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Music for the children of our time

The Edukators

The angry man of sculpture

Attack on artistic freedom in Russia

Pushing at the edges

The secret life of objects

Porcelain that challenged the world

Bill Brandt

Heaven on Earth: Art from Islamic Lands

Unscene

The inspiration of Italian cinema

Democracy

Pissarro in London

Of Villains and Villeins

Piazzas on the eve of destruction

Modernism resurgent

Wilkie - Painter of everyday life

Techno-gothic fusion

Americans

Gagarin Way

Hyperlynx

Vietnam behind the lines

Romney - mirroring the gentry

Caspar David Friedrich - the essential Romantic

The awesome effects of the sublime

Earth & fire

Paul Klee: The nature of creation

John Pilger's Great Eyewitness Photographers

Sarah Medway: In the Realm of the Senses

A glimpse of the Hermitage

Vermeer at the National Gallery

Paul Signac: Travels in France

The other story of British abstract art

Breaking the silence

Century City

Digitising the Hermitage

Ghosts of christmas past

The disasters of war

Picturing the people's game

Picasso as political icon

An art world Schindler

British modernism reclaimed

Brush Power

The modern bronze age

The first museum of modern art

Six women who shook the world

Frances Aviva Blane

Caro's challenge

Ellsworth Kelly at the Tate

Magnum resists the lure of the dollar

Rebel behind the American movement

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Modernism resurgent

Delaunay
TheRacers

A surprise awaits those who visit Somerset House in London’s Strand. Not only does it offer a spectacular court-yard and grand view over the Thames, but inside there is now a superb overview of the vanguard art of the last two centuries.

The latest transformation is in the Courtauld Institute Gallery. Its original collection was put together by textile tycoon Samuel Courtauld, in the 1920s. He bought two of the greatest Impressionist paintings of all time, Manet’s Bar at the Folies-Bergère and Renoir’s The Theatre Box, which are much beloved and familiar to many.

The “old” collection can now be seen in a new context – the development of art from the French mid-19th century landscape art right through to British Modernists such as Barbara Hepworth. The foundation collection has been augmented by around a hundred 20th century art works from gifts, trusts and foundations.

This makes it possible to trace the continuity of the artistic innovations which gave rise to the Modern Movement.

Famous names like Monet, Cézanne and Picasso are joined by their talented but lesser-known contempor-aries so that we get an overview of how the Impressionists broke through barriers and were followed by others who were even more brilliant and shocking in the way they used colour and form to depict.

The sequence of spaces on the top floor of the Gallery gives the visitor a sense of historical coherence. In the first room, Corot’s Woodcutters, for example, is hung next to a portrait by Berthe Morisot, his most outstanding pupil.

Cézanne’s greener than green landscapes hang opposite Manet’s sparkling image of a young woman serving a customer at the bar, with its intriguing reflections of the girl, her customer and a mass of Parisian pleasure-seekers in the background.

The way in which Degas used sculpture to deepen his understanding of the human body in movement and how this cross-fertilised his pastels and paintings can be studied in a sequence of ten bronzes by the artist.

Jawlensky
Blue Cap

The biggest surprise is the group of works by German artists of the “Bridge” and “Blue Rider” groups, whose explosion of colour followed hot on the heels of their French counterparts, the Fauves (Wild Ones), led by Matisse.

Kandinsky
Improvisation On Mahogany
Kandinsky
In The Black Circle

A splendid sequence of sixteen Kandinskys, ranging from picturesque alpine villages to total abstraction, including In the Black Circle, will give Londoners a real feeling of the similarities and the differences between French and German art in the early 20th century, not to be seen elsewhere.

Into the 20th century - New Displays at the Courtauld Somerset House Strand Open daily 10am-5pm
Admission £5/£4 Annual ticket £22
020 7848 2526 www.courtauld.ac.uk

This article first appeared in Socialist Future Winter 2002