Report: SSN Study Day Collections Research: Challenges – Opportunities - Discoveries

The demystification of national institutions through meeting colleagues in person must be important for everyone. Certainly I found it valuable to meet new as well as former colleagues.
— Delegate from The Attingham Trust

All images from Study Day Collections Research: Challenges – Opportunities - Discoveries © The National Gallery, London

SSN Study Day

Collections Research: Challenges – Opportunities - Discoveries

On 28 June 2019 the SSN European Paintings pre-1900 held a Study Day at Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery to explore ideas around research, funding opportunities and the exhibition Magritte – The Lost Painting.

After a welcome by Jo Warr, Head of Development (Norfolk Museum Service), Francesca Vanke, Senior Curator/Keeper of Fine & Decorative Art (Norfolk Museum Service) discussed research and its inherent role in Curatorial practice. She also touched upon how the role of the curator is changing due to expanding exhibition programmes and a focus on more outward facing duties. These variables were putting greater demands on the role and time available for research. Thoughts for the future included formalising networks, encouraging collaborations and identifying grants that will continue to nurture specialist skills and refocus time on research.

Flavia Dietrich-England, National Programmes Manager (National Gallery), introduced the Collections Research Grants offered by the SSN European Paintings pre-1900. With a focus on non-national and non-London organisations, applications were invited to support research undertaken by curatorial staff or other members of staff working with the collection. The grants are intended to help consolidate and expand information and knowledge on 13th to early 20th century paintings, with research outcomes tailored to existing audiences and with the aim of reaching new ones. Further information and guidance for applicants can be found here. The SSN grant could also be combined with other funding opportunities, such as Art Fund’s Jonathan Ruffer Curatorial Grants.

Emma Coleman, Programmes Manager (Art Fund), explained Art Funds role as a national charity and defined the four main strands of programming as 1. building collections, 2. supporting museums in reaching new audiences, 3. shaping futures and sharing knowledge, and 4. making connections across the country. She also highlighted a range of fuding opportunities, such as The Jonathan Ruffer Curatorial Grants, Headley Fellowships, New Collecting Awards, Curatorial Network Grants and The Weston Loan Programme. Emma finished by talking about upcoming plans to support conservation and smaller project grants.

Alan Crookham, Research Centre Manager (National Gallery), focused on the many resources available for research at The National Gallery. The centre focuses primarily on pre-1900 material, with a wide range of catalogues, books, guide books, rare titles, institutional files, inventories, correspondences, subject files, manuscripts, architectural files and photographs taken from people outside of the gallery. Online catalogues for the National Gallery Library and Archive can be accessed via the Gallery’s website. Researchers wishing to consult material in the National Gallery Archive or books unavailable in other libraries are able to make an appointment to visit the Gallery’s Reading Room (open Tuesday – Friday 10 am – 5 pm). The Research Centre runs a series of seminars, supports academic conferences and collaborates with universities on collaborative doctoral awards. Sights have been set on digitalising and continuing to develop a range of services for the future.

Rupert Shepherd, Collection Information Manager (National Gallery), added to Alan’s presentation by discussing the goal for a digital dossier to be created for every painting in the National Gallery collection. He was particularly interested in looking at what kind of information is useful for a researcher and the best way to access and find information using different filters.

Eleanor Hutchison, National Gallery Curatorial Trainee with Art Fund support and the assistance of the Vivmar Foundation, presented outcomes from her 16-month placement at Compton Verney Art Gallery & Park. Apart from working on labels and interpretation for the re-display of the Northern European collection in 2020 and assisting with research for an exhibition on Cranach the Elder, Eleanor was also able to closely observe and analyse findings from infrared analysis of a number of paintings in the collection. She illustrated that technical examination had revealed traces of pouncing and free-hand underdrawing in a mid-16th century devotional panel of the Virgin and Child attributed to Ambrosius Benson and significant differences in the composition of a of figures in the Master of Schwabach’s ‘Christ Taking Leave of his Mother’ (1506).

 Giorgia Bottinelli, Curator of Historic Art (Norwich Castle), talked about the upcoming exhibition on John Chrome at the castle in 2021. Chrome (1768-1821) was one of the founders of Norwich School of Painters. Chrome did not write much about his practice nor was much written about him, meaning it has been hard to understand his motives and to undertake provenance research. As such, there are continuing questions about the attribution of many of his works. These ideas will be explored in the exhibition, with works displayed side by side, allowing viewers to make direct comparisons.

 Andrew Moore, Director (Attingham Trust), carried out an impromptu address on the Attingham Trust and how it was set up in 1952 to support curators from all over the world. There is a particular focus on helping curators who have objects in their collection that they might not necessarily know a lot about. Opportunities consist of courses, study programmes, scholarships and bursaries. Andrew mentioned The Attingham Summer School as a particular highlight, where curators were able to visit 30 country houses in 18 days, exploring topics ranging from textiles, paintings, gardens, ceramics and interiors.

 Giorgia Bottinelli and Alice Tavares da Silva, Painting Conservator (Hamilton Kerr Institute), introduced the exhibition Magritte – The Lost Painting. Giorgia focused on the delivery of the programme and the choice behind the selection of work. Alice discussed the technical investigations into discovering a quarter of the missing painting La Pose Enchantée by Magritte beneath his painting La Condition Humaine in the collection at Norwich Castle.The other three missings quarters of La Pose Enchantée have been discovered beneath paintings at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Moderna Museet in Stockholm and The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels. Further details of the technical analysis of the painting at Norwich Castle and of the context of the discovery can be found in an open-access article co-authored by Giorgia Bottinelli and Alice Tavares da Silva and published in the journal Heritage Science in 2017.

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