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Courtauld Gallery closes for £50m redevelopment

Courtauld Gallery London art

The Courtauld Gallery will be closed for two years as access is improved and the Great Room is opened up.

The London gallery has called the closure a “transformation project which will see the Courtauld improve accessibility … and improve the experience for its visitors, staff and students”, reports The Art Newspaper.

It’s the largest redevelopment of the institute and its gallery since it moved in 1989. Its home is the stunning 18th century Somerset House in The Strand. The building is Grade I listed.

Dr. Ernst Vegelin Van Claerbergen, director of the Courtauld, said the project was not so much about expansion, as about quality. Speaking to The Art Newspaper, he said the intention was to upgrade facilities and create a new learning centre.

In 2016 the gallery attracted 188,000 visitors. It is thought that, when it reopens in 2020, visitor numbers will increase to between 300,000 and 350,000.

Westminster city council granted planning permission in September. Its report said that 143 square metres of floor space will be created by reconfiguring and rationalising existing areas. According to planning officers, the present layout had “many problems” including awkward disabled access. “There are significant changes of level throughout and an extraordinary number of staircases for what is now a building in single use,” said the planning report.

One large project will be the opening up of the main Great Room. This hosted the famous summer exhibitions of the Royal Academy of Arts until 1837. It is London’s earliest surviving purpose-built art gallery. Temporary walls have split up the vast room since 2002, disguising the proportions of the space. Vegelin Van Claerbergen hopes to create a “climactic moment” here, as visitors come to the end of the displays.

The Courtauld Gallery, founded by Samuel Courtauld, is particularly famed for its impressionist and post-impressionist works of art. It includes one of Paul Cezanne’s Card Players series; Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear and Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère. It is also home to the UK’s most important collection of works by Paul Gauguin.

The Heritage Lottery Fund has put £9.4m towards the £30m first phase of the revamp, named Courtauld Connects. The second phase, which is set to cost in the region of £20m, will provide better facilities for research, learning and teaching.

The gallery will close from autumn 2018. However, according to a statement, the Institute itself “will remain open and a thriving centre for the study of art history, conservation and curating.”

Image: The Courtauld Gallery

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