Art Fund curatorial trainees: April update

  • 13 April 2012

Six months into their traineeships at the National Gallery, Henrietta Ward and Philippa Stephenson tell us about their experiences so far on the Art Fund's curatorial scheme.

Our curatorial trainees Philippa Stephenson and Henrietta Ward © The National Gallery, London

Our curatorial trainees Philippa Stephenson and Henrietta Ward

In October last year, Henrietta Ward and Philippa Stephenson began curatorial traineeships at the National Gallery, fully funded in partnership with the Art Fund. Six months into the scheme, they tell us about their experiences so far…

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

There have been many highlights during my time at the National Gallery, not least being present during the monumental success of Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan and the historic acquisition of Titian’s Diana and Callisto. I was privileged to have been involved with Turner Inspired: In the Light of Claude by writing and editing the captions as well as witnessing all stages of its installation. Philippa Stephenson and I were also pleased to have written a short article on Claude’s Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba for Art Quarterly magazine. This was a great opportunity to promote the exhibition as well as to see our work in print.

Alongside Turner Inspired, I have continued to research Manchester’s Dutch and Flemish collection and had discussions with the National Gallery curatorial team to obtain their opinions and advice. I look forward to a visit from Betsy Wieseman, Curator of Dutch Paintings, in June to have a closer look at the works, perhaps tackling issues of attribution, condition and selecting the key works for display.

Outside of my main project, I gave a 10 minute talk on Rubens’s Birth of Venus as part of the Adult Learning programme. Not an experienced public speaker, this was a challenge and whilst a bit daunting at first I soon felt at ease. I have also been on a courier trip to Milan which involved two days on a truck. It was far more comfortable than I had envisaged with my own cabin above the drivers and spectacular views across the Alps! I gained an understanding of the National Gallery as an international lender and the great care that goes into transporting works of art.

I am really looking forward to beginning the next chapter of this traineeship in Manchester. I will be faced with a new set of challenges all of which will be rewarding and memorable in many different ways. I cannot wait!

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

Already three months into 2012, and the time seems to be flying past in a Turner-like haze.

After a training trip to a UK gallery earlier in the year, I took my first independent, international courier trip during March. The life of a curator seems often to involve regular travel, and so it was an important experience accompanying a painting in a truck, overseeing its delivery, and safe installation.

I was lucky enough to witness the technical examination of one of the most evocative and powerful Northern paintings in the National Gallery’s collection, Hieronymus Bosch’s Christ Mocked (The Crowning with Thorns). It was quite amazing to see Bosch’s underdrawings and pentimenti revealed through infrared imaging, as well as seeing the painting under a microscope.

During February I visited Tyne and Wear once again, this time accompanied by two curators from the National Gallery. We saw many Old Master paintings across the Hatton, Shipley and Laing galleries, with some valuable expert opinions offered.

I have been reworking and refining my selection, thinking about how the paintings, with their disparate styles and sizes, might be displayed together. This has involved cutting out playing-card sized prints of the pictures, and categorising many times over. This simple but effective method has proved useful in terms of getting to know the paintings and considering possible groupings.

The second stage of my planning has involved creating to-scale cutouts of the paintings, arranging these according to size using a model of the gallery spaces at the Laing. This has allowed me to consider sizing, and the use of prominent works for key positions within the rooms.

March 14 saw the opening of the National Gallery’s Turner Inspired: In the Light of Claude. It was a thrill to be involved with the exhibition, and I enjoyed seeing the works being installed.

I am looking forward to exploring the North East, discovering treasures to be found in the rich regional collections, witnessing the rugged beauty of the countryside, and experiencing the cultural vitality and friendliness that Newcastle is famous for.

Read the first part of Henrietta and Philippa's blog

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