A Closer Look: Discovering the story of William Hogarth’s Before and After by Zoe Dostal

During the Print Room Open House ‘Storylines’, from 25-29 January, postgraduate Print Room Assistants are presenting artworks that explore the variety of methods artists use to tell a story. When preparing my own presentation for William Hogarth’s engravings Before and After, I additionally wanted to consider the ‘story’ of the physical object itself. Kate Edmondson, Conservator of Works on Paper for the Courtauld Gallery, guided my exploration of the objects’ histories from the fabrication of the paper to the application of the ink, through the hands of collectors and conservators to storage and display at The Courtauld.

Hogarth Before

William Hogarth (1697 – 1764), Before (1736), etching and engraving

Hogarth After

William Hogarth (1697 – 1764), After (1736), etching and engraving

Before and After are generally in very good condition, yet small irregularities or imperfections provide clues to the making of the prints. ‘Raking light’ is one of the conservator’s simplest and most useful tools. Simply shining light across the paper at a low angle reveals the texture of the paper and medium, details that are generally imperceptible to the naked eye. Examining Before in raking light reveals a raised vertical line extending from the top edge of the paper towards the center of the image. My first instinct was to assume that this was a tear or accidental fold. But Kate determined that because the ink is neither interrupted nor distorted, as it would be by a tear or fold, this mark is actually a natural crease resulting from the paper making process.

Vertical crease

Detail of vertical crease in normal reflected light

Vertical crease 2

Detail of raised vertical crease in normal raking light

A more noticeable blemish on Before is located just above the dog’s head, on the skirt of the female figure. This small, round, bare patch at first appears to be the result of damage. However, examining the mark under the stereomicroscope, Kate deduced that this imperfection occurred during the printing process. The outline of ink that delineates the bare spot tells the story of how the raised surface of an accretion, or an unknown foreign body, disrupted the application of the inked design and caused the ink to pool. (Imagine rainwater pooling around the bottom of a hill, creating a ring of water around the base.) It was likely that the accretion was sitting on the surface of the paper as it was pressed to the printing plate. Today the accretion is no longer there, leaving the small, un-inked circular patch.

Skirt

Close up detail of missing media lower centre of skirt

Furthermore, raking light reveals that After was previously folded in half across the middle. Kate explained that such a strong fold such as this is difficult to completely remove because paper retains an irrevocable ‘memory’ of such deformations. But one way to try and reduce its visual distraction is to apply a repair on the verso along the fold to “ease” out the noticeable ridge. In this case a Japanese paper (a strong, lightweight, translucent paper) was applied with conservation grade adhesive across the whole of the verso. The Japanese paper lining tells the most recent story of the prints, when they became part of The Courtauld’s collection and were prepared for display. The conservation efforts minimize the visibility of the imperfections of the print for the viewer, but are also completely reversible, allowing for the story of the object to continue evolving in the future.

After in normal

After in normal reflected light

After in raking

After in raking light revealing horizontal fold across the middle

To discover these stories and more of Hogarth’s Before and After, all are welcome to stop by the Print Room Open House on Wednesday 27 January from 1:30-5pm.

Print openings

Final Chapter

 

Well, my experience at The Courtauld has been fantastic — but it’s flown by so fast!  Before I do anything else, I want to thank Dr. Alexandra Gerstein for her support and mentorship through these past few months.  The Courtauld Gallery staff in general are an amazing group of people to work for, and it’s been an absolute privilege to have had this opportunity to contribute in my own small way to the work of the museum.

My object a book shaped pendant with painted-glass panels depicting religious scenes – was installed in the gallery this morning, and it looks great!  It was amazing to see everything come together so well at the end, including the beautiful labels and plinth, which I hadn’t really been able to picture until today. We were a little concerned about how such a tiny pendant would look in a large case, but I think we made very good use of the space by printing out high-resolution images of the glass panels and putting them on the plinth.  This helps the viewers see the object better and made the space feel warmer.

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When I chose this object way back in July, I definitely did not anticipate all the challenges it would bring. It’s an object that doesn’t yield easy answers, that’s a little mysterious—but this is something we theologians love!  Even now, after five months of researching, consulting experts, and reflecting on the pendant, it still keeps its secrets.

Just a final comment on the research process — one of the highlights of my experience has been speaking with and learning from experts in the fields of art history and curatorial research.  Toward the beginning of my research, I had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Ayla Lepine, Lecturer in Art History at the University of Essex and an expert in Victorian aesthetics, who actually helped me select my object.  I was also very pleased to meet with Kirstin Kennedy, a curator of metalwork at the Victoria and Albert Museum, on several occasions; her insight on the object helped me probe much more deeply into the questions the object raises.  Finally, I was “serendipitously” (thank you, Google) able to track down a doctoral researcher from the University of Giessen in Germany who is currently studying book-shaped pendants from the Renaissance.  This was an amazing coincidence, and Romina was kind enough to fly to London and share her expertise with us.  Meeting these generous scholars has been a delight, and one of the experiences I will treasure from my internship is having been in a truly collaborative educational environment.  In my experience, university academia can sometimes feel resistant to this kind of collaboration, and it was refreshing to be involved in a project in which various perspectives were so vividly able to cross-fertilize and enrich my own study.

The Courtauld's Annual Book Sale.

On the 5 October The Courtauld will host its annual Book Sale.  With books stacked in every possible space, ready for all to buy,  we sent two of our finest roving reporters to meet our dedicated team of volunteers in the midst of preparing for what is widely to be known as ‘Christmas for literary lovers’.

A few days before the start of The Courtauld annual Book Sale, the view inside Seminar Room 4 was strikingly different from its usual serenity.  The classroom was overflowing with mounds of books, stacks of austere looking boxes, and layers of sticky notes with illegible scribbling.  What appeared to be the chaotic aftermath of an academic maelstrom was in fact the deliberate and delicate work of this story’s three heroes—Eva, Vivian, and Mike.  These three volunteers have been in the trenches of Seminar Room 4: unloading boxes, sorting books, and pricing them.  Mike remarks that it’s not just his altruistic spirit that keeps him coming back, but rather the first place in the sale’s queue his work earns him.  Regardless of motive, their work is completely indispensable.  These individuals have been instrumental in the continuation of this Courtauld tradition since its origin with Jane Ferguson.  An alumna herself (MA ’75), Ferguson is also responsible for the founding of The Courtauld’s Student Newspaper.

Book sale prepartationBook Sale unloadingBook Sale

The sale originated from a small collection of books that had been donated over the years—about ten boxes.  When deciding how the books should be used it was realised that the books could be sold, and the funds used to help students.  Now an annual affair, The Courtauld receives about 4000 books for each event. Today the money earned by this sale goes into a travel fund, allowing equal access to various travel opportunities for students at the Institute.  Last year the sale alone raised around £18,000.

Alumni provide some of the most substantial contributions to the sale, showing their lasting commitment to The Courtauld’s culture of self-sustainability and cross-generational intellectual exchange. Additional donations are accepted from various public and private libraries, publishers, and individual collectors, as well as from The Courtauld’s library.

Secret insider advice from the book sale veterans:

“The first day is extremely busy. Get there fast. Get there early.”

Written by Farhad Manouchehri (MA, 2015) and Tate Waddell

Click here for more information about the Book Sale

#CourtauldBooks

Greetings from the new Illuminating Objects Intern

 

Find out about our new Gallery Illuminating Objects Intern, Devon Abts

Still

Hello and welcome to my first blog as part of the Illuminating Objects I’m a PhD student in theology and the arts at King’s College, London. My doctoral project is an interdisciplinary study of theology and literature centered on the poetry of the nineteenth century Jesuit priest, Gerard Manley Hopkins. I am also interested in the intersection of visual art and theology, and by the way that the arts in general open up theological dialogue in and beyond academia.

Since my research centers on these interdisciplinary subjects, I was thrilled to learn about The Courtauld’s as the Illuminating Objects Internship back in May. The opportunity to apply my interest in theology and the arts in a broad educational context was genuinely exciting. And working at The Courtauld is not an opportunity to be missed! I have always been struck by how The Courtauld offers a unique first-class collection and excellent educational programs, while still maintaining an intimate feeling in its galleries. It’s the kind of museum where visitors are invited, not just to look, but to really appreciate the works displayed. I think this kind of intimacy is one of the things that attracted me to the internship, because I love the idea of working closely with a single object for an extended period.

In addition to learning about my object, I’m looking forward to gaining insight into a new kind of research. I’ve never worked in an art museum, and I’m excited to find out how curators learn about artifacts and communicate their findings. It’s a great opportunity for me to broaden my studies of the visual arts. I’m also looking forward to selecting my object. I’ve been behind the scenes to the Museum Stores once already, and there’s a lot of very interesting sacred art from the Victorian collector Thomas Gambier Parry, which instantly sparks my imagination in terms of the nineteenth century religious imagination.

Looking ahead, I’ll be pitching my proposal to Dr. Sacha Gerstein next week, and then starting research on my object straight away. I’ll be going to the V&A to set up a library account, and I’m looking forward to using their resources as part of my research. The installation date for my object is this October, so there’s a lot to do between now and then!

In the meantime, I hope you’ll keep up with the project by checking back here to the blog, where I’ll be posting about my research as I go along.

Filming with Alastair Sooke at The Courtauld – behind the scenes

You may well have heard in the papers in March that a certain Hollywood film star was filming his new movie around Somerset House, which involved landing a helicopter in the Courtyard!

What you might not have heard about is that other less dramatic but no less exciting filming was happening in The Courtauld at the same time.

This year we decided to make a film to promote the Annual Fund and we were delighted that Courtauld alumnus and Art Critic Alastair Sooke was able to play a starring role.

Filming took place over two days in March, and involved extensive filming in the Gallery, the lecture theatre, the Prints and Drawings room and the libraries.

Filming 3

We were also able to drop in on students on our MA Curating the Art Museum course, who were busy preparing for their summer exhibition in the Gallery.

The shoot ended with filming at our lovely Scholarship Reception, where donors mingled with the scholars who have benefited from their generous support.

Our thanks go out to Alastair for giving his time so generously and allowing us to follow him round the Gallery for several hours, and to all those students and staff who made the film possible.

The 2015 Annual Fund campaign has now begun and we need your help! The Courtauld is a charity and the money raised for the Annual Fund supports The Courtauld’s core day to day work. Last year we raised a fantastic £107,942 but this year we are aiming to beat this total. With your help, we can and will achieve so much more.

Watch the film and donate to the Annual Fund