What a collection this is!!! Only to be seen until June 17th at the renowned Frank Gehry building of the Louis Vuitton Foundation in the Bois de Boulogne in western paris, this is one of the most staggering Impresionnist collections ever assembled, period. 110 pieces of art of international stature, among which one finds Degas, Manet, Renoir, Cézanne, Gaughin, Monet, Van Gogh, Seurat, as well as an exquisite collection of 10 aquarelles by the famous Joseph Mallord William Turner.

Cézanne, The Lac d’Annecy, 1896

 

Samuel Courtauld (1876-1947) was an intense admirer of French Impressionism; He constituted this amazing collection in only 8 years, using the network and connections of his counselor Percy Moore Turner. Courtauld was an industrial entrepreneur to begin with, and he made his fortune in the silk industry and the new textile technique using plant tissue, known as viscose. Not much is known of the details of his life, nor do we know much about his collection at the Courtauld Gallery, which was a well-kept secret in London. Few people for instance knew where the world famous painting “A bar at les Folies Bergeres” by Manet (1882) was, despite the notorious aspect of that painting.

 

Edouard Manet: Bar at Folies Bergères, 1882

Edouard Manet, Bar at Folies Bergères, 1882

Courtauld was helped in his art adventure by his wife Elizabeth. The years of acquisition are 1922 to 1929, at a time when French Impressionism was still not very known worldwide. He was a true pioneer in recognition of its importance. Furthermore, he displays in this collection a variety of nature themes that are simply breath-taking, one my favourite being Monet’s South of France seascape in Antibes in 1888, or the series of aquarelles by Turner among which you will exquisite depictions of the Mont Blanc area in Chamonix. And what to say about Van Gogh’s cut ear autoportrait, or his fascinating “Wheat Field with Cypresses”?

 

Monet, Antibes, 1888

Finally, it is important to know that some of these works have not left the Courtauld gallery since the 1950’s (Van Gogh s cut-ear self portrait, for example) and a lot of conservancy issues were brought up for the transportation of these pieces of art. The Courtauld gallery is being renovated until 2021, and, with France being so close, it was decided to have these jewels of art exposed to a broader public. What a blessing for us all! Furthemore, it is interesting to know that the Courtauld family were originally French Hughenot Protestants, who had fled to England in the late 17th century, after Louis XIV’s revocation of his grand-father’s Edict of Nantes which granted freedom to practise their religion to Protestants. It was Louis XIV’s sadly known Edict of Fontainebleau in 1685, which kicked off the witch hunt of Protestants. That history may have had a role in Courtauld’s love for French art, at a time when a Manet had never been sold in England…

 

D.A.