The Ukrainian-born billionaire Leonard Blavatnik has donated £10m towards the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, which will help fund the refurbishment of its prestigious gallery located at Somerset House. The Courtauld Gallery is due to open late next year following a three-year refurbishment, housing a suite of six galleries—to be named the Blavatnik Fine Rooms—that will display highlights from the Courtauld collection.
In 2017, Blavatnik gave more than £50m towards Tate Modern’s extension—the new wing was duly named the Blavatnik Building—and donated £5m to the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2016 for its Exhibition Road development. The Guardian reported that Blavatnik also gave $1m to Donald Trump’s inauguration committee in 2016.
The Courtauld’s collection will be completely redisplayed in the revamped gallery. New and transformed areas devoted to the Medieval and Early Renaissance collection, 20th-century art and the Bloomsbury Group of artists will be unveiled as part of the renovation, which costs at least £50m. International loan exhibitions will be held alongside smaller temporary projects.
“The additional spaces and new rooms will allow for more flexibility in terms of how we display the collection, and for those displays to be more varied and of a higher quality,” says Deborah Swallow, the director of the Courtauld Institute of Art.
A highlight will be the opening up of the Great Room, providing a dramatic space for founder Samuel Courtauld’s collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings including Edouard Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882) and Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear (1889). The historic room, which housed the summer exhibitions of the Royal Academy of Arts until 1837, is London’s earliest surviving purpose-built art gallery.
“Despite our best efforts, Covid-19 has impacted both the schedule and the budget of the project. We will be opening later in 2021 than previously planned, and the budget has increased. However, with the project still ongoing and Covid-19 impacts still being felt, it is too early to confirm a final budget,” Swallow adds.
The gallery overhaul is part of an ambitious redevelopment project known as Courtauld Connects which will also transform teaching, learning and social spaces. “In terms of the physical project, at the moment our main focus is on the completion of Phase one, which includes the complete refurbishment of teaching facilities within the Department of Conservation, and a new Object Study room for students and faculty,” Swallow says.
“Future ambitions include providing students and faculty with improved study and teaching facilities and unprecedented access to its collections and exhibitions, whilst giving the public greater insight into and access to the Courtauld’s outstanding teaching and research,” she adds. The Vernon Square location in King’s Cross will remain the institute’s teaching facility during renovations until students and staff can return to Somerset House.
The Courtauld National Partnerships programme—a collection-sharing collaboration with museums across the UK—and partnerships with schools, communities and creative volunteer programmes also come under the Courtauld Connects umbrella.