Visiting the museum archives

Durer etching

This morning I was at the local art gallery and museum with an art group I belong to.

One of the members had organised for us to be taken down to the basement and be given a tour of some of the 800 oil paintings and 3,500 watercolours, plus hundreds of prints, miniatures, 3D works and more, that they store there.

Simon Lake, curator and conservator gave us a fantastic tour.

A highlight for me was a lovely polished wooden sketching box with a palette in the lid and bottles of powdered pigments and oil to mix them with. It belonged to Sir George Beaumont and was from the mid 1800's - before tubes were available. Paints were freshly mixed and stored in a pigs bladder. We saw his paintings (interesting but not having a wow factor for me) and the box that he'd used :>) There were still dry pigments and oils in the containers and some more in papers sealed with wax. I love the 'real' and human elements like this. It was absolutely delightful.

(I loved the Marmottan museum in Paris with Monet's palette on display, alongside begging letters to friends when he desperately needed money - not to mention the fabulous huge waterlilies and willows paintings in the basement).

He also handed round some 18C miniature portraits and an 'eye miniature' (which I'd never heard of) - that was particularly fascinating. It was of Maria Fitzherberts eye, misstress of the Prince Regent in Georgian times. He was buried with a miniature of her. These eye miniatures were apparently commonly of forbidden loves - they couldn't be identified simply from an eye!

He gave us a fascinating insight into the extensive collection of German Expressionist work and how our museum came to have so much - from German collectors who came to Leicester escaping the Nazis in the 1940's.

British museums, he told us, are bringing out books on their collections and our local one will be published later this year. What is needed is to catalogue everything online and have it available in the museum (like the National Gallery), especially works on paper that are rarely displayed.

Upstairs in the gallery I looked at an exhibition of Durer's etchings, including the one above, this incredible rhinoceros. These were amazing and so old - German Renaissance - they were in pretty good condition too, so sharp and clear.

We saw lots more - it would be worth enquiring whether your local museum does these archive visits.

PS Jean sent this link from her research into eye miniatures and it's well worth a look

Thanks for the website. I checked it out and actually was impressed by the range of topics covered--but nothing on eye miniatures. So I googled and came up with this interesting blog


Robyn said…
Now that's an etching! ;)

I guessing, Vivien you weren't permitted to take your camera into the archives. I'd love to have seen that paintbox. My printmaking teacher unearthed something similar in an antique market here. A real treasure that reminded me of the old medicine chests people travelled with many years ago.
Jean Spitzer said…
This is really interesting. I had no idea about the eye miniatures. Which museum did you visit?
vivien said…
Robyn it certainly IS an etching true!!!! and how!!

I would have LOVED to have been let loose with my camera for a few hours there! but no :>(

Lucky lucky teacher

Jean - this one - not a very good site I'm afraid.
Julie said…
I think I read somewhere that Durer had never actually seen a rhino in real life so all the more amazing for that. Your visit sounds absolutely fascinating.
Jeanette said…
I'm so envious! I live and breathe history like that and would have loved to see what you saw.

And Durer - one of my favourite artists - such a precise and expert artist.

What a lovely outing you had.
dinahmow said…
When Durer did that rhino he was working from the pretty far-fetched field notes of the time. Everyone thought it was a drawing of an imagined beast. But compare it with a modern photograph. Go on, have a look. Durer has almost god-status in this house!
And Leicester's got one!Yay!
vivien said…
me too Jeanette - the living, breathing 'real' history of daily life

Dinah that's fascinating and I didn't know that - incredible that he got it so well

have you seen that etching he did of someones feet? they are just AMAZING as well
Jean Spitzer said…
Thanks for the website. I checked it out and actually was impressed by the range of topics covered--but nothing on eye miniatures. So I googled and came up with this interesting blog
vivien said…
Jean - That's a really interesting article with great insight - thank you for the link :>)

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