Grand Staircases of London #1 (The Courtauld Gallery)

Dear Reader(s),

Welcome to my first London post – we’ve finally made it here together!

After spending all this (virtual) time in Paris, I have, alas, run out of bloggable* (look at the end of this post for a definition) material about the City of Lights, and I am led to believe that moving on to talk about the Big Smoke – the city I actually do live in – might prove a beneficial change for this fledgling blog. My tagline also mentions I’m a London Tour Guide, so there’s that too …

Today I have decided to start talking about the grand or – as I like to call them – dramatic staircases of London. This will be an on-going series on the blog and I’ll be looking for suggestions from you on which places to visit next. Sound off in the comments below!


The winding staircase in the Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House.

courtstairsfaceWe Londoners know a thing or two about using stairs. We climb them up and down to access our flats. We use them to go find our seats at the opera or at the theater. (I wish!) We walk them up and down – once again – to use the Tube or catch a train. (I remember, when I first came to London, I used to frown down upon those people who were running down escalators to go quicker, but now, sadly, I have joined their ranks too. How times change! In the end, the rat race gets to the best of us …)

In contrast to regular stairs, dramatic staircases, however, manage the unthinkable and they make us, mighty Londoners, stop in our tracks. Displays of grandeur and wealth, these out-of-the-ordinary stairs are often stunning works of art in their own right and turn us right into tourists again. A good place to start off this continuing odyssey through London is the majestic staircase at the Courtauld Gallery which can be found in the Strand Block of Somerset House.

This staircase always makes me think of the inside of a shell.

On a whim, @kathrynsdaniels and I decided to visit the Courtauld Gallery on a very hot summer’s day (yes, in London!) and the freezing temperatures inside the Institute provided a much-welcomed relief from the heat. Who needs Van Gogh, Manet or Picasso when you can have superb air-conditioning, right? Masterpieces are overrated, anyway … All kidding aside, the first-class nature of the collection – made up of iconic Impressionist paintings, drawings and sculptures – often distracts visitors from the sheer beauty of the actual building.


Love the fusion between the neo-classical elements and the blue railings.

The Courtauld Gallery is now located in the former exhibition rooms of the Royal Academy of Arts, which used to be based at Old and New Somerset House between 1771 an 1837. In the late 18th century, the renowned architect Sir William Chambers was commissioned to redevelop Somerset House and he is credited for designing this swirling staircase, including ‘decorated landings, or “stations of repose” from which spectators, “might find entertainment, to compensate for the labour past, and be encouraged to proceed”.’ And what a sight to behold from those stations, indeed, especially if you were to look up!

The all-seeing eye of the Courtauld Gallery.

When Katy and I visited, we also managed to take in the Courtauld Gallery’s latest exhibition, Collecting Gauguin: Samuel Courtauld in the ’20s, which we both highly enjoyed and recommend. The show follows in a series of smaller (and thus much more focused) exhibitions of late here in London, such as Vermeer and Music: The Art of Love and Leisure at the National Gallery and Mexico: A Revolution in Art, 1910-1940 at the Royal Academy of Arts.


If this is not a clear case of @Look_upLondon I don’t know what is!

Just before I let you go, here’s a little tip for you when it comes to visiting the Courtauld Gallery. On Mondays, the Institute reduces admission charges to £3, a 50% mark-down. (I do wonder if @SkintLondon knows about this bargain deal? Only one way to find out …)

See you soon again!

*bloggable (@FranPickering™): Adjective used to describe any material (photographs, interviews, visits, etc.) that is essentially fodder for a blog post. This word can be highly controversial, especially when uttered in the presence of partners and friends who are not bloggers themselves or ‘online’. Beware, using this expression in public might induce an eyebrow-raising or two!)


19 thoughts on “Grand Staircases of London #1 (The Courtauld Gallery)

  1. Lovely post. Last time I saw this staircase was during an immersive theatre performance, when a stream of naked people ascended it, as if rising to heaven. Can you imagine! It was incredible.

    • Thank you for your lovely comment.

      Wow, that must have been an amazing performance. My mind can’t get around to process the info. Must have been a tad crazy! What was the occasion of the event?


    • Hi Steve,

      Welcome to my blog. I’m happy to hear you enjoyed reading this post!

      London has many charms and it is easy to get caught in the city’s seductive web. Trust me, I never thought I’d stay for seven years. I had a look at your recent adventures in the capital and your pictures look superb, especially the ones featuring the already infamous Hahn / Cock statue. Brilliant!

      Thanks for sharing!


  2. Hi Yannick
    Loved Paris but great to see that you’ve arrived safely in London on your blog. What a wonderful staircase to start with and the photos show off its details beautifully. We both share a love of dramatic staircases so I’m going to look forward to this series with interest.

  3. Hi T,

    It was high time to leave Paris behind, wasn’t it? Although I’m yearning to go back for another trip now that I have proper excuse, i.e. getting more bloggable material!

    Thank you for your encouragement re: this new series!


  4. Love this, Yannick!

    I wonder if you know Thomas Rowlandson’s print, ‘Exhibition Stare Case’, in which the exhibition-goers of the RA’s Annual Exhibition have started tumbling down the stairs because they’re looking at each other instead of concentrating on where they’re going (also a quip on the vertiginous steepness of these stairs)? (The BM have a copy of this print:,_exhibition.aspx).

    Also, do a search for ‘Somerset House’ on the RA Collections site and you’ll come up with all sorts of wonderful works of art and archives!

    On another matter, it always annoys me that the Courtauld have a label in the room that once was the RA’s library that says that Sir Joshua Reynolds’s painting, ‘Theory’, used to hang there but is now lost. This is rubbish, as ‘Theory’ is in the current RA library at Burlington House!

    • Hi Helena,

      Thanks a lot for you lovely comment. Apologies for the late reply!

      How on earth did I not know about Rowlandson’s ‘Exhibition Stare Case’ print. Although it looks slightly familiar, I don’t think I’ve come across it before. The illustration is brilliant – it’s very ‘Hogarthian’, isn’t it? – and I love the witty pun in the title. Thanks for bringing this print to light, so to speak, and I hope we won’t be tumbling down any exhibition stairs soon!

      Re: The Courtauld Gallery. Why don’t you send them a letter about their labeling error? I might very well be an honest mistake and the person in charge didn’t know. (They should have double-checked though, especially as we are talking about the Courtauld Institute of Art, after all!) You might be able to change things. I have a feeling Helena on a mission is unstoppable! 😉


  5. I’m definitely with you on some buildings aren’t appreciated simply because of their incredible contents, but I tend to go the other way – we missed out on a photo of the Mona Lisa because I drained my camera battery taking photos of the cornicings and ceilings. Oops!

    • Haha. This offers you a perfectly valid excuse to go back to the Louvre during your upcoming Paris trip. Oh, you are SO lucky, Miss Em, and they couldn’t have picked a more deserving person for a free trip to the City of Lights!


  6. I love this staircase. May I also suggest that a few steps across the courtyard in Somerset House (have a cuppa on the way, natch)… there is the majestic Nelson Stairs. Great idea for a series of posts, I look forward to next..erm..step.

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