Unseen exhibition launches new London gallery

unseen courtauld galleryProperly displayed drawings can easily be as alluring as paintings and to bear witness to that is a fascinating new exhibition ‘Unseen’ at the Courtauld Gallery.

The Gilbert and Ildiko Butler Drawings Gallery is the new showcase room for the London venue’s outstanding collection of more than 7,000 drawings that is pretty much unrivalled in the world.

As the inaugural exhibition created from that vast collection, ‘Unseen’ has been billed as a very special show – and it doesn’t disappoint – with plenty of highlights ranging from the Renaissance to the mid 20th century.

It is not full of Old Masters as you might expect but instead some lesser known works that may be overlooked by conventional exhibitions have been chosen by the curator. There’s a dark scene from Dante’s Inferno by Giovanni Battista Paggi drawn in 1591 in which Virgil and Dante walk over the frozen lake among the bodies of the damned; and from the 20th century Henry Moore’s depiction of people sleeping in a wartime underground shelter.

A beautiful red chalk female nude by Rubens is the one nod to the Old Masters and there is also one of the first plein air landscape sketches by the Renaissance artist Fra Bartolommeo and Fuseli’s intriguing Woman Seen From Behind.

Perhaps the most interesting piece – and definitely the highlight for me – was a caricature by Pier Francesco Mola dating back to the 1660s when it could surely have been considered just a little blasphemous. In what is described as a comical scene a friar is begging a skinny empty-handed cardinal for money in a palace hung with fine art while a pontiff sits in the background (see above). It apparently satirizes the slippery alliances between the church and Roman art world.

The new gallery has been created in rooms that were once offices of the Royal Academy when it was based in Somerset House back in Turner’s day. In recent history it was a store room but now it has been transformed into a perfectly lit space with a neutral wall colour to give it a truly contemporary feel.

This first show was a well-balanced grouping and the variety revealed is testament to the richness of the medium of drawing.

If you are in London in the next month or so you can catch ‘Unseen’ until March 29 but if not there will be four to five others during the year.

From June 24-September 20 there will be a study of Jonathan Richardson The Elder.

As well as painting Richardson was also influential as a writer and compiled An Account of Some of the Statues, Bas-Reliefs, Drawings, and Pictures in Italy (1722).

His book was used as a guide for Grand Tours by many young men and it’s said it became the basis for art purchases by wealthy collectors and shaped English interest in foreign old masters. With Derbyshire launching its very own Grand Tour this year it could be an interesting exhibition to see.

The Courtauld Gallery houses the art collection of the Courtauld Institute of Art founded in 1932 by the industrialist and art collector Samuel Courtauld. Derbyshire and the Midlands have been home to several of their factories in the past and there is still a Courtaulds factory in Belper.

Go to http://www.courtauld.ac.uk/gallery/ for more information about what’s on in 2015.