Art to see this December

Edouard Manet, A bar at the Folies-Bergere, 1882, The Courtauld, London (Samuel Courtauld Trust) © The Courtauld

Can a painting be a friend? We think so, especially after the pandemic. As you head into town to do your Christmas shopping, stop in to see some art at the same time. These are three places to have on your radar this December:

Old friends: The Courtauld

The Courtauld has just reopened after a three-year, £50 million refurb. Walking through the Great Room felt like being reunited with very old friends not seen since before the pandemic. There’s Manet’s Bar at the Folies-Bergère, Cezanne’s Card Players and Van Gogh’s Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear that for a former History of Art student like me formed the cornerstones of my A-levels. All the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist big-hitters have been re-hung on the top floor in the new LVMH Great Room – once the home to the RA’s Summer Exhibition – and now surely one of the most wonderful single rooms at any gallery in London. The height and the white walls allow the pictures air and space, and we particularly loved the series of Seurat studies, all hung in a row. Newly painted cobalt-blue banisters lead you downstairs to the Blavatnik rooms which house the Renaissance works including the opulent pair of Nerli Marriage Chests, and down again to the first floor where a new space has been opened up to display Medieval paintings and decorative arts. Shining with gold, these rooms are especially lovely to visit before Christmas. The same is true of the new shop in the vaulted basement where you can find beautiful stationary, paper flowers, Bloomsbury lampshades and Christmas cards.

New friends: Helen Levitt at The Photographer's Gallery

Helen Levitt New York, 1982 © Film Documents LLC Courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne

Jostling through Soho and then navigating the roadworks on Ramilies Street that lead all the way to The Photographers’ Gallery is perfect prep for their new exhibition, Helen Levitt: In The Street. The show starts with small black and white photographs of 1930’s New York where life was lived outdoors – there are children playing on stoops, women talking around a newspaper, a young man’s flirtatious invitation written in chalk on the wall outside his apartment. Through her lens we’re invited to look at the banal, the humorous, the galling and everything in between – as seen through the daily life of those living in the Lower East Side, the Bronx and Spanish Harlem. Spread over two levels, the retrospective goes on to span 50 years’ of Levitt’s career and includes filmmaking as well as photography. Despite its scope the exhibition feels condensed and accessible, with tickets just £5. Until 13 February 2022.

Helen Levitt New York, 1940 © Film Documents LLC Courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne

Animal friends: With Nature and a Camera, Cherry Kearton and the Birth of Wildlife Documentary

Often quoted as Sir David Attenborough’s inspiration, Cherry Kearton and his brother Richard began documenting wildlife in Africa from the early 1900’s. His family have recently discovered a new set of slides, and these will be on display at the With Nature and a Camera exhibition at The Royal Geographical Society this December to raise funds for the charity Fauna & Flora International. The small exhibition of 36 photographs and footage includes the first ever photo of a rhino taken with a flashlight, and the only photo of a Masai tribe hunt. Unframed works start at £180. 14 – 20 December 2021.

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