Reopening after a three-year, £57m makeover, the new-look Courtauld in London is for the most part a masterclass in tasteful updating. But the dream of uniting its gallery and college remains just that
The Courtauld Institute of Art has two main elements: a world-famous college for the study of the history and the conservation of art and a gallery with a boggling collection of masterpieces: Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, Botticelli’s The Trinity With Saints, Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait With Bandaged Ear. Until renovation works started in 2018, the two were housed in the north wing of Somerset House in London, the grand 225-year-old complex designed for King George III by the architect William Chambers. It’s a building whose orderly facades belie convoluted interiors that were shaped around the multiple government offices and learned societies that it was built to house.
Next week, the gallery reopens to the public after a makeover that seeks to make the most of the historic building’s glories and oddities and show the art to its best advantage. It’s also part of a plan, called Courtauld Connects, whereby the gallery, the college and the general public are supposed to be brought closer together. So far the project has cost £57m, a figure that includes both the construction budget and “wider costs” such as public outreach and offsite art storage. A second phase is planned to rehouse the students and staff – who are currently decanted to premises near King’s Cross station – alongside the gallery.