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Tim Marlow at the Courtauld cover photo

Tim Marlow at the Courtauld 2012

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Microcinema International/Microcinema DVD, 2169 Folsom Street, Suite M101, San Francisco, CA 94110; 415-447-9750
Produced by Phil Grabsky
Directed by Ben Harding
DVD, color, 88 min.

Sr. High - General Adult
Art, Art Education, Art History, Museums

Date Entered: 03/26/2012

Reviewed by Barbara J. Walter, Longmont Public Library, Longmont, CO

… art history begins and ends with a physical communion with a delicate, fragile, wondrous object, and there’s so much simple pleasure to be gained just through the process of looking. --Tim Marlow
Founded in 1932, the Courtauld Institute is world-renowned as a center for the study of art history and conservation. Its gallery is a gem of a museum in the heart of London, and art historian Tim Marlow is an enthusiastic, capable guide to the riches of this small but remarkable collection. In three episodes, Tim Marlow at the Courtauld introduces us to a selection of works on display from the early Renaissance through the Post-Impressionist era.

Episode 1 highlights what Marlow sees as the most underrated, yet powerful part of the collection-- its Renaissance art. The Courtauld is especially strong in religious art from Florence, including works by Bernado Daddi, a pupil/rival of Giotto, and Sandro Botticelli. Northern European artists are also well-represented, including the Master of Flemalle’s Lamentation Triptych, one of the greatest masterpieces of early Netherlandish painting. Marlow concludes the episode with a consideration of Lucas Cranach the Elder’s Adam and Eve of 1526—one over 50 images Cranach painted of the first couple, yet unique in that Adam and Eve are here surrounded by a veritable zoo of animals, each bringing symbolic meaning to the work.

In Episode 2, Marlow shares some of his favorites among the Courtauld’s impressive holdings in 17th-18th century European art. The gallery contains possibly the best collection of Peter Paul Rubens in Britain; our guide draws attention to several works of young Rubens, inviting us to consider his formation as a major European master. Other picks include a 1563 landscape by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Thomas Gainsborough’s arresting portrait of his wife Margaret—likely painted to celebrate her 50th birthday—and a watercolor from the early 1800s by J.M.W. Turner that captures the flickering effects of light on a beach at dawn, clearly showing the artist to be a precursor to the Impressionists.

The most celebrated works in the gallery are its French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works; most belonged to Samuel Courtauld, the industrialist and avid art collector for whom the institute is named. Episode 3 of Tim Marlow at the Courtauld completes our tour with an in-depth look at some of the jewels in this exceptional collection: A Bar at the Folies-Bergère by Edouard Manet, Vincent Van Gogh’s iconic Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, Paul Gauguin’s Te Rerioa (The Dream), and the sensual yet rigorous Lake Annecy of Paul Cezanne.

Each episode includes a behind-the-scenes section highlighting an aspect of the collection or the Institute: a side trip to the Prints and Drawings Room offers a glimpse into Albrecht Durer’s struggles to master the pictorial effect of foreshortening; in the restoration department we observe work on a painting by Joshua Reynolds of Cupid and Psyche, which requires painstaking removal of multiple layers of thick brown varnish; and modern research techniques reveal artistic decisions made in the process of creating a work, or even separate works hidden beneath the surface of a painting.

A Courtauld alumnus, Marlow’s love for the collection shines through in his commentary. Exploring key works of a great London gallery through imagery, iconography, technique and cultural context, Tim Marlow at the Courtauld is a delightful and informative gallery stroll, a great introduction to the gallery for travelers to London, and a strong choice for collections supporting art history or art education courses.