression to secure his first exhibition the next year. But a tumultuous affair soon left Casagemas emotionally distraught, and the two friends left Paris for Spain at the end of the year. Picasso returned alone to Paris in the spring of 1901 and in less than six weeks produced most of the 64 works that were exhibited in his acclaimed debut show that summer, organised by Ambroise Vollard, a leading modern-art dealer.
The first room of the Courtauld show has a small selection of these works. “Spanish Woman” reveals the skill of a savvy young artist. Here Picasso deftly evokes a grandly crinolined young woman in the manner of Goya, yet he gives his subject the confrontational pout and posture of a Parisian demimondaine. Another painting, clearly influenced by Van Gogh, depicts a visitor to the artist’s studio sitting in front of a wall hung with Picasso’s proliferating paintings. It was through the spectacle of Paris that Picasso began to try out different voices, such as Toulouse Lautrec’s in “French Can-Can” and Degas’s in “Dwarf-Dancer (La Nana)”. The artist also began signing his name “Picasso”. A 1901 self-portrait has the swagger of a self-possessed, self-conscious dandy-artist.
On the threshold of the show’s second room, two paintings on the far wall signal a drastic change in mood. One is an imagined scene of Picasso’s friend Casagemas in a coffin, the thick black lines and icy blues casting a determinedly tragic mood. The other is “Evocation (The Burial of Casagemas)”, in which an El Greco-inspired farrago of figures surround a seemingly sainted hero swaddled in white and kissed to heaven by a prostitute.
In February 1901 Casagemas had returned to Paris alone and shot himself in front of the woman who had jilted him. Picasso later cited this event as the catalyst for his blue period. The emotional episode triggered a new and more mature aesthetic style. Mr Wright also mentions the significance of Picasso’s visits to the Saint-Lazare women’s prison later that year, which gave rise to a number of solemn portraits of women and children, two of which are presented here. Regardless of the cause, this exhibition argues that 1901 witnessed a profound change in Picasso’s art.
In “Child with a Dove”, “Harlequin and Companion” and “Seated Harlequin”, Picasso is no longer trying on his elders’ clothes. These are original works, powerfully ambiguous and created with thrilling assurance. Not all of these paintings are masterpieces, but together this exhibition dramatises a critical moment in the master’s making.