Art Fund curatorial trainees begin their journeys at the National Gallery

  • 22 January 2018

Eleanor Hutchison and Kate O'Donoghue are the current Art Fund curatorial trainees at the National Gallery, working with regional partners Compton Verney and Walker Art Gallery. Here, they share news of how their traineeships are going so far.

Eleanor Hutchison with Rachel Billinge in the National Gallery conservation department Photo © the National Gallery, London

Eleanor Hutchison with Rachel Billinge in the National Gallery conservation department


Photo © the National Gallery, London

Eleanor Hutchison

Since starting at the National Gallery it has been an exciting whirlwind of activity, including fascinating visits to the Conservation department, visiting the Gallery’s stores, walks around the Framing department, and so much more.

My project at Compton Verney involves researching and rehanging the Northern European collection, as well as developing an exhibition based around the collection. So far this has involved looking at the historical context of Germany from the 15th to 17th century. I have been focusing especially on the artist Lucas Cranach the Elder, as Compton Verney has a particularly rich collection of his works. It has proved particularly timely to look in-depth at Cranach and his close proximity to the major events of the German Reformation, with the 500-year anniversary of this tumultuous time taking place at the end of October.

My first few months have also been spent visiting various galleries and museums to see other Northern European collections around the country and how they are displayed. I've attended a wide variety of talks, conferences and research forums and am currently preparing to give my first 10-minute talk at the National Gallery, speaking to members of the public about Rubens’ landscape, An Early Morning View of Het Steen.

I have just come back from my first visit to Compton Verney. It was great to see their collection in the flesh, and start to get a picture of the space I’ll be working with, not to mention taking in the beautiful ‘Capability’ Brown landscape surrounding the gallery. With so many brilliant experiences already, I'm looking forward to seeing how my project evolves and what the next few months will bring in the lead up to my move from the National Gallery to Compton Verney.

Kate O'Donoghue

Kate O'Donoghue in the National Gallery Library Photo © the National Gallery, London

Kate O'Donoghue in the National Gallery Library


Photo © the National Gallery, London

My first months as a curatorial trainee at the National Gallery have been filled with rich opportunities to develop my skills and undertake new challenges. I've been preparing for my project at the Walker Art Gallery to work on the future re-display and reinterpretation of their Baroque collection. Working with two institutions allows me to learn from a range of colleagues, and encourages me to consider my project in new ways.

So far, I have been introduced to numerous departments at the National Gallery, including Framing, Conservation, Art Handling and Scientific. Each session has given me an insight into a different aspect of work at the gallery. Framing has prompted me to consider the importance of frames and their impact on how an artwork is perceived, while Conservation has taught me about the cleaning, restoration, and physical study of objects. It was also an unusual change to examine a painting under a microscope rather than on the walls.

Visiting the lab in Scientific revealed a new side to the world of museums, one which is rarely seen but is essential to the care of the collections. Again, I am more used to seeing artist’s names, like Botticelli, on wall labels rather than petri dishes, but it was fascinating to learn about how closely these objects are studied and cared for.

I've also participated in provenance and courier training and I‘m involved in other activities, such as rehangs and public talks, which makes the National Gallery an exciting place to grow both professionally and academically.

I have also made numerous trips to a variety of museums in the UK. Among those visited in London as part of my research are the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Courtauld Gallery, Tate Britain and Dulwich Picture Gallery. Outside of London, I have had wonderful opportunities to travel to the Bowes Museum, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and the Scottish National Gallery.

Of course, I've also travelled to the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, where I witnessed one of their most famous masterpieces, Murillo’s Virgin and Child in Glory, undergoing treatment in the conservation studio. Along with its oil sketch, it has recently been the subject of a conservation project, a study which is the focus of a new display at the Walker. Following the fascinating sessions at the National Gallery, I was excited to see that the Walker places an emphasis on conservation in its engagement with the public. I am looking forward to exploring these possibilities as I move forward with this programme.

These traineeships have been made possible through the National Gallery Curatorial Traineeship Programme supported by Art Fund with the assistance of the Vivmar Foundation.

Tags: Traineeships