Making paintings count

  • The National Gallery Trafalgar Square London, WC2N United Kingdom

The study day was attended by a wide range of delegates from national, regional and university museums and staff from the National Trust, English Heritage, the Royal Collection, and the National Gallery. As well as facilitating a lively discussion period in the morning and afternoon sessions, the study day also provided an important opportunity for the 43 delegates in attendance to network during refreshment breaks. 

The group was welcomed by the National Gallery’s Director, Dr Nicholas Penny, and the Gallery’s National Programmes Manager, Mary Hersov. Eight speakers – four from the National Gallery and four from regional museums – then considered the collection, display and interpretation of pre-1900 European paintings.

Feedback from the delegates was extremely positive, with the majority reporting that the day either met or exceeded their expectations, and there was a very good response to the speakers overall. There was also much support for the Subject Specialist Network and many suggestions for future activities.

Programme

Displaying Paintings at the National Gallery, Dawson Carr, Curator of Italian and Spanish Paintings 1600–1800, The National Gallery.

This talk focused on the refurbishment and installation of some of the historic rooms at the National Gallery. Using the display created for the newly purchased ‘Diana and Actaeon’ by Titian as an example, Dawson Carr discussed how new and imaginative displays may be created within the permanent collection. He considered the different installations in the Central Hall, the refurbishment of rooms in the West Wing, and the experiments with energy-saving LED lights.

‘A Collection of Serious Worth’: F.D. Lycett Green’s Gift to York Art Gallery, Laura Turner, Curator of Art, York City Art Gallery.

In 1955 F.D. Lycett Green bequeathed his collection of 130 European Old Master paintings to York Art Gallery. The talk considered some of the highlights of this collection and the various approaches employed in the display and interpretation of these works. Such approaches included: the display of the collection by theme, the inclusion of contemporary work as part of the display, and the residency of authors such as Tracey Chevalier. Laura Turner also looked at issues surrounding the attribution of certain pictures in the collection, such as the famous portrait of C.B. Agucchi, now attributed to Annibale Carracci.

Examining ‘Close Examination’, Betsy Wieseman, Curator of Dutch Paintings, The National Gallery.

The talk used the National Gallery’s exhibition ‘Close Examination: Fakes, Mistakes and Discoveries’ to discuss collaborative research at the Gallery, and the logistics of and strategies for presenting that research to the general public. The exhibition presented highlights of many years of technical research into National Gallery paintings.

Andrew Moore, Keeper of Art and Senior Curator, Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service

This talk considered how pre-1900 European paintings fit within a multidisciplinary museum such as Norwich Castle Museum. Andrew Moore discussed how the Museum organised a series of major exhibitions such as ‘Flower Power’ and ‘Art at the Rockface’, which were multidisciplinary and encompassed several centuries. He also demonstrated how Dutch paintings had a profound influence on the Norwich School of Art and how this influence may be reflected in gallery displays.

Colin Wiggins, Head of Education, The National Gallery

The Gallery was founded with the aim of providing a resource for artists, and this tradition has continued to the present day. Colin Wiggins discussed how the Gallery encourages contemporary artists to interact and reinterpret the collection. He showed how artists such as Frank Auerbach and Anthony Caro have created new works for exhibitions at the Gallery that were inspired by the collection. He also outlined details about the Associate Artist programme and how he works with art students himself.

The Tale of Two Cities, Ann Coyne, Schools Programmes Officer, Nottingham City Museums and Galleries

Ann Coyne described how she employed the ‘Take One Picture’ scheme to relate a 17th-century painting of Nottingham by Jan Siberechts to the cityscape of Nottingham today. She demonstrated how she worked with a diverse audience including schools, Initial Teacher Education students, families and communities, all with the aim of ensuring that ‘the experience of looking into a painting and responding creatively is equally relevant to all, regardless of language, ability or ethnicity’.

A New Initiative: Research Curatorship in the History of Collecting, Susanna Avery-Quash, Research Curator, The National Gallery

This talk outlined the background to the creation of the new post of Research Curator at the National Gallery, demonstrating its key role in promoting high-calibre research using the unique resources available in the Gallery’s archives and library. Susanna Avery-Quash also discussed her publication work, which included her authorship of the diaries of Sir Charles Eastlake and her co-authorship of a book about his life, as well as the organisation of an exhibition. She is currently organising various collaborations such as the study day recently organised with the Royal Collection, the collaboration with the Getty Research Institute to build a database of British sales catalogues from 1780-1800, and two collaborative doctoral awards with the Universities of London and Nottingham.

Ann Sumner, Director, The Barber Institute of Fine Art, University of Birmingham

This talk examined the ways in which the University of Birmingham is encouraging wider participation and engagement with Old Master paintings. Ann Sumner looked at how different audiences and communities interpreting and responding to pre-1900 paintings within a university context. She explained that Barber Institute, with its outstanding collection of Old Master paintings, is not only a research institute that curates exhibitions but it also plays a key role in the university’s wider participation programme within the community strategy. This involves working with departments within the university such as the History of Art, English and Drama and Music departments, the Birmingham Institute of Art and Design, and local communities such as textile artists.

Discussion

At the end of the morning and afternoon sessions, there was also an opportunity for lively discussions on the following topics:

• How museums fund the cost of temporary exhibitions
• Making lectures, study days, and conferences available online
• Creating ‘virtual’ exhibitions
• The use of LED lighting, which saves energy and lasts longer
• Tracey Chevalier’s residency and how such author residencies are facilitated
• Surveys to find out more about audiences
• The development of new audiences through special events in museums
• How the Associate Artist at the National Gallery is selected and administered
• Work placements
• How to make the collectors and patrons subject accessible to a broad audience
• Education and reaching out to secondary schools.

Q & A

One of the questions raised at the study day was whether or not the subject specialist network encompasses British art.

Mary Hersov responded that it does, providing that British art plays a role in the context of continental paintings. However, there are many other organisations that specifically support British art such as the National Portrait Gallery’s subject specialist network: British Portraiture, Tate Britain, and the Yale Centre for British Art.