The Storm – A Biblical Narrative at Sea

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William Etty, who was born in 1787 in York, pursued his desire to create art from a young age. At 18, after 7 years as an apprentice printmaker, he began to study painting with the Anglo-Swiss painter Henry Fuseli, and then with Sir Thomas Lawrence, a leading English portrait painter. Etty favoured classical subjects and was famous for his nudes. He also liked to tell moral lessons through his paintings.

The Storm, which was Etty’s own favourite painting, will be shown in the up and coming Natural Forces exhibition. He painted it in 1829-1830 and it is easy to see why it’s a perfect fit for a display exploring the theme of man’s struggle against the powerful forces of nature. Etty originally exhibited the work with these words from Psalm 22 of the Old Testament “They cried unto Thee, and were delivered; they trusted in Thee, and were not confounded”. The message here is to trust in God however afraid you might be. This comes across in the painting where the woman desperately clings to the man in fear but at the same time seems accepting of her fate.

 Colour and scale

The Storm focuses on two semi-nude figures in a perilous situation stranded at sea on a small boat surrounded by large foreboding waves. The intent of the painting isn’t necessarily to portray or describe a real storm; it is more about the two figures that are praying for deliverance.  Etty’s colour palette helps set the mood. He paints the sea in brown and white as opposed to more realistic blues, greens and greys. This creates a dark and ominous atmosphere which enhances our sense of uncertainty about what is going to happen to the young couple. He also uses contrasts in scale to help tell the story and heighten the drama. The very small, simple boat is dwarfed by a mighty wave to convey the danger of the situation. 

So, how do you think the story ends?

Lori Symcox: Collections Access Assistant 

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The Storm, 1829-1830 by William Etty

© Manchester Art Gallery

Turner’s Now for the painter: A Masterpiece returns

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Now for the Painter’ (Rope) – Passengers Going on Board, 1827 by JMW Turner

© Manchester Art Gallery

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Orfordness, 1827 by JMW Turner

© Manchester Art Gallery

On loan from The Whitworth Art Gallery, The University of Manchester

JMW Turner, 1775-1851, is a well-known 19th century British artist who is famed for his landscape and seascape paintings. Manchester Art Gallery owns two important oils, which are currently both on loan. However, soon Now for the Painter’ (Rope) – Passengers Going on Board, 1827, which has been on loan to the National Maritime Museum’s  ‘Turner & the Sea’ exhibition for 6 months will be returned for display in the Natural Forces exhibition from 12 July. No romanticism exhibition would be complete without a piece of work by the renowned Turner and Natural Forces is no exception.

 An inside joke

Turner often used wordplay in titles and there is a joke within the title Now for the Painter (Rope) – Passengers Going on Board (albeit a subtle one unless you are in the know). In nautical terms the word ‘painter’ refers to a type of rope that is used on boats for tying up or towing, therefore the title can refer both to the artist and the rope. The term is a clever dig at Clarkson Stanfield; another marine painter who was the subject of one of my earlier blog posts. Stanfield had tried, and failed, to complete a ‘Painter’ painting in time for the Royal Academy Exhibition of 1826 and Turner’s title makes reference to that.

Man’s vulnerability

There is a common thread within this exhibition of human vulnerability in the face of natural forces. In Turner’s painting this is shown through the choppy sea and the swaying boats although this piece isn’t as dramatic and perilous looking as a number of others in the collection. The brushwork that Turner used to paint the sea is repeated in the sky and this creates a circular effect that heightens the sensation of turbulence. 

As well as the Turner oil painting a watercolour by the artist, Orfordness, 1827, will also be a part of the new display alongside other watercolours, on loan from Whitworth Art Gallery. This English coastal scene is beautifully composed with layers of sky, beach and sea with the lighthouse visible in the background. Although almost idyllic in mood, the coarse waves quickly bring you to the realisation that the sea is in control as the men can be seen struggling against the power of nature.  

Lori Symcox: Collections Access Assistant

 

Behind the scenes: Conservation at the Gallery

An oil painting titled The Signal by James Webb will be shown in the up and coming Natural Forces exhibition. It is a beautiful maritime oil painting that focuses upon a sole man who is stranded at sea, desperately clinging to part of his broken vessel and hoping to be rescued.  When viewing this painting it is not totally clear what the signal actually is and everyone will view it differently. Personally I believe the item in his hand is either a cloth or piece of clothing that he is waving to try and get attention from a passing ship, but what do you think?

The painting is damaged and has required conservation work before it can be put on display.  I thought that as this blog is about the behind-the-scenes progress of the exhibition this would be the perfect opportunity to highlight another important aspect of gallery work, one that is often overlooked; the work of conservation. Conservators are a select group whose role within the gallery is to care for the collection.  

During a recent trip to the conservation studio in Manchester I met Julia, who is the conservator of paintings and Chris who specialises in picture frames. One of the tasks that Julia had with The Signal was the job of taking off the varnish from the painting as it had begun to stain the work yellow. This required sample tests to be carried out in small sections of the painting in order to decipher what varnish was applied. Once the type of varnish had been identified it was then removed using the correct solution. Tests needed to be carried out before chemicals could be applied to the work. This is to prevent further damage. Nowadays everything that is done to a painting is also reversible.

 imagePhotograph showing the difference when half the varnish is removed

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Showing the test patches

Julia has also carried out minor ‘touching up’ to small areas of the canvas as some of the detail on the painting has been lost or worn away over time.  For example, small losses to the paint surface or areas of canvas that have been over cleaned in the past may be treated in this way with carefully matched colours.  All in all the conservation work took Julia approximately 20 hours.

Conservation and its importance 

The frame around The Signal is more damaged than the painting – the wooden structure is weak and the gilding is falling off. The frame is also badly scratched from over cleaning in the past.  Unfortunately where knowledge about the care of collections was limited in the past people have damaged art works, sometimes permanently, in the effort to clean them. The care was often overshadowed in favour of the paintings aesthetics.  Chris’s work on The Signal’s frame will give it a new lease of life – more about this in a future blog post …

With the varnish removed from The Signal, the colours are more subtle and contrasts are stronger. This shows how the effort spent restoring paintings and frames is worthwhile as the viewer will be able to view the art the way the artist intended, or as close as it can be given the potential wear and tear since its creation.

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The conservation work is near completion

However, when it comes to restoring a work of art there are also ethical issues that need to be considered. One key issue is how much conversation should be done and where is the limit. Every time part of an artwork is ‘touched up’ it could be argued that it loses part of its originality and therefore part of its authenticity.  By conserving an artwork, the artist’s vision is in danger of being replaced by that of the curator and conservator. There needs to be boundaries on how much work is done to keep intact both the artist’s vision and the genuineness of the work. If a piece of art becomes more of the conservator’s/curator’s work due to a large amount of conservation, then its authenticity could be called in question.  Using modern reversible conservation techniques is therefore essential in case views about what has been done change over time.

When creating a new exhibition such as Natural Forces, all of the art works that are going to be displayed are checked to see if any conservation work is required.  The Gallery would never display a work that was unstable as this could greatly increase the risk of further damage. These are aspects of gallery work that people often forget about or dismiss, but without conservators there may not be as many beautiful and important artworks around today for us to enjoy. 

Lori Symcox: Collections Access Assistant

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The Signal, James Webb, about 1850, Accession Number: 1984.34

© Manchester City Galleries

  

 

Adolphe Yvon: Portraying the Russian invasion

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Marshal Ney Supporting the Rear Guard During the Retreat from Moscow, 1856 
Adolphe Yvon
©Manchester City Galleries

Extreme weather conditions

Adolphe Yvon (1817-1893) was a French artist who was known for his portrayals of the Napoleonic wars of 1803-1815. The wars were between the French Empire, led by Napoleon and opposing coalitions, led by Great Britain. 

Yvon’s painting Marshal Ney supporting the Rear Guard during the Retreat from Moscow,1856, will be included in the up and coming display Natural Forces.  It is a huge painting of a dramatic, snow-covered war scene which depicts the tragic culmination of Napoleon’s Russian invasion of 1815. 450,000 men were led across the River Nieman and were than forced to turn back at Moscow due to the unbearable weather conditions. The temperatures reached below –25°c and this environment, along with the battles, killed a great proportion of the army and by December only 13,000 men remained. Marshal Ney was their commander. He was a skilled commander and trusted associate of Napoleon who fought in a great number of battles during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, including the battle of Waterloo. After the defeat at Waterloo Ney was arrested and sentenced to death by firing squad on December 7 1815.

In the painting Ney is wearing a bicorn hat and stands to the left of centre touching a wounded soldier’s shoulder. Death and tragedy fill the atmosphere around him. Moscow can be seen on fire in the background; the city was set alight by retreating Russian forces who would rather see it burnt to the ground than robbed by the French army. Dead or dying soldiers litter the foreground, half naked and frozen; dead horses are also visible.

 The art of storytelling 

Although the painting is based upon true events, the scene depicted is a semi-fabricated one. In reality the weather was not fully to blame for the large number of deaths. Although it played a key part, so did other factors. Within the painting great emphasis is placed upon the climate; it seems that the failure of the expedition is due solely to the snow and sub-zero temperatures. The cold did have a strong impact on the troops but poor preparation played a role too. The soldiers’ clothing wasn’t fit for winter weather and combined with starvation brought on by lack of supplies, a bad situation was made even worse. 

Yvon doesn’t exactly give us the whole truth!  However the artist’s trying to tell a good story and bring out the heroism and tragedy of the event.  He wants to create a dramatic atmosphere and enhance the visual appeal of the painting so he seems to have manipulated the facts to this end. 

I like the fact that when viewing art it can be like a story unfolding before your eyes and it is up to you to develop the story for yourself. One of the wonderful things about Marshal Ney supporting the Rear Guard during the Retreat from Moscow, is that there is always something new to discover. It is engaging and full of narrative and it is possible to look at it time and time again and notice little features that you missed before.  There are a lot of details; something that I noticed upon closer inspection is the women cradling two, seemingly dying or dead children to the right hand side of the frame. Due to the chaos of the scene it is at times difficult to determine who is dead and who is alive. This makes it an even more memorable painting as you try to work out what is going on.

 Lori Symcox: Collections Access Assistant 

Clarkson Stanfield – Drama at sea

From Sailor to acclaimed Scene Painter & Marine Artist

The content for Natural Forces: Romanticism and Nature is taking shape and I thought I’d tell you all a little bit more about some of the art works which are going to be included in this up and coming display from 12th July.

Two seascapes that have caught my attention are by the artist Clarkson Stanfield (1793-1867). Stanfield began life as a sailor but due to lack of work, as the ship Hope which he was due to join for a voyage to Madrid never set sail. Due to this he needed to forge a different career path to make the money he desperately needed. He became a scene painter in 1818 as prior to being a sailor he had dabbled with painting and even worked as an apprentice to a painter in Edinburgh. Due to these already acquired artistic skills, he soon became regarded as one of the best marine artists during the Victorian era and in 1827 displayed his work at the Royal Academy for the first time.

Shipwrecks

Ships were a highly effective mode of transport during the 19th century and were used to create trade routes and to transport goods, among other things, however; the journeys weren’t without their risks. Pirate attacks and extreme weather conditions were a known danger and these subjects appealed to the public’s sense of curiosity and wonder as well as fear. Artists tapped into this appeal and during the 19th century shipwrecks became a popular and familiar theme within marine art. They were painted to highlight mans struggle against the elements rather than as depictions of real life events.

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The Last of the Crew, 1853 
Clarkson Stanfield 
Manchester Art Gallery, 1920.532 
Image ©Manchester City Galleries 

One of Stanfield’s paintings that will be on display is The Last Of The Crew (1853), which focuses upon a shipwreck scene. Although not as theatrical when compared to some other shipwreck paintings, it has an ominous, though almost calm atmosphere. It is set in the aftermath of a storm and the ship has been thrown against coastal rocks on which there is one sole survivor. Within the scene there is a clear sense of isolation, desperation and foreboding; the lone sailors fate depends upon the viewer’s interpretation of the work. Do you think he survives or is he destined to become another victim of the sea?

 Literary Connections

The second Stanfield painting in the show will be a watercolour on paper, Cutting away the Masts: Illustration to Marryatt’s Novel, ‘The Pirate’ (1836). This is being loaned (for 6 months) from the Whitworth Art Gallery especially for this exhibition, so please come and see it while you can!

Included in the exhibition there will be 6 watercolour art works, grouped in sets of 3, which will be on display for 6 months apiece. The reason for this is because of the risk of light damage to the delicate paper pieces.

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Cutting away the Masts: Illustration to Marryatt’s Novel, ‘The Pirate’, 1836 
Clarkson Stanfield 
Whitworth Art Gallery, D.1887.38 
Image ©Manchester City Galleries

One of the most interesting aspects to this exhibition, to me, is how often art disciplines overlap and you can often find paintings and pieces of art work that have direct links to literature; either a novel, short stories or poetry. This connection can be seen between the novel The Pirate, which was written by Captain Fredrick Marryat and Stanfield’s watercolour. Marryat wrote a series of novels titled The Marryat Cycle in the 1800’s and The Pirate was book eight of the cycle and is about two brothers who go off in search of pirates… and find them.

Although I’m not sure which scene in the novel the watercolour illustrates, the subject matter is immensely theatrical and the stormy weather has created chaos as the men aboard are visibly struggling against the elements. The danger that they face is strongly conveyed by Stanfield. You may also be familiar with Herman Melville’s work, Moby Dick? It was written in 1851 during the same period as these two paintings and again, these classic maritime themes feature heavily.

Hopefully this post will not only inspire you to visit this exhibition but also to think about how different creative practices influence each other and inspire beautifully interlinked works of art.

Lori Symcox, Collections Access Assistant 

Susan Hiller: Blending old and new ideas

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Rough Times, 2010 
Susan Hiller 
Manchester Art Gallery, 2012.63 
Image ©Susan Hiller 

A new display

One of the Victorian galleries is due a refurbishment and I thought that this would be a great opportunity to give a taster of what you’ll be able to see in the new display Natural Forces: Romanticism and Nature from 12th July. This show will feature a mixture of early 19th century paintings by artists such as Turner (more about him in future blog posts) alongside a work by contemporary artist Susan Hiller.

On show for the first time …

Susan Hiller is a new discovery for me and I am already fascinated by her work. Hopefully you’ll understand why when you see it for yourselves! In the new display you will see her piece Rough Times from 2010. This is a recent acquisition to the Gallery’s collection (it was only purchased in 2012) and has never been on show to the public…until now that is.

A closer look at Rough Times

It’s a photographic work made up of a set of 9 panels, with each panel featuring a seascape image. The images originate from recycled ‘Rough Sea’ postcards that Hiller has collected and they are of holiday locations around England, Scotland and Wales. The postcard images have been manipulated and altered by Hiller, such as in the colouring, to create a more contemporary feel. These colours give the work a dreamlike quality which creates a disconnect between what is imagined and what is reality.

When hung in a grid the piece will be fairly large and what I find particularly interesting is that when viewed up close, each image becomes very pixelated and the subject matter becomes unclear until viewed from a further distance. This means that the experience each viewer will have of the piece will be unique, as its impact will be, in part, determined by where he/she is stood and the distance between them and the work.

Rough Times is related Hiller’s Dedicated to the Unknown Artists, 1972- 6 (Tate collection) which is a tribute to the unsung artists and photographers who created the ‘Rough Sea’ postcard images. Hiller is, in a sense, recycling old art to create new art for a different audience. I hope that this post inspires you to come and look at her work when it goes on show; it is really beautiful.

Lori Symcox, Collections Access Assistant

I am an MA student at the University of Manchester studying Art Gallery & Museum studies. At present I am on placement at Manchester Art Gallery in the Collections Access team assisting with Victorian Art related projects. Over the next couple of months, I will be blogging about works in this exciting new display and giving you a behind-the-scenes look at the process of creating a new show. 

It looks like an aviary, doesn’t it? But perhaps this image is not what it seems. It shows the nature study room in the Horsfall Museum in Ancoats in what I estimate is the 1940s. It did strike me as a bit strange to allow live birds in the same room as watercolours, but I just assumed that the curator was very game and the cleaning staff very patient. Now, having actually spoken to two people who remember Horsfall’s museum, it turns out that this aviary was filled with stuffed birds! Still, even a stuffed bird is better than no bird, if you’re a child in Ancoats in the 1940s.
I hope we can share some of these revelations about Horsfall’s Museum with you soon when we edit the interview we had with former visitors Irene and Sandra. They remembered so much about the Museum  - and so fondly. It makes me happy to know that Horsfall’s legacy did make a difference.
Hannah

It looks like an aviary, doesn’t it? But perhaps this image is not what it seems. It shows the nature study room in the Horsfall Museum in Ancoats in what I estimate is the 1940s. It did strike me as a bit strange to allow live birds in the same room as watercolours, but I just assumed that the curator was very game and the cleaning staff very patient. Now, having actually spoken to two people who remember Horsfall’s museum, it turns out that this aviary was filled with stuffed birds! Still, even a stuffed bird is better than no bird, if you’re a child in Ancoats in the 1940s.

I hope we can share some of these revelations about Horsfall’s Museum with you soon when we edit the interview we had with former visitors Irene and Sandra. They remembered so much about the Museum  - and so fondly. It makes me happy to know that Horsfall’s legacy did make a difference.

Hannah

Tags: horsfall

I’m just finishing putting my sheep and cattle together for Wednesday.

We’re having a small-scale yet top-quality academic ‘workshop’ here at the Gallery this Wednesday and it’s exciting. Well, it’s exciting for me, anyway - I’ve spent a lot of time on the subject of Victorian Scottish painting, so ‘Looking to Scotland’ will, I’m hoping, answer some of my questions. It’s organised by MALAG (the Manchester and Liverpool Art Group), and has three excellent speakers (book tickets for ‘Looking to Scotland' on eventbrite and you'll see what I mean). Frances Fowle is going to talk about Rosa Bonheur's tour of the Highlands - I wonder if Bonheur really did give lessons to the Liverpudlian animal artist William Watson (see his cattle picture above)? So rumour has it - I'll have to ask Frances. And Paul Barlow will give us Millais's view of Scotland. Bit worried Paul will think it's mad of me to have left our two massive Millais Scottish paintings just outside the 'Highland Romance' room. Nicholas Tromans is coming to talk about Wilkie's Scotland. I wonder if he'll mention our Wilkie? Hope so.

Anyway, I’ll be kicking all this off with a quick run through of the whys and wherefores of our display ‘A Highland Romance: Victorian Views of Scottishness’ . Come, if you’d like to - it’s free! Now, back to ordering my cows and sheep.

Hannah

Booking

Book tickets for Looking to Scotland at Eventbrite.

I think it’s time you met Mr Horsfall. Here he is, painted by Frederick Beaumont, courtesy of The Whitworth Art Gallery, The University of Manchester, who own the painting.
I must admit, I was reluctant to start blogging about our Art for All exhibition with this image. I suppose I just thought that if you saw this oil painting of a sloping-shouldered, white-moustached gentleman in his plain black jacket, waistcoat and necktie, you would judge him hastily. He looks so defeated by his pile of pamphlets, I thought that you might write him off as one of life’s failures. I thought you might lump him in to the category of Victorian worthies (he was one, there’s no doubt) without thinking about what he did for Manchester.
However, now that you know that this man was a passionate lover of nature and of beauty, that he was a tireless campaigner for social justice, for decent homes for poor people and for good art education, I hope you can look past the dull suit and the stern face. I think though you do get a sense from the portrait that Mr Horsfall was not an ethereal character, nor cerebral. He was a committee man, a pragmatist, who knew that to get things done you need to do the paperwork.
Which reminds me - back to the admin emails.
Hannah Williamson, Curator: Collections Access

I think it’s time you met Mr Horsfall. Here he is, painted by Frederick Beaumont, courtesy of The Whitworth Art Gallery, The University of Manchester, who own the painting.

I must admit, I was reluctant to start blogging about our Art for All exhibition with this image. I suppose I just thought that if you saw this oil painting of a sloping-shouldered, white-moustached gentleman in his plain black jacket, waistcoat and necktie, you would judge him hastily. He looks so defeated by his pile of pamphlets, I thought that you might write him off as one of life’s failures. I thought you might lump him in to the category of Victorian worthies (he was one, there’s no doubt) without thinking about what he did for Manchester.

However, now that you know that this man was a passionate lover of nature and of beauty, that he was a tireless campaigner for social justice, for decent homes for poor people and for good art education, I hope you can look past the dull suit and the stern face. I think though you do get a sense from the portrait that Mr Horsfall was not an ethereal character, nor cerebral. He was a committee man, a pragmatist, who knew that to get things done you need to do the paperwork.

Which reminds me - back to the admin emails.

Hannah Williamson, Curator: Collections Access

Tags: Horsfall

Meet Year 5 from St Augustine’s CE Primary, the co-curators of Art for All: Thomas Horsfall’s Gift to Manchester.


They have been working with us since January to help select and interpret the works on display. This has involved them visiting our art-store and conservation studios as well working with a specifically designed data base to start creating links between the collection. One of the pupil’s Leah Byrne, age 10, sums it up perfectly “We have been lucky to see so many excellent paintings. Working with people from the gallery, we have put them together to help others look at them in different ways.”
The exhibition has labels written by many of the pupils who took part. Come along and take a look at them, they may just give you a whole new way of seeing.

Meet Year 5 from St Augustine’s CE Primary, the co-curators of Art for All: Thomas Horsfall’s Gift to Manchester.
They have been working with us since January to help select and interpret the works on display. This has involved them visiting our art-store and conservation studios as well working with a specifically designed data base to start creating links between the collection. One of the pupil’s Leah Byrne, age 10, sums it up perfectly “We have been lucky to see so many excellent paintings. Working with people from the gallery, we have put them together to help others look at them in different ways.”
The exhibition has labels written by many of the pupils who took part. Come along and take a look at them, they may just give you a whole new way of seeing.

Tags: Horsfall