Displays Archive

More Than Meets The Eye

Our Illuminating Objects project for 2017 is now underway. In a series of blog posts postgraduate intern Natasha Gertler will share her discoveries as she chooses and researches the next Illuminating Object.

With an academic background in physics and an unwavering curiosity for crystals since, well, forever, it was only natural for me to choose the intricate frame bearing the double sided Aertsen painting for my ‘Illuminating Objects’ internship. Acquired by Count Seilern in 1969 from Alessandro Orso in Milan, the frame is beautifully inlaid in pietra dura with a multitude of semi-precious stones.

Or so we thought…

Upon initial inspection (which, by the way, was true love at first sight) and discussion with Sacha, Curator of Sculpture and Decorative Arts with whom I am working on this project, and Graeme, Chief Conservator, we had speculations of the material composition of the frame; that the central upper disc showing concentric red and white rings was pink agate, the two purple columns either side of the painting were amethyst and the several rich blue segments, lapis lazuli. But, as with most scientific investigations, things are not often as they seem and we needed to perform analytical experimentation to be sure.

In order to gain some insight into the constituent elements of the stones, we ventured down to the conservation laboratory of the Courtauld to use the X-ray Fluorescence (XRF) facilities, with the expert guidance of Professor Aviva Burnstock and Silvia Amato.

Having used spectroscopy many times in my undergraduate physics experiments (albeit on far less beautiful objects!) I felt quite at home and even a little nostalgic in the Courtauld’s lab. XRF works by shooting X-rays at a sample and then analysing the energies of the X-rays reflected back to the detector, which are characteristic to each individual element.

As expected, areas of red colour showed a dominance of iron (Fe) in their spectrum, and the dark blue areas exhibited the presence of Calcium (Ca) which is typical of lapis lazuli. However, many different stones as well as manmade materials also have several elements in common with each other. For example silicon (Si) is present in both agate and glass. Therefore, XRF cannot be used as a conclusive method of material identification, but rather as a further analytical tool.

Red, round element in the central upper area. Presence of silicon and iron.

Central blue segment below the painting. Presence of calcium.

Purple element, middle horizontal element below columns. Presence of silicon.

For that reason, we turned to visual analysis instead. Dr. Emma Passmore, a senior teaching fellow in Earth Sciences at Imperial College London with experience in object analysis for the British Museum, kindly came to the Courtauld’s depot to help us identify these mystery materials. She agreed with our initial theories and added that the mirroring light blue elements on the lower panel were also agate.

However, she also suggested that some of the segments might not be semi-precious stones at all, but rather synthetic imitations. These included for example the panels that look like tigers eye and the red ovals at the very bottom, as well the orange and purple coloured banners across of the top and bottom of the painting, respectively.

Professional geologists identify stones by smashing and slicing them to make slides which they can then analyse under a microscope to a very high degree of accuracy. However, in the case of historically important and valuable objects such as this unique frame, this of course is not an option and alternative, non-intrusive methods must be used instead.

Will we ever be able to know the materials present in the frame with absolute certainty? Perhaps. And so the quest for identity continues…

 

Illuminating Objects is a series of displays that shines a light on unexpected objects from The Courtauld’s decorative arts and sculpture collection.

Inscribing Prints

The Prints and Drawings Study Room is hosting a new displays that responds our Reading Drawings in The Courtauld Gallery. Print Room Assistants Imogen Tedbury and Sean Ketteringham talk us through the latest display.

Timed to coincide with the exhibition Reading Drawings, which showcases inscriptions on drawings in the Courtauld collection, this display in the Prints and Drawings Study Room looks at the function of inscriptions in prints. The Courtauld Gallery has 7,000 drawings, but it also has over 26,000 prints – so we had plenty of works to choose from!

Printed text in printed images can function very differently to handwritten text in drawings. So, we decided to leave aside the themes thoroughly examined in the drawings exhibition – attribution, the history of collecting and working practices – instead exploring why and how prints include text, and what functions word and image can serve together, across a broad range of dates and places. Playing around with the word and concept of ‘Authority’, we thought about the relative ‘authorities’ of text in an image: what happens when text moves from the frame or border to take up an active role in the image itself?

Some Early Modern printmakers represented God by representing the Word of God – his textual ‘authority’, if you like. In these prints, the physical representation of God’s Word as visual sign plays a central role within the image. In the Fall of the Tower of Babel, for example, the illegible rotation of the Latin text signifies the fragmentation of earthly language.

We were also interested in how an authority – whether political, religious or artistic – can be undermined by the use of inscription. Two eighteenth-century satirical prints chosen for the display use fragments of text to make fun of their subjects, subverting them by parodying religious language. An attack by an anonymous artist on Robert Walpole, the first prime minister of Britain, even seems a forerunner for 2017 Turner Prize nominee Anthea Hamilton’s installation of a giant bottom, Project for Door (After Gaetano Pesce), or Pauline Boty’s 1966 painting, Bum!

Printmaking’s close relationship with book-printing inspires the last group of prints – a selection of title pages and cover images from Canaletto to Wyndham Lewis considering how frontispieces reveal and conceal their textual and pictorial content. In these prints no clear boundary can be drawn between word and image, as together they combine to communicate the author’s identity.

Come and see these printed treasures, some of which have not been on display before. The Prints and Drawings Study Room is open by appointment Monday-Thursday 10am-5pm, or drop in on Wednesday afternoons during term time, 1.30-4pm, no appointment needed

Idol-Worship or The Way to Preferment, a portrait of Robert Walpole., 1740, © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

Sitting down with the Product Developer of The Bloomsbury Needlepoint Tapestry Kits

 

On Saturday 25 March, The Courtauld Shop will host an immersive experience in collaboration with The London Craft Club to mark the legacy of The Bloomsbury Group and Omega Workshops. The event will involve a guided tour of The Courtauld Gallery’s Bloomsbury Art & Design Special Display, a needlepoint workshop to further promote creativity in museums, refreshments, and a complimentary bespoke Bloomsbury Tapestry Kit (value of £20 – £25) produced in collaboration with Cleopatra’s Needle, a company founded in Scotland and that has been at the forefront of designing and manufacturing tapestry kits since 1991.

Attendees will partake in an hour-long needlepoint workshop with specialist Zuzana Lalikova to learn the craft of needlepoint and create their very own stitched four-colour badge. The bespoke tapestry kits are available in-store or online from the The Courtauld Shop.

Today, we have sat down with our Lead Product Developer of these bespoke tapestry kits to find out a little bit more about the creative process.

Q: Can you tell us a little about your decision to collaborate with Cleopatra’s Needle for the production of The Bloomsbury Group needlepoint range? Why needlepoint?

Well, ever since I worked on the range for the Beyond Bloomsbury: Designs of the Omega Workshops 1913-19 exhibition at The Courtauld Gallery, back in 2009, there was a piece of furniture there which really stood out for me. It’s a chair with a beautiful embroidered seatback by Vanessa Bell or Winifred Gill. It really inspired me to use needlepoint as a medium for a product range.

Q: Why did you choose Cleopatra’s Needle?

Cleopatra’s Needle is a long -standing wonderful Scottish company, which produce a wide variety of kits. The quality of components i.e. the canvas and wool that they use and their attention to detail really drew us to them.

Q: From your perspective, what is the relationship between The Bloomsbury Group and needlepoint?

The connection is quite an obvious one I think. Textiles and tangible materials were hugely important for the Bloomsbury Group, and they explored this in the Omega Workshops forum, where interior accessories were created; vases, rugs, ceramics, textiles, fashion garments, etc. This was very modern and forward thinking at the time and I love the idea of fusing British craft with a modern look.

Q: What is the foremost reason an art lover would purchase a Bloomsbury needlepoint kit? (What need are you satisfying?)

We are presenting an art lover with an authentic, well-priced gift to handcraft which has been sympathetically designed and produced. There is nothing else like it on the market – it’s got a very modern twist.

Q: What are the key milestones in product development? And which proved to be the most challenging?

In this process, there were many milestones! We did not want to create exact facsimiles of the archive but wanted to inject some creativity. We agreed the product types and mapped out the basic designs onto PDFs in paper form, along with agreed swatches of coloured wool. The next milestone was waiting for the samples to be stitched which was nail biting! But even then, some samples didn’t work, colours didn’t sit together, sizes were wrong and we’d have to resample. We got there in the end though!

Q: What did you take away from this experience?

An enormous amount. Working product development in needlepoint has been hugely rewarding and an area I hadn’t experienced before. I am very proud of the authenticity, the quality of the kits and how different they are.

Q: What are three words you would use to describe The Bloomsbury Group?

Modern, eclectic, experimental.

Q: We would love to hear more about future product ranges coming soon to The Courtauld Shop. Should we expect them to be as exciting as The Bloomsbury Group and Omega Workshop ranges?

We have recently had a revamp of the visual merchandising in the shop to make it a exciting shopping experience – we’d love some feedback from our customers.

The buying team are also looking forward to assembling wonderful ranges for the forthcoming Chaïm Soutine exhibition.  He was an incredibly expressive artist; controversial and passionate, so look for some lively and vivid products coming soon!

Culture Label are giving away two tickets to the Bloomsbury Needlepoint Workshop this Saturday, 11am. Enter HERE  Alternatively, book your tickets online.

Shop the Bloomsbury collection 

Visit The Courtauld Gallery’s  Bloomsbury Art & Design Special Display, 18 February – 24 September 2017

Bloomsbury Art & Design

Our special display Bloomsbury Art & Design opened last month. It brings together a wide-ranging selection of work by the remarkable Bloomsbury Group. We asked exhibition curator Dr Rosamund Garrett to tell us about curating the display. 

Bloomsbury Art & Design installation.

In November I was appointed the new Bridget Riley Art Foundation Curatorial Assistant at The Courtauld Gallery, a unique role that allows me to work across the entire collection. With Dr Barnaby Wright, the Daniel Katz Curator of Twentieth-Century Art, I was charged with curating our current Special Display: Bloomsbury Art & Design.

This display brings together the highlights of the Courtauld’s collection of paintings, design drawings, ceramics and furniture by the artists from the Bloomsbury Group to look at the movement that shaped early twentieth-century modernism in Britain. It was my first project after having been completely immersed in my doctoral research in a rather different field – Renaissance tapestry – so I was eager to take up the challenge.

Given my specialisation in tapestry, I was keen to display the large rug designed by Duncan Grant, with its bold colours and eye-catching geometric design. Rugs are usually displayed on the floor, but with several large pieces of furniture featuring in the display, floor space was at a premium.  To ensure the rug could be shown I asked our Head Conservator, Graeme Barraclough, if we could do things a bit differently.

Tapestries are often displayed on slant boards: a board at a slight angle that allows the tapestry to be viewed vertically whilst its weight is gently supported across the entire surface. I thought that Grant’s rug would look striking displayed vertically on one of the short walls, and would complement the series of abstract rug designs that we intended to display beside it.

We started drawing up the plans for the slant board, but, after a thorough examination by conservation, the rug was found to be too fragile to be displayed in this way. Graeme, however, is never deterred. He and our technician, Matthew Thompson, devised a new method of display that combined a slant board with a roller, allowing us to display a section of the rug vertically whilst the roller holds most of the weight. Exhibitions always rely on the expertise, creativity and skills of many individuals, not to mention their physical presence – lifting the roller with the heavy rug onto our adapted slant board was no mean feat!

We are fortunate at The Courtauld to have such an extensive collection of Bloomsbury objects, many of which were given to us directly by one of the leaders of the Group, the artist and art critic Roger Fry. Why not pop in to Bloomsbury Art & Design to see the rug on our new display method as well as other works by the group of artists whose radical and experimental art introduced bold colours and dynamic abstract designs to the domestic interiors of Edwardian Britain.

Book Now: Bloomsbury Art & Design
Until 24 September 2017

A Kiss for Valentine’s Day

KISS (1961), Bridget Riley

Just in time for this year’s Valentine’s Day, The Courtauld Gallery will be displaying Bridget Riley’s famous KISS (1961), on loan from a private collection. Auspiciously coming to Room 14 on 14 February, the aptly Valentine’s themed named work will be available for the public to view at their leisure.

Bridget Riley is considered one of the leading abstract artists of her age, finding success from the 1960s onward, and creating works which have always been varied and ground-breaking. Often finding inspiration from daydreams and from setting her own criteria of what she wants from art, her works inspire and encourage artistic engagement.

After a series of emotional events in her romantic life, she began to paint in black and white, helping her to communicate messages as to exactly how she felt. This technique of using black and white brought her artistic success and recognition. One of these works was KISS and can be seen as her first definitive painting in black and white. Riley has detailed how her preceding black painting had failed, and thinking about why it had not worked led her to the realisation that there was no opposition with this completely black painting. By adding a flash of white, in such a way that suggests closeness and makes the black components look like they are almost touching, the title of KISS was born.

Don’t miss seeing this spectacular work at The Courtauld Gallery while it’s here, a perfect Valentine’s treat for those looking for a kiss.

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