As I was researching the sport of falconry for our recent event and demonstration a few weeks ago, I found myself going down a “falconry in art” rabbit hole.  Our Library really is a wonderful repository. We have several shelves of books with titles like The Art of Falconry (1943), American Falconry in the Twentieth Century (1999), Practical Falconry; to which is added, How I Became a Falconer (1972), Falconry for You (1960), and Falconry and Art (1987).  Grabbing the last title, I sat on the floor of the Library and dug in. I never noticed how much falconry is portrayed throughout art and really, how early it is shown: 4th-century Etruscan tomb decorations, an 8th-century Mesopotamian stele, and a 13th-century bas-relief in Turkey (pictured below). 

Bas-relief of falconers from the Ruins of Bogazkab (Asiatic Turkey), 13th century. The falconer on the right holds the leash of the bird.

Of course, one of the most familiar images of a falcon is in Egyptian iconography, the god Horus, who was depicted with the body of a man and head of a falcon. Interestingly, no images of a falcon in captivity exist nor is there a hieroglyphic symbol for falconry, which suggests that the sport was not practiced in Egypt. Likewise, there are no images in early Greek or Roman art, possibly for the same reason.

Image of the Egyptian god Horus.

Coinciding with the rise of falconry in the Western Middle Ages was the rise of its depiction in art.  The 11th-century Bayeux Tapestry shows several instances of King Harold with a hawk on his arm. In one, he is presenting it as a gift to William of Normandy.

This scene is after Harold has brought the falcon to William who is shown holding the hawk.

One of the most well-known works in art history is Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (1413-1416), a devotional book, known as a Book of Hours. Amongst the psalms and prayers are calendars, each month alternating between depictions of agricultural and courtly life.  The month of August shows a scene of men on horseback and women seated aside with them, along with a groom in front, carrying raptors on their arms. 

A century or so later, birds of prey were included in The Lady with a Unicorn tapestry series. Dating from the late 15th to early 16th centuries, the six tapestries are thought to be allusions to the five senses with a sixth tapestry whose subject is unknown. Depictions of animals, both real and mythical, are interwoven throughout.

A falcon gently lands on the hand of the woman in the center.

On the other side of the world, falconry was a frequent presence in Eastern culture and, therefore, art. Terracotta figures found in Japanese burial mounds, known as haniwa, include figures of falconers. The one depicted below is from the Kofun Period (c. 250–c. 600 CE). These were life size and placed on top of graves.

A 16th-century drawing, Mirza Ali Haft Awrang of Jami, from a Persian Royal Manuscript shows a falconer with his hawk on the left-gloved hand and an injured duck in his right. The glove he uses looks detailed and contains some of the only remaining color.

From 18th-century India is a Portrait of a rajah, goshawk on fist, currently housed in the Louvre in Paris.  It shows a strong profile view of a man with a falcon perched on his glove, looking back at him.

We continue to see falconry throughout the Western Renaissance and into the 18th and 19th centuries.  As the popularity of the sport ebbs and flows so does its prominence within artistic tradition. So what, then, do we have in the 21st century to represent this ancient sport?  Photographs. Copyright laws prevent me from producing them here, but I invite you to Google “21st-century falconry photography.” Beautiful contemporary images appear of men and women continuing in the tradition of the medieval lords and ladies in Les Tres Riches Heures and the Indian Rajah holding a goshawk.

Falconry has, literally, withstood the test of time, remaining relevant in a modern world. The art produced throughout the centuries proves this. I’m eager to see what will be created next.


Image citations:

Falconers from Ruins of Bogazkab : Christian Antoine de Chamerlat, Falconry and Art, London, Philip Wilson Publishers Ltd, 1987.

Egyptian god Horus: By Jeff Dahl – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3280569Image of the Egyptian god Horus.

Bayeux Tapestry: Britain’s Bayeux Tapestry in Reading. The website has the entire story broken down by scene – certainly worth a click! http://www.bayeuxtapestry.org.uk/bayeux7.htm

Tres Riche Heures: By Limbourg brotheres – R.M.N. / R.-G. Ojedachateaudechantilly.com, Public Domain https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=108570 . The Book of Hours is currently housed at the Musee Conde outside of Paris, France http://www.domainedechantilly.com/en/accueil/chateau/reading-room/selected-works/

Lady with the Unicorn: Taste: http://tchevalier.com/unicorn/tapestries/taste.html, Public Domain https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2724262
Currently housed at the Museum of the Middle Ages, Paris, France
https://www.musee-moyenage.fr/collection/oeuvre/la-dame-a-la-licorne.html

Haniwa falconer: https://jref.com/articles/japanese-falconry.217/ . A wonderful resource on Japanese falconry.

Mirza Ali Haft Awrang of Jami: Christian Antoine de Chamerlat, Falconry and Art, London, Philip Wilson Publishers Ltd, 1987.

Portrait of a Rajah, goshawk on fist: Christian Antoine de Chamerlat, Falconry and Art, London, Philip Wilson Publishers Ltd, 1987.


Citations:

Resource on the Bayeux Tapestry: Robin S. Oggins, The Kings and Their Hawks: Falconry in Medieval England. Yale University Press, 2004.

Resource on haniwa: https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-asia/art-japan/kofun-period/a/haniwa-warrior

Lauren Kraut is the Collections Manager at the National Sporting Library & Museum. Her primary focus is to maintain and preserve the works of art in the collection and on loan. Email her at lkraut@NationalSporting.org

It’s that time of year when things slow down, ever so slightly.  The spring exhibitions are open and there’s a little breathing room before we need to start devoting all of our energy to the fall exhibition.  This is a great time to catch up on the tasks that have accumulated on my desk.  One of the most important responsibilities in Collections is inventorying: to verify locations and assess the condition of all the works of art in all of our collections.  It sounds daunting, doesn’t it? 

The tools: measuring tape, condition report, flashlight, pencil (always a pencil!), dusting cloth, and the ever-present nitrile gloves. (after) Samuel Howitt (English, 1756-1822), Fox Hunting No. 3, hand-colored aquatint, 18 x 22 3/4 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of George and Susan Matelich and Family, 2016

There are two different types of inventory that we utilize: comprehensive and location.  A comprehensive inventory is just that, an inventory of the permanent, study, and loan collections, complete with thorough condition reports and photographs.  Depending on the size of the museum or gallery and staff resources, this should (ideally) be completed annually.  A location inventory has a smaller scope; it verifies that the accession number on the object matches the record, is in the correct location, and if the condition has changed. This is not as time intensive as a comprehensive inventory and should be completed if a comprehensive inventory isn’t possible.  Because of our staff size, we like to alternate annually between the two.

Recall the condition reports from my February 19, 2019 blog entry on the installation of the Sidesaddle exhibition. The inventory process requires that a condition report is filled out for each object and retained in the object folder. Along with the basic information, like title, artist, medium, and date, I also record a brief description of the object, including any defects, like warping of a canvas or scratches on a frame.  Visuals are always helpful when documenting changes.  I try to take as thorough a reference as possible, highlighting any potential issues that should be tracked.

The oldest work of art in our art collection is A Horse in a Landscape, an oil on panel by Abraham van Calreat (c. 1690).  That’s over three centuries of exposure and changing hands and an expansive time frame for it to be dropped, hung above a fireplace, or placed in direct sunlight.  Part of an inventory is to make note of chipped frames and discoloration which are just two possibilities of the previous three scenarios. Despite its age, A Horse in a Landscape is in very good condition.

Works on paper have other potential concerns such as being susceptible to foxing.  Those are the small brownish spots you might see speckled about in old books or prints. The print below has evidence of foxing on the right border. 

Foxing can be seen most noticeably on the right-side border. Edward Troye (American, 1808-1874), Kentucky, 1867, colored engraving, 24 1/2 x 32 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Peter Winants, 2004

Another example of a noteable paper condition issue is seen in the image on the left below of the 1923 wedding invitation of the artist Paul Desmond Brown (American, 1893-1958) to his wife, Harriet.  The discoloration is easily noticed.  What would have caused this?  Perhaps it was displayed in a frame where, over time, the light caused it to change. 

Invitation to the wedding of Paul Desmond Brown to Harriet Smith, November 12, 1923, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Nancy Searles, the artist’s daughter, 2011

The backside of the paper below has several issues including discoloration, missing elements, accretions, tears, buckling, and flaking.

Verso of paper with envelope affixed to the front, addressed to Harriet Smith, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Nancy Searles, the artist’s daughter, 2011

A comprehensive inventory also serves another purpose. Do the works of art under scrutiny still meet the mission of the organization?  As museums and galleries evolve, their mission statements and policies may need to evolve too.  This could include adjusting the scope of the collection plan, meaning that objects in the collection may be better suited for interpretation at a different institution.  If that is the case, further evaluation is warranted.

An inventory can be a long process, but it serves an important purpose; it is one of the principal aspects of Collections Management.  For now, if you need me, I’ll be in storage, listening to big band music, and plugging away at this year’s inventory.

Lauren Kraut is the Collections Manager at the National Sporting Library & Museum. Her primary focus is to maintain and preserve the works of art in the collection and on loan. Email her at lkraut@NationalSporting.org

We have over 1,300 objects in the museum collection at the National Sporting Library & Museum.  Those objects can be broken down into three categories of collections: permanent, study, and loan collections.  Regardless of which collection an object belongs to, the motto is the same: we treat all objects with the same care and attention.

The objects in the permanent collection have been donated or bequeathed to the NSLM or purchased by the NSLM.  An example of this would be The Start of the Derby (1845) by John Herring Sr. (English, 1795-1865), generously bequeathed to the museum in 2017.  This is a wonderful painting by a popular British sporting artist and represents an ordinary moment in a unique style and tradition all his own.  The Start of the Derby will be part of the upcoming NSLMology: The Science of Sporting Art exhibition, opening Friday, April 12.

John Frederick Herring, Sr (English, 1795-1865) The Start of the Derby, 1845
oil on canvas, 28 x 48 inches, Bequest of Elizabeth D. Clark, 2017

The study collection is comprised of objects that are primarily used for research purposes.  For instance, in NSLMology, we are including a bronze of a Mare and Foal, which visitors will be encouraged to touch.  Wait. Why is this allowed when every sign in the museum says Do Not Touch?  Because in this instance, the bronze is a 20th-century casting.  This does not make it less valuable, it is simply a later model, allowing visitors to get up close and personal with it.

Pierre-Jules Mêne (French, 1810-1879), Jument Arabe et son Paulain (An Arab Mare and Foal),
model 1850; cast early 20th century, bronze with detached wooden base, 12 x 19 1/2 x 9 1/4 inches, Gift of the Estate of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Atkinson, 2014

Our last collection is our loan collection.  In addition to the rare private lender, institutions frequently loan to and from one another and we are no exception.  Two popular bronze sculptures on display are from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond: Pointer Guarding Dead Game (1850) and Setter, Pointer, & Partridge (1848) by Pierre-Jules Mêne (French, 1810-1879). 

Pierre-Jules Mêne (French, 1810-1879), Setter, Pointer, and Partridge, 1850, bronze, 9 x 16 3/4 x 8 1/4 inches, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Gift of Forrest E. Mars, 69.29.2

Since we want to make sure different works of art are seen, and to allow the art to rest, we frequently rotate art from the different collections between being on-view and in storage. 

To keep track of our different collections, each one has a different numbering system.  Using the above objects as examples, the accession number for The Start of the Derby is 2017.3.1.  This means the painting was acquired in 2017.  It was the third acquisition that year, and it was the first object of that bequest.  We also received several other paintings within the bequest, therefore, those additional works received the subsequent numbers: 2017.3.2, 2017.3.3, etc. 

The objects in the study collection have an “S” in front of their number.  The accession number for Mare and Foal is S2014.13.1.  It was the thirteenth study object received in 2014 and the only object in that donation. Likewise, the VMFA bronzes on loan are numbered L2007.31.5-6.

This is by no means a universal numbering system.  Each museum is different.  Larger institutions may have different numbering systems within different departments.  Each work of art has a tag so we can track it whenever it is moved around the museum.  The accession number on the art corresponds to our digital cataloging system that records any location moves and stores all pertinent information relating to that specific object. That, though, is a post for another day…

Lauren Kraut is the Collections Manager at the National Sporting Library & Museum. Her primary focus is to maintain and preserve the works of art in the collection and on loan. Email her at lkraut@NationalSporting.org

I feel a particular kinship to the Sidesaddle, 1690-1935 exhibition, on view at the National Sporting Library & Museum until March 24, 2019.  I’m not an avid sidesaddle rider (I’m not a rider at all) but because this was my first project here at the NSLM as a full-time staff member.  I started my new position as Collections Manager on Monday morning, August 27, 2019, and, along with our curator, Claudia Pfeiffer, and art handler, Alex Orfila, installation began.

The installation process of an exhibition is really very exciting; the months, and even years, of planning are finally coming into fruition!  Though I have participated in installations before, this was my first large-scale fine art installation.  We had two weeks to uncrate the paintings, evaluate their condition and hang them, hang labels, and adjust lighting.  That’s just the bare-bones physical labor. It may not sound like a lot of work but trust me, it is. 

Paintings waiting to be uncrated

Shortly before the exhibition was scheduled to open, paintings began arriving in crates from various institutions and private lenders.  As Collections Manager, it is my responsibility to ensure the safety of the art under the care of the NSLM.  Before a crate is even opened, I take pictures of all its angles, documenting the condition of its exterior.  The paintings are protected with custom foam, plastic boards and/or sheeting, gatorboard, and other packaging materials. As each layer is removed, a photo is taken.  These photos are our record in the unlikely event an item arrives damaged.

A photo taken as each layer is uncovered

After a painting has been fully removed from its crate, it is placed on a cloth-covered table for evaluation, known as a condition report. Lending institutions and some private lenders provide their own report detailing the physical condition of the object upon leaving their premises.  I compare that to the object and my own report and see if there are any changes.  Are there any new scratches on the frame or canvas? More photos are taken, noting any existing damage (based on the lender’s report) to the frame or the painting itself.  The hardware from which the painting will be hung also needs to be evaluated – does it need to be tightened or replaced?  The lender is always consulted regarding any potential changes.

Waiting patiently for yet another photo – look at all that paperwork!

Once all the paintings have been uncrated, it is finally time to start hanging them using the layout that Claudia finalized months ago. This involves a lot of math. Claudia and Alex have been working together on installations for twenty years; they have this process fine-tuned. 

Once all the paintings are hung, the accompanying labels are next.  These need to be properly aligned with each other and the painting. I brought out the laser level for this. Hopefully with time, I’ll be able to gauge it just by looking at it. What took me ten minutes with the laser, took Claudia ten seconds eyeballing it.

Lastly is the lighting. This sounds quick and easy but is actually the most tedious. There are different kinds of light canisters, bulbs, and screens. We want the entire painting to receive the same amount of light without causing any glare or shadow. Another element to consider is if there are restrictions on how much light a particular work of art can be exposed to. If it is a drawing or watercolor, the light levels are generally lower. An oil painting can tolerate levels that are a little stronger.

From left to right: William Barraud (British, 1810-1850) Lord and Lady Twemlow, late 1840s, oil on canvas, 27 3/4 x 35 1/2 inches, Yale Center for British Art, Gift of Mr. & Mrs. Peter L. Malkin; John Emms (British, 1841-1912) A Saddled Hunter and Jack Russell Terrier, 1893, oil on canvas, 20 x 26 inches, Collection of Dr. & Mrs. Stephen Penkhus; George Derville Rowlandson (British, 1861-1928) At the Inn, c. 1910, oil on canvas, 24 x 36 inches, Private Collection; William Murray Black Jr. (American, 1897-1962) Miss Emily North King, 1937, oil on canvas, 69 x 33 inches, Collection of Mary North Cooper; Sir Alfred J. Munnings (British, 1878-1959) My Horse is My Friend: The Artist’s Wife and Isaac, c. 1922, oil on canvas, 40 x 50 inches, Pebble Hill PLantation, Thomasville, Georgia, © the estate of Sir Alfred Munnings, Dedham, UK; Edmund Charles Tarbell (American, 1862-1938) Schooling the Horses, 1903, oil on canvas mounted on aluminum, 24 x 29 1/2 inches, Currier Museum of Art, Machester, New Hampshire, Gift of Faith Stanwood, 1975.25; Charles Johnson “Snaffles” Payne (English, 1884-1967), The bullfinch, ‘Black as yer hat on this side and glorious uncertainty on the other,’ c. 1913, watercolor, gouache and black chalk medium, 14 7/8 x 21 3/4 inches, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, Bridgeman Images; center: Isidore Jules Bonheur (French, 1827-1901) Groom and Horse with Sidesaddle, c. 1860, bronze, 16 x 20 1/8 inches, Private Collection

Once the installation is complete, that’s it for now, right? Not quite. Part of the agreement with the lenders, and one of the reasons why they agree to loan to us, is because we will treat the works as if they were ours. Twice a week, for the duration of the exhibition, our curatorial intern, Cynthia Kurtz, and I will gently dust the frames.  This allows us to monitor any existing conditions and keep an eye out for any potential new issues. 

Finally, when the exhibition closes at the end of March, as the paintings are removed from the walls, I will compare the condition reports completed in August, making any notations. Even more thorough photos will be taken. When the paintings arrive at their home museums, my counterparts will then do yet another condition report to ensure its safe transport between the NSLM and their museum. Overkill? Not at all. It is our job to maintain and preserve the works – we wouldn’t have it any other way!

Be sure to see Sidesaddle, 1690-1935 before it closes on March 24!


Lauren Kraut is the Collections Manager at the National Sporting Library & Museum. Her primary focus is to maintain and preserve the works of art in the collection and on loan. Email her at lkraut@NationalSporting.org