Art Fund curatorial trainees: Final update

After 22 months of hard work, our two curatorial trainees Henrietta Ward and Philippa Stephenson finally open their exhibitions to the public.

Henrietta has been working with the National Gallery and Manchester Art Gallery

Home, Land and Sea: Art in the Netherlands 1600-1800 has become a reality! I don’t think the smile has left my face for the past month or so since the exhibition opened. All in all there are 56 Dutch and Flemish paintings from Manchester’s collection on display compared to just under 30 before. It really achieves everything I hoped it would and by presenting the paintings within their historic context and arranging them by theme means this fascinating, innovative period of art history can be fully appreciated and understood by all visitors. Paintings that have not been seen for many years but which are now on display include works by Gerard ter Borch, Jacob Ochtervelt, Philips Wouwerman, Ludolf Backhuysen, Willem van de Velde, Abraham Bloemaert, Jan van Os, Salomon van Ruysdael, Aelbert Cuyp, Paulus Potter…. the list goes on! Of course many of the favourites remain on display such as those by Pieter de Hooch, Gerrit Dou, Jan van Goyen and David Teniers, the Younger. The works really stand out against the background colour, especially under the spotlights: many details can be seen which weren’t visible before.

A major part of the show is the juxtaposition of these Old Master paintings with contemporary work. The still lifes are mixed together in a salon-style hang with five works from Mat Collishaw’s Last Meal on Death Row, Texas series. From Gavin Turk there are two bronze painted gnawed apple cores, while Rob and Nick Carter have loaned Transforming Still Life Painting. This is a three hour film in homage to Ambrosius Bosschaert which animates his painting Vase with Flowers in a Window in the collection of the Mauritshuis, The Hague. Finally alongside the marine paintings is Rosalind Nashashibi’s Bachelor Machines Part I, a film that continues in the seascape tradition but focuses on the lives of men on board a modern day cargo boat travelling from Italy to Sweden.

Since the exhibition opened the gallery has been really popular with many visitors amazed at how many works they hadn’t seen before. I have been busy giving many tours and talks about the show, and in the process of booking future events with some of the contemporary artists so stay tuned!

I have loved these past 22 months and really enjoyed working across both the National Gallery and Manchester Art Gallery. I feel so fortunate to have been given such a wonderful collection to work on and greatly benefited from the support of my colleagues especially Betsy Wieseman, Ruth Shrigley, Mary Hersov and Philippa Stephenson. Manchester’s Paintings and Frames Conservators have been fantastic and with a grant from the Aurelius Charitable Trust were able to treat an impressive 31 of the 56 paintings on display so huge thank you to Julia Jackson and Chris Russell.

There is still much for me to follow up on beyond this project: mainly the collecting patterns of Mr and Mrs Edgar Assheton Bennett who bequeathed their entire collection of Dutch and Flemish paintings to Manchester in 1979 as well as a guide to the collection to be published very soon.

Home, Land and Sea is open until 23 May 2014 at Manchester Art Gallery.

Philippa has been working with the National Gallery and Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums

These last few months have seen the installation of my first major exhibition, Divine Bodies. Peeling back the acid-free tissue to reveal a newly-created, freshly-imported David LaChapelle photograph was a highlight. Another memorable moment was witnessing Ron Mueck’s fascinating Youth, 2009, being very gently cleaned with a tiny vacuum cleaner.

The exhibition, along with my corresponding contextual display, Stories of the Collection, was opened by Stephen Deuchar, Director of The Art Fund and Nick Penny, Director of the National Gallery, on 6th June.

Divine Bodies combines European pre-1800 paintings from the Hatton, Shipley and Laing Art Gallery collections with important loans, including ‘Old Masters’ from the National Gallery, drawings from the British Museum, and photography, sculpture and painting from the last 30 years. Amongst these contrasts, Zurbarán sits alongside Marina Abramović, Wtewael next to John Currin, and Procaccini’s resplendent ‘Drunkenness of Noah’ aligns with a street scene by Maciej Dakowicz. Interlacing the old with the new has been a particularly rewarding, and highly enjoyable challenge.

As people pushed through the doors for the first time, I was reminded of what a journey these last 22 months have been; the ups and downs of borrowing work from across the country and beyond; the pride at being granted funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England; the joy of seeing a twelve year old boy staring open-mouthed at Zurbarán’s ‘Saint Francis in Ecstasy’. The Art Fund’s Curatorial Traineeship has given me the opportunity to get to know world-class art, work alongside some very talented people, and see many new cities and galleries.

My new life as Curator of European Art for Glasgow Museums begins this autumn. Taking all I have learned from my experiences at The National Gallery and Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, I can’t wait to get my teeth into another fine city’s fantastic collections.

Divine Bodies is open until 13 September at Laing Art Gallery.

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