Art Fund curatorial trainees continue their placements at Compton Verney and Walker Art Gallery
After six months at the National Gallery, Eleanor Hutchison and Kate O'Donoghue tell us about their four months so far in Warwickshire and Liverpool.
During my first four months at Compton Verney I have been making plans for the redisplay of the Northern European collection, thinking about wall colours, new display cases, and text panels, as well as undertaking new research into items within the collection.
A really exciting part of this research has involved having infrared images taken of some of the works. Infrared radiation passes through paint layers until it reaches something it can absorb, such as a black underdrawing, which is otherwise invisible to the naked eye.
Such images were taken from a large panel painting depicting ‘Christ Taking Leave of His Mother’ by the Master of the Schwabach Altarpiece, an artist working in Germany in the early 16th century. The results contained some real surprises. Two additional donor figures appeared, hidden under the forms of the two female donors painted into the final composition. One of these previously unknown figures includes a little girl. This has led to exciting questions about who these people may have been and why they were not in the final composition.
Some fascinating results also came from a small devotional panel of the Virgin and Child by an Italian painter working in Bruges in the mid-16th century, Ambrosius Benson.
It was revealed that the upper body of the Virgin, and the Christ Child in her arms, was transferred from an existing template using the technique of pouncing. This is where small prick holes are traced around an existing image onto transparent paper and then transferred to a new surface; then, using coloured powder to rub into the holes, an outline of the image is left.
Free-hand underdrawing was also used to mark out the still life in the foreground and drapery folds of the Virgin’s skirt.
These rather unexpected results have helped inform further research into the attribution of this picture and the typical workshop practice of 16th-century Bruges.
I am also continuing to work with the curators on a Cranach the Elder exhibition which will open in 2020. We are in the process of meeting with lenders and writing loan requests.
Throughout this process it has not only been a real privilege to see amazing works of art up close, but I've also found it an incredibly useful experience to help me consider exactly what narrative we want for this exhibition and why certain works are so vital in telling that story.
My initial months at the Walker Art Gallery have coincided with an eventful time in the Liverpool art scene. Summer witnessed the opening of the 30th John Moores Painting Prize at the Walker, celebrating 60 years since its first show. Judged anonymously, the competition is a remarkable celebration of contemporary artists. The exhibition also features as a key strand of the Liverpool Biennial 2018, which is marking its 10th edition this year.
Since starting, an important part of my role has been my work with the museum’s collections management database. This has involved updating entries with the latest research and completing additional fields, including provenance. With plans to link this information live to the Walker’s website, this work will contribute to making these collections more accessible.
As part of the public programme, I have also been delivering talks on Baroque art, using this opportunity to collect visitor feedback and insight. These activities encourage me to constantly consider our audiences and how we can engage with them.
Much of my work has also been focused on the planning of a partial redisplay of the Baroque gallery for April to June 2019. Keen to get started on this, I've been exploring the Walker’s art stores to study the works off display.
One piece is particularly striking, William Dobson’s The Executioner with the Head of John the Baptist, painted between 1640 and 1646. Often referred to as ‘the only English Caravaggesque picture’, it is a unique example of Italian Baroque tastes expressed in a 17th-century British painting.
I am now exploring ways that we can showcase this painting next spring in a way that will bring the Baroque to life. Copied after the National Gallery’s painting by Matthias Stom, produced around 1630-2, Dobson’s work opens up a conversation about the tradition of copying in the 17th century. Excitingly, this gives us a chance to exhibit other impressive 17th-century copies that have not been displayed at all in recent history.
I am excited to present a different perspective of the Walker’s Baroque collection, through the unique lens of an extraordinary British painting.
These traineeships have been made possible through the National Gallery Curatorial Traineeship Programme supported by Art Fund with the assistance of the Vivmar Foundation.