Sir Stephen Lewis Courtauld MC FRS (27 February 1883 – 9 October 1967) was an English philanthropist associated with geographical exploration, the restoration of Eltham Palace in south-east London, and cultural and education causes, both in the UK and in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where he and his wife also donated to organisations promoting racial equality.
Family, education and military service
Courtauld was a member of the wealthy English Courtauld textile family. He was born in Bocking, Essex, the son of Sydney Courtauld (10 March 1840 – 20 October 1899) and Sarah Lucy Sharpe (1844-1906) and youngest brother of Samuel Courtauld, founder of the Courtauld Institute of Art). He was educated at Rugby and King's College, Cambridge. He did not enter the family business but his wealthy background enabled him to travel extensively and to pursue cultural and philanthropic interests.
Serving in the Artists' Rifles, Worcestershire Regiment and the Machine Gun Corps during World War I, he was twice mentioned in despatches and awarded the Military Cross in 1918. After the war, in 1919, as an enthusiastic mountaineer, he completed the first ascent of the Innominata face of Mont Blanc in the French Alps. Also in 1919, he met his future wife, Virginia (née Peirano), whom he married on 20 August 1923 at Fiume (now Rijeka,Croatia).
Courtauld became a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in 1920. He later became a member of the Council and was Vice President of the Society (1944–1946). He was chairman of the committee to raise the necessary funds to equip the British Arctic Air Route Expedition (1930–1931), led by Gino Watkins. Courtauld's first cousin Augustine Courtauld was a member both of the committee and of the expedition.
Courtauld collaborated with Basil Dean and Reginald Baker and made a substantial financial contribution to the construction and development of Ealing Studios He was subsequently chairman of the Ealing Studios group of companies for 20 years and was instrumental in the appointment of Michael Balcon to take charge of the production programme in 1938. He was a trustee of the Royal Opera House in London's Covent Garden, and provided financial support for the Courtauld Galleries in Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum. He funded a Scholarship for the Art of Engraving at the British School at Rome.
He undertook the redevelopment of Eltham Palace in Eltham, south-east London with his wife during the 1930s. They employed architects John Seely (1899–1963) and Paul Edward Paget (1901–1985) and fashionable Mayfair interior designer the Marchese Peter Malacrida (1889–1980) to design a new private house in the Art Deco style to adjoin the existing Palace building, which was extensively restored. Malacrida also designed the interiors of the Courtauld's 712-ton luxury yacht, Virginia (launched in 1930 at Dalmuir on the Upper Clyde in Scotland).
The Rhodesia years
In 1951, they moved again, to Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. They established a home at Penhalonga, near Mutare. The estate was named La Rochelle after the place of origin of his family. There they established an extensive botanic garden designed by an Italian landscape artist. The couple became Rhodesian citizens on 16 June 1954.
Courtauld was a very active philanthropist in Southern Rhodesia. His achievements included the funding of the construction of buildings for the Courtauld Theatre and Queen’s Hall in Mutare. An obituary noted that "liberal in thought and open minded in his relations with people, it is said that when the question arose of racial segregation in his theatre he made it clear he would pull the building down before agreeing to such a measure." Stephen and Virginia Courtauld were leading donors to the Capricorn Africa Society, led by David Stirling, which promoted democratic and multi-racial development in East and Central Africa. He built a multi-racial residential club, the Rhodes Club (1961), in Mutare, and founded and endowed the Kukwanisa Farm School in Nyanga for African boys in 1964.
Stephen Courtauld was chairman of the board of trustees of the Rhodes National Gallery (now the National Gallery of Zimbabwe), which opened in 1957. An enthusiastic supporter, he contributed to the construction costs and provided a substantial endowment fund for the Gallery. He bequeathed 93 works of art to the gallery, including works by Rembrandt, Goya, Hogarth and Pissarro. These works are not on display in the gallery and their whereabouts has been described as a "mystery." He also funded construction of the auditorium of what is now the Zimbabwe College of Music in Harare.
Sir Stephen died in Salisbury in 1967. Virginia moved to Jersey in 1970 where she died in 1972. The La Rochelle estate was bequeathed to the National Trust of Rhodesia (now the National Trust of Zimbabwe) in 1970.
- The Huguenot Family of Courtauld. [The author], privately printed. 1957.
- 1911 England Census
- "In Memoriam: Stephen Lewis Courtauld" (PDF). The Alpine Journal. 73 (316): 135. 1968.
- "The rebellious marchioness: Lady Virginia Courtauld". International National Trusts Organisation. Retrieved 9 March 2019.
- Rennell (1967). "Obituary: Sir Stephen Courtauld". The Geographical Journal. 133 (4): 599–600. JSTOR 1794580.
- "The British Arctic Air Route Expedition". The Geographical Journal. 76 (1): 67–68. 1930. JSTOR 1784684.
- Times, 4 June 1930, 'Air Route to Canada'
- Times, 14 January 1927.
- Times 18 October 1967, letter from Sir Michael Balcon
- Wiseman, Timothy Peter (1990). A short history of the British School at Rome. London: British School at Rome. p. 35.
- "Architects and Artists P-Q". Sussex parish churches. Archived from the original on 8 July 2013.
- Details of Virginia at the Caledonian Maritime Research Trust's database of Scottish built ships.
- Times, 29 March 1945, Court Circular
- Hughes, Richard (2003). Capricorn: David Stirling's African Campaign. The Radcliffe Press. p. 100. ISBN 978-1-86064-919-6.
- Hancock, Ian (1984). White Liberals, Moderates, and Radicals in Rhodesia 1952-1980. Croom Helm. p. 42.
- Times obituary, 13 October 1967
- Treger, Louisa (25 June 2019). "The mystery of the hidden art of Zimbabwe". Times. Retrieved 27 June 2019.
- "FIFTH SUPPLEMENT TO The London Gazette OF TUESDAY, 31st DECEMBER, 1957" (PDF). London Gazette. 31 December 1957. Retrieved 9 March 2019.
- "Deaths". The Times. The Times Digital Archive. 11 October 1967. p. 16.