The Courtauld Institute of Art's Short Courses

Article excerpt

Since last October, the Courtauld Institute of Art has been celebrating its 75th anniversary with a series of special events and exhibitions. It was established in 1932 as the first academic institute devoted to the scholarly investigation of art in Britain, and has long since gained a reputation as one of the world's leading centres for the study of art history and conservation. It is, of course, well known that in its early years--notably the Blunt period--almost every academic and curatorial post of note in Britain was held by Courtauld alumni, who still feature among the art-historical establishment in this country and further afield today. The Institute's uniquely intimate and intensely focused atmosphere that is such a leitmotiv in the recollections of illustrious alumni past and present--Anita Brookner evokes the image of an 'alternative family'--has no doubt been a major contributing factor in its achievements.

In order to make its scholarly expertise more widely accessible, for the past 12 years, the Institute has run an expanding and ambitious programme of short courses. The present public programmes have roots within the Courtauld Institute's history: As early as 1934, the Courtauld's first director, WG Constable, devised a summer school entitled Art in England during the Christian Era to raise the public profile of, and generate much-needed additional income for, the fledgling institution. The course was taught by Constable, his deputy JG Mann and other Courtauld lecturers, but above all by a number of leading museum lecturers and curators from the National Gallery, the British Museum and particularly the Victoria and Albert Museum, a body of lecturers which reflected the somewhat vocational nature of the earliest Courtauld vision. Constable's programme had much in common with the present summer school, having a focus on local collections of important European art, to which students were given privileged access, and in its combination of intellectual rigour and sociability. In 1934 there was an enthusiastically received tea party in the grounds of Lord and Lady Lee's White Lodge in Richmond Park.

A second, shorter and arguably more popular summer school--The Art of the Renaissance with Special Reference to Collections and Works of Art in England--took place in 1936; but thereafter the summer school project was shelved until the mid-1950s. Between 1956 and 1982, Barbara Robertson--who with her husband Charles Robertson, scion of the jam-making dynasty, was an important benefactor of the Courtauld--organised yearly 'summer schools', consisting of trips to foreign and some British destinations to study works of medieval and Renaissance art and architecture in situ. They were little advertised and attended by Courtauld staff and students as well as by a select audience of members of the public.

It was not until 1996 that a public summer school proper came into being at the Courtauld. It was the brainchild of Dr Susie Sash, the Courtauld's specialist in Northern Renaissance. Dr Sash felt that the Courtauld's rare combination of advantages ideally qualified it to run a summer programme at the highest level. …