Fine Art: Courtauld Gallery Small, and yet perfectly formed. The Courtauld Gallery displays the sparkling art haul of a few seriously rich collectors, and is crammed away on the northern side of Somerset House. Normally it's a fiver to get in, but turn up before 2pm on a Monday and entrance is free. I turned up at quarter to, with a smile, and joined the crowds of clued-up frugal visitors within.
Room one's all the old stuff. Early Renaissance Italian, much of it gold and gleaming, with a particularly heavy dose of Virgin Marys. Then on (and on) up the 18th century semi-spiral staircase to a floor of key French Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. I'm not good with my 19th century Parisian art movements, but I know a famous name when I see it and here there are plenty. One of Manet's last major works, some Monets and a lot of Cézannes, just for starters. There's the famous portrait of Van Gogh with his bandaged ear, and upstairs a lot of spotty Seurats too. In just a handful of the Courtauld's rooms there are art treasures encompassing a century of French canvas excellence. I have a hunch that the spotty schoolkids I saw at Tate Britain would have learnt rather more here, and rather quicker.
The Courtauld boasts a great period setting. The ceilings are works of art in themselves, and fine-crafted artefacts such as tables and a harpischord are scattered throughout. There's long been a teaching establishment based here, and 200 years ago the Royal Academy School of Art filled these rooms. Its most famous student is probably JMW Turner, and there's currently a temporary exhibition of his work in an upper room. It was packed, mostly with cultured visitors of Freedom Pass age, who know a top free event when they see one. If you ever have a (non Bank Holiday) Monday off work, why not slip in? Alternatively the famous Somerset House ice rink opens again tomorrow for its winter season, and (what?! £10.50 during the day and £12.50 for an evening session?!) that's free to look at too. by tube: Temple