Curatorial trainees: January update

  • 27 January 2017

Lucy West and Sylvie Broussine are the current Art Fund curatorial trainees at the National Gallery, working with regional partners Ferens Art Gallery and Auckland Castle. Here, they share news of how their traineeships are going.

Lucy West – Ferens Art Gallery 
Lucy West, curatorial trainee Photo © the National Gallery, London

Lucy West, curatorial trainee

In June 1311, Duccio’s double-sided altarpiece, the Maestà – the richest and most influential in Christendom at the time – was carried through the streets of Siena following its completion. On its journey from the artist’s workshop to its final destination in Siena Cathedral, the altarpiece was accompanied by city-wide celebration and devotion. A panel from this altarpiece, The Annunciation, from the National Gallery, is currently on display at the Ferens Art Gallery.

Although, naturally, we could not parade it through the wintry streets of Hull in the same vein as Duccio’s Maestà, Pietro Lorenzetti’s Sienese gold-ground panel Christ between Saints Paul and Peter (c.1320) did indeed have its own triumphant homecoming to the Ferens at the beginning of the year. This followed its magnificent conservation treatment at the National Gallery. It is impossible to do justice to just how exciting these past few months have been.

It continues to be an extremely special experience to unveil Lorenzetti’s panel to the public, at the heart of the exhibition ‘Pietro Lorenzetti: Siena to Hull, A Masterpiece Revealed’. With masterpieces by artists of the period, ranging from Cimabue, Giotto and Duccio to Simone Martini and his circle, the exhibition explores the flourishing artistic environment of Lorenzetti’s hometown of Siena. It creates a flavour of a very significant moment in the development of Western art.

Pietro Lorenzetti, Christ Between Saints Paul and Peter, c.1320 © Ferens Art Gallery

Pietro Lorenzetti, Christ Between Saints Paul and Peter, c.1320

The last few months of 2016 saw me finalising the exhibition hang and display requirements, writing and proofing labels and panels, and working with a local designer on the exhibition graphics. I also had fun recording an accompanying multimedia guide with our Learning Team and Future Ferens volunteers.

Watching the vision come to life during installation was extremely thrilling – not least because of the unique chance to see the exceptional loaned works up close. In the exhibition space itself, along with dark grey walls, I have decided to use spotlights to create a focused and contemplative atmosphere.

From the 14th century to 2017, Friday 13 January (while unlucky for some) was a very important date in Hull’s calendar – heralding the re-opening of the Ferens following its major refurbishment. The opening marked the end of a busy installation period for us throughout December. In less than four weeks, we unwrapped, condition-checked and reinstalled the Ferens’ permanent collection. This comprised around 900 oil paintings, 200 sculptures and 1500 prints and works on paper. It had initially seemed like an impossible task, but it was a great experience to work with such a large and dedicated team of curators and technicians, to make it all happen.

Sylvie Broussine – Auckland Castle 
Sylvie Broussine, curatorial trainee Photo © the National Gallery, London

Sylvie Broussine, curatorial trainee

Looking back at the last three months of 2016, it’s very rewarding to see how far the Spanish Gallery project at Auckland Castle has progressed.

Since writing my last blog, the Spanish Gallery curatorial team and I have continued to develop the narrative structure that will inform the content of the gallery. Part of my role has been to research the current collection, as well as potential artworks to borrow from UK institutions. I am now in the process of creating object files, object checklists (recording data including artist, title, date and frame dimensions) and image packs on Powerpoint that will help to shape the display and interpretation of the gallery spaces.

Another part of the development of the narrative structure has been to present potential content to internal and external colleagues, including specialists in Spanish art. This work has been an excellent platform to exchange skills and knowledge, test out ideas, gain invaluable feedback and strengthen the presentation skills I gained while carrying out public talks at the National Gallery.

An exciting part of the traineeship in recent months has been the opportunity to travel to Glasgow to attend the Museums Association Conference. At this conference I went to practical workshops on lighting and interpretation, as well as talks on health and wellbeing in museums, and community engagement. I found a talk by the Geffrye Museum of the Home on establishing community advisory panels particularly helpful, as I begin to work more closely with the community outreach and education team on a programme that will involve the local community in the development of the Spanish Gallery, for example through steering groups.

Another aspect of my role is to carry out senior curatorial administrative duties while the Senior Curator is away on research trips, such as reviewing and forecasting budgets and attending meetings on design, installation costs and middle management. These broader tasks are providing me with a comprehensive curatorial skillset and experience in the rewards and challenges of managing a large-scale project.

Having worked more broadly across the development of the Spanish Gallery’s narrative, the next stage is to carry out in-depth research into a selection of themes. Under the supervision of the Senior Curator, I’ll begin to think more about key messages for these exhibits, create a list of artworks that are essential for presenting these messages, explore interpretation methods, and liaise with potential lenders. I’ll also begin to think carefully about a display strategy regarding rotations of borrowed artworks.

The aim will be to develop a five-year plan comprising both short and long-term loans that will ensure the sustainability of each display. This work will lead to an in-depth proposal for the content, display and interpretation of the themes for the Spanish Gallery curatorial team and Dr Chris Ferguson, the Curatorial, Conservation, and Exhibitions Director. I look forward to the new opportunities, challenges and learning experiences that this stage will bring.

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