In response to the devastating Notre-Dame fire in April 2019, the Courtauld has published an online exhibition featuring 19th- and early 20th-century images of the cathedral taken from the Courtauld’s Conway Library.
Modern media gave the terrible fire at the cathedral of Notre-Dame of Paris a shocking immediacy. We watched it live on 24-hour television, and followed the unfolding story on social media. Now comes the slow process of stabilising and conserving the damaged building, and, more controversially, restoring and rebuilding. The magnificent and largely 13th-century wooden roof above the vault has gone, and the central spire built by Viollet-le-Duc in the 1850s collapsed dramatically into the flames. But most of the cathedral church, begun around 1160, finished by around 1330, and heavily restored by Viollet-le-Duc and Lassus in the mid-19th century, has survived surprisingly intact.
Images have been chosen that help to tell the story of the cathedral. Many of them are photographs taken in the 19th century, during the restoration of the cathedral by Viollet-le-Duc. We have included some prints made by English artists which show the cathedral before the restoration. Evocative images of the cathedral in its cityscape are found in photographs by a British tourist, taken around 1911, and by the great architectural photographer A. F. Kersting in the third quarter of the 20th century. The early post-war city captured by Kersting now seems almost as remote as that of 1911. Photographs from the Macmillan Commission recording war damage in Europe during the Second World War show the emotive power of the cathedral and its ability to survive.
The Conway Library at The Courtauld is a collection of approximately one million photographic and printed images of architecture, sculpture and medieval painting, founded by the journalist, mountaineer, politician and pioneering art historian, Martin Conway, Lord Conway of Allington. Conway began collecting images of works of art as a student in the 1880s, and bequeathed his collection to The Courtauld Institute of Art when it was founded in 1932. A project to provide a digitised version of the entire collection is currently underway and is made possible through a dedicated team of staff and volunteers.