When Is A Painting Finished? It's Not So Obvious Says The Courtauld Gallery

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 37 months ago
When Is A Painting Finished? It's Not So Obvious Says The Courtauld Gallery ★★★☆☆ 3
Don Quixote and Sancho Panza by Honore Daumier is one of our favourite pieces in the permanent collection. Copyright The Courtauld Gallery
Don Quixote and Sancho Panza by Honore Daumier is one of our favourite pieces in the permanent collection. Copyright The Courtauld Gallery
With Impressionism it's often tricky to know when a work is finished as it's all about capturing the moment (as Cezanne has done in this landscape). Copyright The Courtauld Gallery
With Impressionism it's often tricky to know when a work is finished as it's all about capturing the moment (as Cezanne has done in this landscape). Copyright The Courtauld Gallery
A sketch by Manet captures his initial loose brush strokes. Copyright The Courtauld Gallery
A sketch by Manet captures his initial loose brush strokes. Copyright The Courtauld Gallery
There's debate as to whether this Monet is complete, and even he reworked it many times. Copyright The Courtauld Gallery
There's debate as to whether this Monet is complete, and even he reworked it many times. Copyright The Courtauld Gallery
This sketch by Rembrandt may be unfinished, but he did circulate it. Maybe so others could learn from his technique. Copyright The Courtauld Gallery
This sketch by Rembrandt may be unfinished, but he did circulate it. Maybe so others could learn from his technique. Copyright The Courtauld Gallery
Perino del Vaga has clearly chosen to paint the infants first, leaving the adults for later - or in this case never. Copyright The Courtauld Gallery
Perino del Vaga has clearly chosen to paint the infants first, leaving the adults for later - or in this case never. Copyright The Courtauld Gallery

Londonist Rating: ★★★☆☆

The impressive collection of The Courtauld Gallery contains some unfinished works, and it would be easy to cast them aside in favour of the completed ones. But can unfinished works offer a window into an artist's process? And when exactly is a work finished? These are just a couple of the questions explored within this insightful dual exhibition.

The incomplete works from the Renaissance show us that many artists approached things in a certain order; one painting of the holy family reveal that the infant Christ and John the Baptist were painted first with the adult characters left for later (they were never completed). We also see a case of fraud whereby one unfinished painting had some touches added so it could be sold as an original.

Some of these works do stand out, even though they were never finished; this includes a hastily sketched Manet, and Honore Daumier's brilliantly hazy rendition of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza — one of our favourite works from the permanent collection.

Once we move into the Impressionist period, the use of loose brush strokes makes it harder to separate the complete from the works in progress. A vase of flowers by Monet is still contested by academics today as to whether it has been finished. A vibrant and colourful work by Matisse is viewed as symbolising an important step in art away from the representational and towards the abstract, but art critics at the time derided it for being incomplete.

The second exhibition next door looks at how art was often re-worked by other artists, including Rubens, who would embellish the works of others. In other examples the clothing would be changed to keep in line with the fashion of the day, and in one instance a collector has added to a drawing to make it a better fit for its setting within his home.

There are contemporary works on show too including two by the Chapman Brothers; they bought anonymous oil paintings and modified them to become more grotesque. It's the strongest of the works in the final room; none of the other contemporary artists have the same impact.

For what could have been a fairly academic study into the artistic process, The Courtauld Gallery has done a great job in keeping it engaging and informative.

Unfinished... works from The Courtauld Gallery is on until 20 September. Tickets are £7 for adults and includes admission to their fantastic permanent collection. Next door at Somerset House are photographs commemorating the fallen at the Battle of Waterloo, and nearby is the latest edition of the BP portrait award.

Last Updated 19 June 2015