But this exhibition is far more than a chronological survey of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. The show, which presents 26 masterpieces from the Courtauld Gallery alongside major Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings from the National Gallery's own collection, underlines the instrumental role played by Samuel Courtauld in shaping public taste for Impressionism in Britain. Courtauld did not intend his two collections to be shown together, but the Courtauld Gallery closure earlier this month has permitted an artistic collision that takes your breath away.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Ladies in a boat: The Skiff (La Yole), 1875. © The National Gallery, London
As this majestic exhibition makes clear, Courtauld was a collector and a philanthropist; a man of science and of arts; and a staunch believer in the social role of painting. For Courtauld, the arts were a necessity, not a luxury, and an essential part of social happiness. As the Industrialist built his impressive private collection of more than 70 Impressionist paintings, which he later bequeathed to the nation in the guise of the Courtauld Gallery, he also helped shape one of the greatest public collections of Impressionist art in Britain; that of the National Gallery.
Curated in 12 sections – each devoted to a different artist – this glorious showcase celebrates the well-writ trajectory of Modern French painting, from the revolutionary strokes of Manet to the proto-cubist renditions of Cézanne. This is a man who celebrated excellence and invested in quality and distinction. There's Manet's last major work, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, now recognised as the most important Modern masterpiece of all time; Bathers at Asnières by Pointillist artist George Seurat; two much-loved landscapes by Monet; and Paul Cézanne's The Card Players – another version of which was once the most expensive painting to ever have been sold at auction before Da Vinci's Savaltor Mundi in 2017.
There's no jazz, no fancy accouterments, no fuss; just a simple curation of mesmerising works, celebrated for bringing a revolutionary energy and new direction to French painting in the 1860s and '70s. It's a fascinating look at the phenomenal legacy of one of the greatest, yet little-know philanthropists of the twentieth century. Seize the opportunity to see both collections hung as one.
|What||Courtauld Impressionists: From Manet to Cezanne, National Gallery, review|
|Where||National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London, WC2N 5DN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Charing Cross (underground)|
17 Sep 18 – 20 Jan 19, 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
|Website||Please click here for more information|