♦ Samuel Courtauld: Patron & Collector

Amanda L. Sorrell


                                                            Samuel Courtauld (1876-1947)

Courtauld Institute of Art, London

“Art is universal and eternal: it ties race to race and epoch to epoch. It

bridges divisions and unites men in one all embracing and disinterested and living


This philosophy of art belongs to the British art patron Samuel Courtauld. Courtauld

was of the
belief that art was able to educate society and help people become better functioning and well

citizens of society. Courtauld is known for being one of the leading patrons in fighting for and

works of foreign modern art in the early twentieth-century. Before Courtauld provided a

generous gift to
the National Gallery in London, works of foreign modern art were not displayed outside

of Salons or
private galleries that had very limited public access. Courtauld believed that art should be

accessible to everyone, which is why Courtauld gave a generous donation to the National Gallery.

Courtauld felt that the works of contemporary artist should be displayed and enjoyed just as the works of

masters should be. Courtauld’s passion for public education of art influenced the collections that were

displayed at the newly formed Tate Gallery and eventually the Courtauld Institute of Art, which was

created after his death. The collections included the masters of Impressionism: Monet, Van Gogh, Degas,

and Seurat, to name a few. Courtauld wanted the collection to be diverse yet cohesive, displaying the

best contemporary artists of the time. Courtauld was the first patron to display works of contemporary

artists in a public setting. Courtauld’s patronage and passion for art education allowed the National

Gallery to expand their horizons and set the precedent for future museums, as well as university museums.

            In the early twentieth-century, the art work displayed in galleries and museums was very limited.

“The National Gallery was not allowed to collect work by living artists and the National Gallery,

Millbank (the Tate Gallery), founded in 1897, was able to include works by British artists only.” [2]

The space for featuring the works of contemporary foreign artist was limited to private homes or dealer’s

galleries and salons. The limited access to modern art became a problem after the public became more

aware of French Impressionism because of World Fairs and exhibitions at galleries such as the Grafton

Galleries in 1905. During the period there were numerous debates on whether the works of the French

Impressionists should be displayed along side the works already showing in the galleries: “The evidence

of our witness was strong to the effect that the formulation of such a collection is not merely a duty

imposed on us by the wise example of foreign countries, but is also essential to the artistic development

of the nation. We have not in our mind any idea of experimentalising by rash purchase in the

occasionally ill-disciplined productions of some contemporaneous continental schools, whose work

might exercise a disturbing and even deleterious influence upon our younger painters. But the opposite

theory that no foreign art of the present day is worthy of purchase is one which is impossible to

sustain...” [3]. The heads of museums were conflicted because they feared the influence that the

Impressionists would have on young painters but with the growing appreciation for Impressionist works,

they knew that they could not exclude the style any longer. The solution was to open a Gallery of

Modern Foreign Pictures and Sculpture, that would display current works of modern foreign artists [4].

This idea was unfortunately put on hold because of the first World War. The project was revived in 1923

after a generous donation of £50,000 by Samuel Courtauld. The donation allowed to museum to display

works that the public was not familiar with and create an environment that would be shared by future


              The patronage of Samuel Courtauld opened numerous doors for galleries, especially the newly

formed modern foreign galleries. The donation allowed the galleries to purchase and display the works

of modern foreign artists with one stipulation; Courtauld would have final say over what was bought and

displayed. Although Courtauld had only been involved in the art world for a few years, he became

fascinated with the works of the French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist and was one of the first

patrons to display the works in public galleries. Courtauld was very modest in his proposals for the

donation but he was very clear that he should have a central influence in buying and administering the

collection [5]. Courtauld had very firm beliefs on art education and he believed that the collection would

influence the public. Courtauld wanted to make sure that the collection would have a positive effect on

the public, and that is why he was so adamant on playing a central role in the collection. Courtauld even

made a list of artist that he believed should be purchased and only he had the authority to add to the list.

Artist included on the list were, Cezanne, Monet, Manet, Renoir, Degas, Van Gogh, and Gauguin. These

artists were the “definition of the ‘modern movement’ in Courtauld’s opinion.” The first paintings

purchased by the fund are masterpieces by Vincent Van Gogh, including Sunflowers (Figure 1) and

Chair with His Pipe, (Fig 2) [6].



Although Courtauld purchased some of the best works by leading artists, his background in business

gave him an insight into marketing and he realized that he may have to sell some of the pieces to

improve the collection. In the contract for the donation, Courtauld gave permission for the reselling of

the pictures if the money is used on upgrading the collection. The collection was to contain the most up

to date and best works of modern artists because Courtauld felt that those works would have to most

profound effect on the public. While Courtauld was buying works for the Courtauld Gift, he also began

collecting works for a private collection. He kept the two collections separate, realizing that the fund

would not cover all the works that he hoped to acquire: “He wanted to buy for the nation as

representative a collection as possible, but realized from the start that  ‘the fund won’t be large

enough to secure examples’ of all the artists on his original list” [7]. This realization gave Courtauld the

motivation to start a private collection. Courtauld’s private collection includes works that would have

been ideal for the Courtauld Gift but were not in the budget, including Auguste Renoir’s La Loge  (Fig.

3) and Edouard Manet’s  A Bar at the Folies-Bergere (Fig. 4).


Courtauld wanted the fund to “represent the modern movement from its inception to the present

time” [8]. While the collection embodied the ideals of the French Impressionist and Post- Impressionist,

it neglected to display the works of Fauvism and Cubism. Even though the collection was not completely

well rounded, it was one of the first to display works of modern art in a contemporary setting.

            The hard work that Courtauld put into creating is still evident because almost eighty years later

the Courtauld Institute of Art still remains on of the finest small museums in the world (Fig. 5). The

Gallery at the Courtauld Institute of Art may have begun as a gallery to show the best works of modern

foreign artist, but it it most well known for its collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art that

Courtauld started. However, the collection has grown and today houses some of the best works of art

ranging from the Renaissance to twentieth-century art. For example, the Gallery holds some of the most

famous works of Van Gogh, Manet, Renoir, and Samuel Courtauld’s personal favorite,Paul Cezanne. The

Gallery also houses spectacular drawings and prints by Albrecht Durer, Michelangelo, Leonardo da

Vinci, and Pablo Picasso. The works featured have also expanded into the field of sculpture. The

Gallery's sculpture collection features pieces from antiquity to the 20th Century. Works that are

displayed include Degas’ sculptural studies of dancers, bathers, and horses.  The collections at the

gallery are among the most amazing collections anywhere. While the Gallery holds the best works of the

best and most famous artists, the most magnificent thing about the Gallery is that it is attached to the

Courtauld Institute of Art.

            The Courtauld Institute of Art is among the most prestigious schools for Art History in the

United Kingdom. The Institute allows students to experience the field of Art History in unimaginable

ways. The students have to the works of masters at their disposal, this allows the students to study the

works in ways not always possible at all universities.Students are able to do focused research projects

with access to the works that they are researching because of the gallery. The relationship between the

institute and gallery is the prime example of what the relationship between universities and galleries

should be. The two are interconnected and are essentially one entity. Both are essential in the education

of not only the students but also the public. The Gallery is not exclusive to the students; access is

available to the public for a small fee. The Courtauld Institute of Art lives up to the expectations that

were set up by Samuel Courtauld. The intention of Courtauld was to create a space that housed modern

art by both local and foreign artists. Courtauld also hoped that the space would create an inviting

environment that would encourage visitors to educate themselves with the works displayed. The

education of the public was one of the most important concepts to Courtauld because he strongly

believed that art was a unifying factor and could bring opposites together.

               While it may seem like Courtauld had a need to have complete control on what his donation

was spent on, his intentions would benefit everyone. Courtauld believed that art had a profound effect on

people. He believed that art was one of the few things that would bring people together. Courtauld chose

works that he believed were the best of the modern artist and the works that would have the greatest

effect on the viewers. All of the works in both the public and private collections of Courtauld

were bought with the intention of public view. After his death in 1947, the works of his private collection

were displayed in the Courtauld Institute of Art. The Institute is open to this day, operating with the same

ideals that Courtauld instilled in his collection; art is essential to the education of the public and is one of

the few things that truly bring people together. Courtauld's funding was pioneering for the modern

museum. His donation allowed galleries to display works of  not only modern artist and also works by

foreign artists. His patronage allowed the public to view the works of foreign artist for the first time. His

patronage was the stepping stone in creating an environment for art to become accessible to the public

and for the works to be appreciated by people who did not have access before, which is the beauty of

museums. Museums allow the public to view works not only be well known artist but also by new artists

who are creating new styles of art. Without the generous patronage and revolutionary ideas of Samuel

Courtauld, the museums that are loved by all today would not exist.


  1. Andrew Stephenson, Impressionism For England: Samuel Courtauld as Patron and Collector, ed.                 John  House (London: Courtauld Institute Galleries, 1994), 35.

  2. John House, Impressionism For England: Samuel Courtauld as Patron and Collector, ed. John    
         House (London: Courtauld Institute Galleries, 1994), 9.

  3. Ibid., 11.

  4. Ibid.

Ibid., 13.

  6 .


  8. Ibid.

Figure 1
Vincent Van Gogh
Oil on Canvas
National Gallery London

Figure 2
Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent’s Chair with His Pipe
Oil on Canvas
National Gallery London

Figure 3
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
La Loge
Oil on Canvas
Courtauld Institute of Art, London

Figure 4
Edouard Manet
A Bar at the Folies-Bergère
Oil on Canvas
Courtauld Institute of Art, London


Farr, Dennis, “Student at the Courtauld Institute.” The Burlington Magazine 147(2005): 539-547, accessed April 6, 2011.                

House, John.  Impressionism in England: Samuel Courtauld as Patron and Collector.  London: Courtauld Institute Galleries,  2004.

Reed, Christopher, “The Fry Collection at the Courtauld Institute Galleries.” The Burlington Magazine 132 (1990): 766-772.

“The Courtauld Institute of Art- for the Study of The History of Art and Conservation, and The Courtauld Gallery”, Courtauld Institute of Art, accessed April 4, 2011.