Decant Day, 3 May 2017: News from the offsite store

by Lottie Clark, Curator of Decorative Art

Spring has finally sprung and we’ve now set up our permanent home at ‘MASS’, our offsite store!

The last few months have seen many changes at the store. We are now housing all the art collections (including fine art, decorative art, sculpture and costume), our Designated Cottonian Collection, the ethnography collection and some of our archaeology collections, plus an array of other Museum materials and equipment. We also have a dedicated team based at the store. This means we’ve been able to welcome both researchers and volunteers back to explore our collections!

We’ve had Amanda Yale, an independent Paper Conservator commissioned by the University of Plymouth, looking at our Cottonian Collection. Amanda spent a few weeks conducting a survey of all of the books within the collection as well as the archive, which has never been catalogued or put on display. Our hope is that her work will feed into a joint project with the University, one of our History Centre partners, to digitise the entire Cottonian Collection for future research and use.

In the past couple of weeks we’ve welcomed the first of our volunteers too. Jane Howlett and Celia Bean were two of the incredible team of volunteers who assisted with the decant of the Museum and Art Gallery building last year and they’ve been itching to come back and lend us a hand. Recently they’ve been re-assessing and documenting our ceramics collection in preparation for the new displays we’ll be creating for the History Centre when it opens in 2020.

Volunteer Jane Howlett lending us a hand at MASS

Madeleine Shaw, another of our volunteers, has been working with our Collections Assistants on our works on paper programme. Through this we hope to inventory and re-house all our works on paper in improved conditions in order to preserve them for even more centuries to come.

This is no mean feat: the collection encompasses prints, watercolours, drawings, sketches and even miscellany like velum manuscripts, letters and marriage certificates. It amounts to approximately 11,000 individual works which we are looking to improve both the storage and documentation information of by 2020.

Collections Assistants Jackie and Claire making progress with the works on paper programme

Luckily, one of our newest additions to MASS has more than a helping hand in this project – and many more besides. Terah Walkup joined us as our new Fine Art Curator at the beginning of April and she’s already made an incredible impact on our work with the art collections. Originally from Texas, Terah hails from Exeter and comes to us via RAMM and the Art Institute of Chicago. She’s thrown herself headfirst into the works on paper programme, has been getting up to speed with History Centre developments, given a Bite Size talk at Peninsula Arts about their ‘Thinking Tantra’ exhibition, and more. Not bad for her first month!

As well as these ongoing projects we’ve seen items from our collections go out on tour to other venues in the South West. These include ‘Green Devon’ by Robert Polhill Bevan, now on display in the Museum of Somerset’s ‘A Fragile Beauty’ exhibition. Over 100 pieces of Plymouth Porcelain to the Cookworthy Museum, Kingsbridge for their ‘William Cookworthy: Pioneer of Porcelain’ exhibition. All these loans were coordinated from MASS and there are more in the pipeline.

'Green Devon' by Robert Polhill Bevan from the collections of Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery
‘Green Devon’ by Robert Polhill Bevan can currently be seen on display at the Museum of Somerset, Taunton

For now the work continues exploring and improving our collections here and we look forward to keeping you updated with all our discoveries in the lead up to 2020.

If you’e interested in any volunteering opportunities, either with the team here at MASS, or the wider Arts & Heritage Service, please contact our new Volunteer and Early Career Development Officer on rebecca.wikes@plymouth.gov.uk

Tracing Reynolds’ Italian inspirations part 2

By Paul Willis, Curator of Fine Art

Here are more works I have managed to identify from our Reynolds sketchbook.

The set of sketches recto 62 and recto 63 are of the Parmigianino (1503–1540) work: Cupid, 1523-4 oil on wood, 135cm x 65.3cm. The theme of this painting may be based on a concept of late antiquity in which Eros (Love), Himeros (Desire) and Pothos (Longing) were seen as an erotic triad. In the Renaissance it was redefined as heavenly and earthly love. Here Parmigianino is commenting on the possibility of ‘pain’ associated with these forms of love.

Reynolds made two sketches from this work, one of the overall image and the second focusing on the Himeros and Pothos. Later in life Reynolds owned many of Parmigianino’s drawings in his own private collection.

He later wrote, regarding one of Parmigianino’s most famous works, Moses breaking the Tablet of the Law (Madonna della Steccata in Parma), that he was at a loss which to admire most, the correctness of drawing or the grandeur of conception.

Verso 65 (PLYMG.2014.72), sketch after Carracci, 'Pieta with St. Francis and St. Mary Magdalene' © Plymouth City Council (Arts & Heritage) / courtesy of Guy Channing
Verso 65 (PLYMG.2014.72), sketch after Carracci, ‘Pieta with St. Francis and St. Mary Magdalene’ © Plymouth City Council (Arts & Heritage) / courtesy of Guy Channing

The next sketch (verso 65) is of the Annibale Carracci (1560–1609) painting: Pieta with St. Francis and St. Mary Magdalene c. 1602, oil on canvas, 277cm x 186cm.  Later in life, Reynolds upheld the attitude of Annibale and Ludovico Carracci, championing a return to nature coupled with the study of the great northern Italian painters of the Renaissance. In his first Discourse, (delivered on 2nd January 1769), he stressed the importance of drawing from the model in the training of young artists. Students should be encouraged to ‘draw exactly from the living models which they have before them’. To illustrate his argument he cited the examples of Raphael and Annibale Carracci whose ‘exactness’ he described as ‘so contrary to the practice of the Academies’. There is uncertainty as to where Reynolds might have viewed this work, however if we wish to see this work today, it is currently held at the Musée du Louvre, Paris, France.

Verso 66 (PLYMG.2014.72), sketch after Domenichino, 'The Assumption of the Virgin' © Plymouth City Council (Arts & Heritage) / courtesy of Guy Channing
Verso 66 (PLYMG.2014.72), sketch after Domenichino, ‘The Assumption of the Virgin’ © Plymouth City Council (Arts & Heritage) / courtesy of Guy Channing

The next sketch (verso 66) is of the Domenichino’s (1581 –1641) gilded wooden ceiling of the nave with The Assumption of the Virgin in Santa Maria in Trastevere, one of the oldest Churches in Rome. Reynolds shows his interest in balance and unity of the composition and it’s areas of light and shade. When we look at Reynolds’s sketches we must remember how exciting it must have been for him. Although he had numerous Old Master drawing and prints whilst apprenticed to Hudson, he would never had seen the full colour and majesty of these works before.

Verso 76 (PLYMG.2014.72), sketch after del Sarto, 'Madonna and Child with St Elisabeth, the Infant St John, and Two Angels' © Plymouth City Council (Arts & Heritage) / courtesy of Guy Channing
Verso 76 (PLYMG.2014.72), sketch after del Sarto, ‘Madonna and Child with St Elisabeth, the Infant St John, and Two Angels’ © Plymouth City Council (Arts & Heritage) / courtesy of Guy Channing

The next sketch (verso 76) is of the Andrea del Sarto (1486–1530) painting: Madonna and Child with St Elisabeth, the Infant St John, and Two Angels, 1516, oil on wood, 141cm x 106cm. In this work, Reynolds has focused primarily on Mary, Mother of Christ and the Christ Child. There are possible reasons why St Elisabeth and the angels are not included in his sketch, and that the Infant St John the Baptist is not copied in the same pose as the original. Perhaps the sketch derives from another, but at present untraced version of this work, or Reynolds has deliberately left out those items that he was not interested in recording. Reynold’s aversion to servile copies of celebrated paintings is well known and often repeated in his Discourses.

Let those choice parts only be selected which have recommended the work to notice. If its excellence consists in its general effect, it would be proper to make slight sketches of the machinery and general management of the picture … (Discourse 2, 1769)

Conclusion
The Plymouth City Museum & Art Gallery sketchbook provides a fascinating window in Reynolds’s life and his artistic development in Italy. It provides a visual record of Reynolds’ artistic eye, his thought processes and his personal interests. It is a rare private and personal insight into an artist whose life and work was to change the face of British painting in the following years to come.

Reynolds sketchbook bibliography 2014

The article is based on an Art Bite talk given at the Plymouth City Museum & Art Gallery on Wednesday 3 September 2014

Tracing Reynolds’ Italian inspirations

By Paul Willis, Curator of Fine Art

I would like to share a few of the works I have managed to identify from our Reynolds sketchbook.

Recto 10 (PLYMG.2014.72), sketch after Giovanni Lanfranco 'Liberation of St Peter' © Plymouth City Council (Arts and Heritage) / courtesy of Guy Channing
Recto 10 (PLYMG.2014.72), sketch after Giovanni Lanfranco ‘Liberation of St Peter’ © Plymouth City Council (Arts and Heritage) / courtesy of Guy Channing

The first sketch (recto 10) is of the Giovanni Lanfranco (1582 – 1647) painting: The Liberation of Saint Peter, c. 1620-1, oil on canvas, 154cm x 122.1cm. In this unfinished painting (see the number of arms the angel has), an angel has just arrived in a blaze of light, to free St Peter from prison. The angel’s left hand touches Peter’s shoulder, which gives the image a feeling of immediacy. However, for Reynolds it’s the angel’s grand gesture and dynamic pose that attracted his attention. Reynolds viewed this work at the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, Rome, situated between the Via del Corso and Via della Gatta.

Recto 22 (PLYMG.2014.72), sketch after Il Guercino 'Return of the Prodigal Son' © Plymouth City Council (Arts and Heritage) / courtesy of Guy Channing
Recto 22 (PLYMG.2014.72), sketch after Il Guercino ‘Return of the Prodigal Son’ © Plymouth City Council (Arts and Heritage) / courtesy of Guy Channing

The next sketch (recto 22) is of the Il Guercino (1591-1666) painting: The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1654-55, oil on canvas, 155.6cm x 146.1cm. The Parable of the Prodigal Son is one of the most frequently represented in Western art for teaching repentance and forgiveness. Like other late works by this Il Guercino, this work is characterised by its clarity and simplicity, and I assume this is exactly what would have attracted Reynolds attention to it. You can see how he sketched the composition and highlighted the tonal highlights of the work. I believe it is these ‘dramatic moments’ that Reynolds liked and sought out while in Italy. Reynolds viewed this work at the Palazzo Colonna in central Rome, which is located at the base of the Quirinal Hill, and adjacent to the church of Santi Apostoli. However, if we wish to view this work today, it is in the Timken Museum of Art, San Diego, USA.

Recto 46 (PLYMG.2014.72), sketch after Solario 'Madonna with the Green Cushion' © Plymouth City Council (Arts and Heritage) / courtesy of Guy Channing
Recto 46 (PLYMG.2014.72), sketch after Solario ‘Madonna with the Green Cushion’ © Plymouth City Council (Arts and Heritage) / courtesy of Guy Channing

The next sketch (recto 46) is of the Andrea Solario (c. 1465 – 1524) painting: Madonna with the Green Cushion, oil on poplar, 59cm x 47cm. Madonna with the Green Cushion, a devotional image of the Virgin nursing the Christ Child, has been so called since the 17th century due to the motif of the green cushion placed on a marble plinth in the foreground. The relationship established between the two figures, the dialogue of their respective gazes, the complicity of their postures all display a tenderness that Reynolds obviously found attractive and would replicate in his later work Mrs Susanna Hoare and Child, 1763–1764, Oil on canvas, in The Wallace Collection. It is interesting to note that Reynolds thought this work was by Leonard da Vinci, when in fact it was the work of Solario, who was one of his pupils.

Verso 47 (PLYMG.2014.72), sketch after Rosa, 'The Temptation of St. Anthony' © Plymouth City Council (Arts and Heritage) / courtesy of Guy Channing
Verso 47 (PLYMG.2014.72), sketch after Rosa, ‘The Temptation of St. Anthony’ © Plymouth City Council (Arts and Heritage) / courtesy of Guy Channing

The next sketch (verso 47) is of the Salvator Rosa (1615-1673) painting: The Temptation of St. Anthony, oil on canvas 125cm x 93cm Palazzo Pitti, Florence, Italy. The Temptation of St. Anthony is an often-repeated subject in history of art. It concerns the supernatural temptations faced by Saint Anthony during his journey in the Egyptian desert. Reynolds finely sketches the prone figure of Saint Anthony but his main focus is on his temptation – the female, dragon monster – which Rosa has depicted in such frightening and horrifying detail. The work, which obviously inspired the surrealist painter, Salvador Dali.

Recto 59 (PLYMG.2014.72), sketch after Barocci, 'Portrait of Francesco Maria della Rovere' © Plymouth City Council (Arts and Heritage) / courtesy of Guy Channing
Recto 59 (PLYMG.2014.72), sketch after Barocci, ‘Portrait of Francesco Maria della Rovere’ © Plymouth City Council (Arts and Heritage) / courtesy of Guy Channing

And the final sketch (recto 59) is of the Federico Barocci, (1535-1612) painting: Portrait of Francesco Maria della Rovere, 1572 Oil on canvas, 113cm x 93cm. The Duke of Urbino, Francesco Maria della Rovere, who was an ardent supporter of Barocci. Barocci’s Portrait shows his patron wearing armour, in the role of a military victor. The rich variety of textures and colours creates an image of wealth and power, and this is exactly what would have attracted Reynolds attention.

Keep an eye out for the next installment to see more identified works…

Reynolds sketchbook bibliography 2014

The article is based on an Art Bite talk given at the Plymouth City Museum & Art Gallery on Wednesday 3 September 2014