Museum On Tour, 7 June 2017: New exhibitions and events

by Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer

Summer was always a fun time at the Museum and Art Gallery before we closed. We would make sure we had exhibitions on display that were of interest to local residents and tourists. Our holiday workshop programme brought many families into the building and gave children lots of opportunities to be creative.

Thankfully as a result of our ‘Museum On Tour’ programme it’s business as usual this year, even though we’re having to use a range of offsite locations instead.

Image copyright John Cook 2017. www.ourberylcook.comOne of the major elements of this is the exhibition of work by much-loved artist Beryl Cook that we’re staging at the Council House from 24 June to 9 September. Cook lived in Plymouth for many years and we have three works by her in our permanent collections.

What’s so special about this exhibition is that we have co-curated it with Beryl’s family. They were the most important thing in her life. As well as providing us with access to some of her earliest and quirkiest works, working in collaboration with them has given us a range of personal insights into her and the people she loved the most.

The exhibition will be divided up into a series of different themes including fame, family and friends and fantasy. There will be a special range of merchandise available to purchase – a new experiment for us at the Council House.

The exhibition has also given us lots of inspiration for events and we’ll have a host of talks, tours and family activities on offer. You can find out more about all of these from the what’s on section of our website. It’s great to have an exhibition that we can generate so many ideas from.

Image copyright John Cook 2017. www.ourberylcook.com
Image © John Cook 2017. www.ourberylcook.com

This work shown above is one of the paintings that will feature in the exhibition. Many people local to Plymouth will recognise the location as the famous Elvira’s cafe in Stonehouse! A man sits at one table drinking a large mug of tea while a dog watches its owner eating a sausage sandwich at another. The woman behind the counter who is serving a customer with a piece of cake is Teresa, Beryl’s daughter-in-law. Teresa will join our exhibition curator Hilary Bracegirdle for a lunchtime talk next month during which she will share her memories and stories.


Another exciting development for us over the summer are our ‘Out and About’ events. Staff and volunteers will be taking a series of themed activities to local community festivals across the city and beyond over the next few months. We began with a successful event at the Freedom Community Festival last weekend and will also be at:

  • Contemporary Craft Festival, Bovey Tracey: 9-11 June
  • Armed Forces Day, Plymouth Hoe: 24 June
  • St Levan Fair, Plymouth: 15 July
  • Love Parks Week, Whitleigh Hub, Plymouth: 20 July
  • Plymouth Play Day: 2 August – a venue for this will be confirmed soon
  • Devonport Park Festival, Plymouth: 20 August

If you’re planning to attend any of these events make sure you come and say hello to us on our stand. Here are some images from the Freedom Community Festival to close today’s post. People made banners and badges highlighting the things that are important to them. Thanks very much to everyone who came along and got stuck in!

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The early times of Reynolds at Plymouth Dock

By Celia Bean, project volunteer

Before he was 20 Joshua Reynolds had declared that if he did not prove himself to be the best painter of the age by the time he reached 30 he never would.  So we can assume that when he returned to Plympton St Maurice in 1743 after prematurely finishing his apprenticeship with Thomas Hudson in London he would have had this ambition in mind.  His decision to work in the up and coming area of Plymouth Dock (later Devonport) was the first step in this plan.

My involvement with the research for PCMAG’s planned exhibition is to research Reynold’s time at Plymouth Dock between 1743 and 1749, so I am looking at what the area was like at that time, who Joshua painted whilst he was there and the influences that he had.

On 3 January 1744, Joshua’s father, Samuel, wrote to his friend Charles Cutcliffe who had been instrumental in arranging Joshua’s apprenticeship to Thomas Hudson, saying that his son had started painting in Plymouth Dock and had painted 20 portraits, including that of ‘the greatest man in the place, the commissioner of the dockyard’ and that he had 10 more commissions lined up.  The commissioner at that time was Philip Vanbrugh, younger brother of Sir John Vanbrugh (d 1726) who designed Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard.

The Town Clerk of Plymouth Walter Kendall, an important member of local society not only wanted his portrait painted, but also that of his wife and five of his family.  The Kendall’s family home was at Pelyn, Cornwall where they would have mixed with the local gentry and they were in a position to spread the word about the young painter.

Later that year Joshua returned to London as he and Thomas Hudson had patched up their quarrel and were on good terms.  Joshua’s father wrote that ‘Joshua by his master’s means is introduced into a club composed of the most famous men in their profession’.  This club met at Old Slaughter’s Coffee House in St Martin’s Lane and the clientele comprised mainly artists and connoisseurs who had an interest in old-master prints and drawings. An ideal place for an ambitious young painter not only to learn from the company of like-minded people, but also to do some valuable networking.

Reynolds returned home around the time of his father’s death on Christmas day 1745.  His mother Theophila moved to Torrington, where she lived with her eldest daughter, Mary, until her own death and Reynolds and his two unmarried sisters, Fanny and Elizabeth took a house in Fore Street, Plymouth Dock. The sisters opened a millinery shop on the ground floor and Joshua had a studio on the floor above.

Around this time Reynolds painted portraits of his sister Frances (known as Fanny) Reynolds and a posthumous portrait of his father Rev Samuel Reynolds, as well as his own self-portrait (recently acquired by PCMAG).  Perhaps he displayed these in the shop window to advertise his skill.

Plymouth Dock was the site of the most modern and technologically advanced Naval port in Europe and a new modern town grew up around it.  It was an area of well-planned streets that were wide and imposing and paved with what appeared to be marble. It was probably limestone from the local quarries, which with its veined appearance would shine like marble when wet or worn. This town was still very small when Reynolds and his sisters arrived, consisting of about seven streets concentrated around the dockyard entrance.  The main one was Fore Street where Joshua and his sisters had settled and it was along this street that all those having business in the dockyard, be they naval or civilian, had to pass.  An astute location for an ambitious young man, as this was an area on the up and a useful place for Joshua to do some networking amongst the naval officers, who at that time were either aristocrats or gentry – the very people who would consider having their portrait painted.

He was fortunate that through his father Samuel he was acquainted with some of the local aristocracy such as the Parkers of Borringdon (later of Saltram) and the Edgcumbe family of Mount Edgcumbe and it is perhaps in these residences that he was able to examine paintings of merit.  He was particularly taken with the works of a Devon artist William Gandy of Exeter (d 1729) and in his early works Reynolds copied some of Gandy’s method, especially in regard to painting the head.  Reynolds also took note of Gandy’s observation that “a picture ought to have a richness in its texture, as if the colours had been composed of cream or cheese, and the reverse to a hard and husky or dry manner.”

Although he continued to travel to London, his principal patrons at that time were from the West Country, not only The Parkers and the Edgcumbes, but notably Richard Eliot, MP for St Germans and Liskeard.

With the contacts and commissions he was starting to get whilst living in Plymouth Dock, Reynolds was beginning to hone his skills towards becoming the best painter of the age.


Bibliography

Leslie, C.R. and Taylor, Tom, Life and Times of Sir Joshua Reynolds, 2 vols., London, 1865

Northcote, James. The Life of Sir Joshua Reynolds, 2 vols., London, 1818

Cotton, William. Sir Joshua Reynolds and his Works, Gleanings from his diary, unpublished manuscripts, and from other sources  (ed. J. Burnet), London 1856

Robinson, Chris, A History of Devonport, Plymouth, 2010

Reflecting on Cornish life – Portrait of Jack Clemo by Lionel Miskin

The following has been written by Rachel Wright, volunteer on the ‘In the Frame’ project who has researched Portrait of Jack Clemo by Lionel Miskin.

As just one of a series of portraits of Jack Clemo in a variety of mediums, this oil painting represents the marriage of two cornerstones of Cornish cultural history.  Following his attendance at London’s St. Martins School of Art, Lionel Miskin made Cornwall his permanent residence. Miskin and his family first moved to Mevagissey, and then on to Falmouth in the 1960s. Here he became head of Falmouth School of Art’s Art History and Complimentary Studies department. This appointment demonstrates his high esteem in the Cornish artistic community. Miskin’s style was at times avant-garde and represented an interesting departure from the contemporary regional scene.

Portrait of Jack Clemo by Lionel Miskin (PLYMG.ZO.2004.CH.3). Image Plymouth City Council (Arts & Heritage) © Artist's estate
Portrait of Jack Clemo by Lionel Miskin (PLYMG.ZO.2004.CH.3). Image Plymouth City Council (Arts & Heritage) © Artist’s estate

 

Depicted here, poised at a writing desk, Jack Clemo was crucial in shaping Anglo-Cornish literature of the present day. Unlike previous authors, Clemo constructed a vision of Cornwall familiar to most of the Cornish community. Clemo’s work concentrated largely on the industrial landscape of Cornwall as opposed to the coast where many local residents could not afford to live. Clemo’s literary career is believed to have begun in 1948 with the publication of his first novel Wilding Graft, despite his active role in the Cornish literary scene for several years prior.  He was a regular contributor to the Cornish Review, a magazine first published in 1949 which ran until 1952, and offered the very best of Cornish writing on all aspects of the arts.  This acted as an early and important outlet for his talent and provided a snapshot of creative activity in Cornwall.  In 1970, Clemo was awarded the Cornish Gorseth bardship, despite his general distrust of Cornish Revivalist culture. His writing principally focussed on working-class culture and provided an introspective reflection on the harshness of life in post-industrial Cornwall. This was greatly informed by personal experience.

This portrait of Clemo demonstrates an interesting blend of past and contemporary artistic traditions.  Although the style of the painting is not typical of post-war works, the subject matter is in keeping with artistic attempts to represent social and economic adversity through social realism.

Through the window behind the sitter, Miskin has illustrated the mining industry and china clay mines typical of industrial Cornwall and a central theme in Clemo’s own literary works. The contrast in colours between the dark and cruel mining world compared to the warmer shades inside the house could be demonstrative of the poet’s attitude to the harsh realities of the collapsing mining industry in comparison to the working class home created by his mother, Eveline Clemo (featured in another of Miskin’s portraits The Poet’s Mother’). This is further exemplified by the collection of homely objects on the desk and the mismatched fabrics of the make-do attitude of the Cornish working classes and a single mother struggling on the poverty line.

The subject himself is facing away from the artist and seems almost unaware and disinterested in his surroundings. This could be a response to Clemo’s alienation from the industrial workforce and working class community due to his poor health, which had inhibited him his entire life. Clemo attended Trethosa Village School but was largely self-educated due to his deteriorating condition. Throughout childhood he suffered from intermittent blindness before permanently losing his sight aged 39. As a young adult this was coupled with permanent deafness. This meant that although Clemo’s upbringing was considered to be stereotypically Cornish and would greatly influence his writing, he was largely excluded from the pursuits of the rest of the community.

In the Frame conservation work

By Alison Cooper, Curator of Decorative Art

As we draw closer to the opening of the ‘In the Frame’ exhibition and as the final selection of works for the show has been made, we are now looking at the conservation work required for the exhibition. Each work has undergone a brief assessment so that we know which are fine to be displayed as they are, which works need some treatment and which items need more specialist treatment.

As the aim of this exhibition is to display a number of works not often seen – some of which have not been on display for many years – there is quite a lot of preparation work to be done to get them ready in time.

Our conservator Neil and a volunteer clean one of our works
Our conservator Neil and a volunteer clean one of our works

Some of the Portrait Volunteers who have been researching the paintings have come in to help us prepare. The main tasks are to clean the glazing and the frames. The frames are carefully brushed to remove surface dust before they are enzyme cleaned to get rid of the more ingrained dirt.

One of our volunteers cleaning the frame 'Madam B'
One of our volunteers cleaning the frame of ‘Madam B’

With the guidance of our Senior Conservator, our volunteers have been working on the frames of a Self Portrait by Plymouth artist James Northcote (1746-1831) and Madam B by Devon artist Francis Hodge (1883-1949).

We’ll be continuing to clean and prepare works ahead of the exhibition opening in December.

Moving forward

By Jo Clarke, Marketing and Programme Development Officer

Hi there – it’s been another busy week on the ‘Artists Make Faces’ project here at the City Museum and Art Gallery.

Some of my colleagues have been working with Monika Kinley, the curator for ‘Artists Make Faces’, to finalise the layout of the show. They’ve also been sorting out image permissions and audio resources.

Meanwhile, I’ve been working with our graphic designer, Nathan Gale, to firm up the visual identity for the exhibition. He’s done a great job. We’ve just sent lamppost and building banners off into production. Posters and adverts are next on the list!

I’m also finalising a website for the show. As always, we’re getting great support from the web team at Plymouth City Council on this. I’ve also been working with a local writer called Simon Bayliss who’s produced a series of biographies for us about each of the artists featured in the exhibition. The work he’s so speedily done will make great content for the website and will also be available to visitors as part of the interpretion for the show. Thanks Simon!

Finally, I’ve been doing lots of stuff on the social networks too. A big thank you to everyone who has retweeted about the exhibition so far and is helping us to spread the word.

I’ll be back next week with another update. Take care until then,
Jo

Image

A detail from the lead image for ‘Artists Make Faces’:
‘Napoleon and his Daughters’, 1975 by Sava Sekulic © Whitworth Art Gallery

The start of a busy campaign

By Jo Clarke, Marketing and Programme Development Officer

Hi there – I’m Jo, the Marketing and Programme Development Officer for Plymouth City Council’s Arts and Heritage service. My role includes promotional activities and event coordination for the City Museum and Art Gallery, Smeaton’s Tower, the Elizabethan House and the Merchant’s House.

We’ve got a really significant art exhibition coming up in the Autumn called ‘Artists Make Faces’. There are more than 50 works of art coming to Plymouth from national loan institutions such as tate, National Galleries of Scotland and the Whitworth Art Gallery. A show like this needs a huge amount of time and resource from the staff here at the Museum and Art Gallery and we’ve got a lot of work to do between now and 21 September when it opens to the public!

I’ve just finished producing an exhibition of my own (‘Nancy: The Life and Times of Lady Astor’ – on display until 12 October). Now this has opened, my main priority is the marketing and events campaign for ‘Artists Make Faces’. We have a plan in place and we’re adding to it all the time.

The things I’ve managed to achieve over the last few days include: selecting a lead image for the show, briefing a graphic designer to come up with a visual identity, firming up a number of our related events, sourcing quotes for PR and AA signage, drafting a letter about the exhibition to be sent to stakeholders, setting up a web page, drawing up a navigation plan for a dedicated micro-site and starting this blog!

The exhibition will be delivered with Peninsula Arts, Plymouth University. We’ve worked with them on Sir Joshua Reynolds and Scott of the Antarctic projects in the past as well as British Art Show 7. It’s going to be really good to work with them again.

The show is being curated by Monika Kinley OBE.

I’ll try and post regularly on here as things develop with the exhibition and hope you’ll find this insight into how a show comes together interesting.

Until the next time. Best wishes,
Jo