My Cultural London
By Patricia Kane
Somerset House, Strand, London
The Courtauld Gallery is an oasis of calm only seconds away from one of London’s busiest streets. Tucked away in the entrance archways of Somerset House, it is a little gem of an art gallery, housing world famous works in truly beautiful spaces.
As I enter the gallery’s airy foyer, the first thing I see is a spectacular staircase — a stately spiral of stone steps and blue railings with a banister polished by centuries of hands. Looking up, the staircase is flooded with light breaking through a glass dome ceiling and bouncing around the off-white walls. It’s one of those spaces where history makes time slow down, offering a comforting hush to a busy mind. Coming straight from the hustle and bustle of the Strand, this place has that same cooling peace and quiet that hits you when you step into a church in a busy tourist town. All there is to be heard in here are whispers of art appreciation and the shuffling of feet moving from painting to painting.
I’m often overwhelmed by the sheer volume of works in art galleries but I find that the Courtauld is the perfect size to wander around and even sit a while without too much of that familiar thought, ’I must press on! There’s too much to see!’. The art here is arranged over four floors and it very satisfyingly goes from bottom to top in order of old to new.
On the ground floor, you’ll find a room of late medieval and Early Renaissance items shining magnificently in gold. Above this, my favourite floor, a collection of 18th century portraiture and monumental works of French impressionism, including paintings by Manet, Cezanne, Renoir and Pisarro. As if these paintings aren’t beautiful enough alone, in these rooms they hang on sugary pastel walls under ornate frosted-icing ceilings, with chandeliers throwing a hazy glow all around. The original fireplaces and furniture dotted throughout make me feel like a character inside an Austen novel.
The collection here is really broad and you’ll see some pieces that are downright famous, including Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear. All the while, the gallery is concise and manageable for first-time visitors. Really, it’s a perfect ‘who’s who’ of those artists that you’ve definitely heard the names of before but have maybe never seen the works of up close and in the flesh. I would recommend a visit to the Courtauld to anyone and, in case you’re a student like me, we get in for free!
Text and photos by Patricia Kane
22nd October 2017