Greatest Art Collectors Series:
Samuel Courtauld

Biography of Impressionist Art Collector: Founder of Courtauld Institute Gallery.

Samuel Courtauld.

Samuel Courtauld (1876-1947)

The English industrialist, philanthropist and art collector Samuel Courtauld, son of Samuel senior and Louisa Perina, is best remembered as the founder of the Courtauld Gallery and Courtauld Institute of Art in 1932, to which he later donated his stunning art collection. Although not as large as the collections of other art collectors, such as Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939) or Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (1884-1979), Courtauld's holding contains some of the finest masterpieces of modern art. Part of a dynasty with a history of patronage of the arts, his wealth derived from the Courtauld family business, a major international company which developed and marketed rayon, an artificial and inexpensive silk substitute. He was general manager of the firm from 1908, and chairman from 1921 to 1946.

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Many of the paintings collected
by Samuel Courtauld are
available online as Poster Art.

For a list of the Top 10 painters/
sculptors: Best Artists of All Time.
For the best oils/watercolours,
see: Greatest Paintings Ever.

For a guide to the different,
categories/meanings of visual
arts, see: Definition of Art.
For a list of different categories,
see: Types of Art.

Career As an Art Collector

Courtauld's interest in fine art was triggered by his visit to the Hugh Lane collection, which was exhibited at the Tate Gallery in 1917, although his career as a collector started five years later in 1922 following an exhibition of French art at the Burlington Fine Arts Club. Courtauld was one of the first collectors to be attracted by French Impressionism and its successor style Post-Impressionism. During the 1920s, he built up an extensive holding which featured masterpieces by Edouard Manet (A Bar at the Folies-Bergere, 1882), Vincent Van Gogh (Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, 1889), Paul Cezanne (Montagne Sainte-Victoire, 1903) and Pierre-Auguste Renoir (La Loge/A Box at the Theatre, 1874).

The paintings which formed the nucleus of his collection were acquired during the years 1926-1930, culminating in his foundation - in collaboration with the diplomat Viscount Lee of Fareham and the art historian Sir Robert Witt - of the Courtauld Institute of Art in 1931-32. Sadly, his wife Elizabeth died in 1931, after which his passion for art-collecting declined somewhat.

For details of the greatest galleries
and arts venues, see:
Best Art Museums.

For an outstanding collection of
Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Oriental
Judaica, crafts and artifacts,
see: Jewish Art Museum.

Courtauld Institute of Art

Samuel Courtauld himself provided the majority of the funding for the establishment of the Courtauld Institute of Art. Courtauld adored paintings and even wrote poems about particular favourites. Guided by the English painter and critic Roger Fry (1866-1934), he invested in French Impressionist painters, including Cezanne and then, with characteristic flair, leased the best Robert Adam-designed house in London (Home House, 20 Portman Square) in which to exhibit them. When his wife died in 1931, Courtauld handed over 20 Portman Square and its paintings to the new institute - it remained the Institute's home until 1989. He donated additional paintings to the Institute gallery in the 1930s, and a bequest in 1948.

Today, the Courtauld Institute of Art is an independent college of the University of London, specialising in the history of art. Indeed, it is one of the most prestigious centres for the teaching of art history in the world. In 2011, it ranked No 1 in the subject in the Guardian's 2011 University Guide. Since 1989, the Institute together with its remarkable bijou art museum has been based at Somerset House in London, overlooking the River Thames.


Courtauld Art Gallery Highlights

Considered to be one of the world's finest small museums, the Courtauld Institute Galleries own a collection which stretches from Medieval times, through Renaissance art to the early 20th-century Ecole de Paris. In addition to an outstanding collection of 530 paintings, 26,000 drawings and prints, sculpture and decorative arts, the museum includes works by some of the greatest exponents of painting, such as:

Luncheon on the Grass (1863) by Edouard Manet.
A Box at the Theatre (1874) by Renoir.
A Bar at the Folies-Bergere (1881-2) by Edouard Manet.
Peach Blossom in the Crau (1889) by Van Gogh.
Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear (1889) by Van Gogh.
The Card Players (1893) by Paul Cezanne.
Still Life with Plastic Cupid (1895) by Paul Cezanne.
Nevermore (1897) by Paul Gauguin.
The Dream/Te Rerioa (1897) by Paul Gauguin.
The Boats at Martigues (1907) by Raoul Dufy.
Seated Nude (1916) by Modigliani.

Other Charitable Works

In 1923 Courtauld also contributed £50,000 to the Tate gallery, to assist it in the purchase of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces. (It bought 23 paintings.) Two years later, in collaboration with Maynard Keynes, he founded the London Artists' Association, a charity which provided financial help to young painters and sculptors.

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