Curatorial trainees: January update

Our Art Fund curatorial trainees, Eloise and Helen, share updates about their work – including some exciting overseas research opportunities.

Helen Hillyard – Birmingham Museums Trust

A date has been set for the opening of the 17th-century European galleries in June and there are less than six months left before installation begins. The planning is almost over and things are starting to fall into place – it’s beginning to feel like a real exhibition.

I have created an object list and decided the final hang. The re-display will be arranged by school: Italian and Spanish; Dutch and Flemish; and French. The display of French painting is especially important, since few of these works are currently shown in the galleries. The re-display will also include a number of sculptural pieces, some of which have not been exhibited for many years. By introducing these works into the galleries and also changing the wall colour and lighting, the spaces should have a very different feel. I am currently writing interpretation for the galleries, and working closely with the Learning Team at Birmingham to create interactives and school resources.

The research aspect of my traineeship has lessened as the re-display draws closer; however, it remains an integral part of my project. I have continued to develop connections with academic specialists and – thanks to a bursary from the Pre-1900 European Paintings Subject Specialist Network – I will undertake a research trip to the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie (RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History) in The Hague at the end of this month. Here, I will use the RKD’s visual documentation collection to research the Dutch and Flemish paintings, as well as visiting the recently re-opened Rijksmuseum and Mauritshuis to see how they have approached their permanent displays.

Outside my project, I was lucky enough to attend the Museum Association Conference in Cardiff as well as a study day on 17th-century Spanish art at the Bowes Museum. Through these events I have been able to meet other museum professionals, as well as visiting fantastic collections around the UK.

To keep up-to-date with the project at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, take a look at my blog.

Eloise Donnelly – York Art Gallery

As 2015 dawns the new Art Gallery is entering its final stages of completion, and excitement is beginning to build here in York as we count down to the grand reopening!

Over the past few months I’ve been busy finalising object lists, confirming loans, choosing paint colours and arranging to have some of our most important works conserved so that they will look really stunning in the new displays. I’ve also been working on some exciting new commissions which will present a fresh and innovative response to the masterpieces from the Lycett Green collection.

At the moment my focus is on the interpretation, to try and make the exhibitions as engaging as possible for each section of York’s diverse audiences. As well as producing layers of textual, audio and digital content, I’ve been working with colleagues in York to develop a variety of interactive tools aimed at young visitors, to enhance their appreciation of Old Masters.

Alongside the preparations for the exhibition, I’ve undertaken courier trips to Brussels, the Bowes Museum, and Waddesdon Manor, which have been fantastic opportunities to meet colleagues working with different collections and see our works displayed in new contexts.

Shortly I’ll be taking my research of two paintings in the Lycett Green collection a step further by undertaking site-specific study in Florence and Siena. Both paintings are fragments from larger altarpieces, and I’ll be examining other fragments in Tuscany to find out more about the history of our pictures. I can’t wait to share the results with visitors when the Gallery reopens next summer.

In the meantime, there’s a huge amount to be done: 2015 is shaping up to be a spectacular year!

Since 2011 we’ve been working with the National Gallery and regional partners to offer two fully funded curatorial traineeships specialising in Old Master painting, with the support of the Vivmar Foundation. The 2015 traineeships will open soon for applications. Sign up to our Museum Bulletin to be the first to know.

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