How do museums care for art collections?

In the 1983 film “Sesame Street at the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” Cookie Monster has to resist eating delicious looking pictures. [Image: http://muppet.wikia.com/wiki/Don%27t_Eat_the_Pictures] (c) Sesame Workshop
Museum professionals work hard behind-the-scenes to make sure unique collections and cultural heritage survives for future generations to enjoy. The ways in which we store, handle, and light art objects are key to preventing damage and slowing deterioration over time. The professional term is preventative conservation, and it is the unsung hero of museum collections care.

You may have noticed that most museums are extremely vigilant about preventing visitors from touching the artwork.

Dirt and oils from hands can add up to damage over time. Cracking in painted surfaces is inevitable, as the different natural and man-made materials that make up canvas and paint expand and contract over time. But, pressure – from a hand or pointing finger, for instance – can result in extensive cracks that may not show up until later.

Details from: John Frederick Herring, Sr., The Start of the Derby, 1845, oil on canvas, 28 x 48 inches, Bequest of Elizabeth D. Clark, 2017
Concentric circles or bullseye cracks can develop from pressure (like a finger poke) that has been applied to a painting canvas.

And a careless gesture too close to a painting could result in more immediate (and very expensive) damage – like this $40-million Dollar Elbow.

Physical damage can also be caused by the environment. If you have ever hung a photograph in your home where it is hit by direct sunlight, you may have made the sad discovery that your picture has started to fade away. Works on paper – such as pencil, ink, watercolor, and especially photographs – are particularly sensitive to light damage. In the museum we monitor light levels carefully and use window coverings to filter out harmful UV light from the outside.

Routine cleaning and treatments also help prevent damage. We enlist professional conservators to combine science and chemistry with art to do so.

Sculpture conservator Andrew Baxter prepares wax to protect the bronze sculpture of a filly, Darn That Itch by Jean Clagett, on the NSLM campus.
Tools of the trade: The sculpture conservator uses wax tinted with different types of pigments to create a protective layer over the bronze.
A pre-treatment photo of the NSLM’s Sea Hero statue. Note the greenish hue, particularly on the base.
After annual cleaning and re-waxing, the green discoloration is gone and rain water beads and pools on the base of the bronze.

To learn more about the treatment of outdoor bronze sculptures and our Sea Hero statue, read this past blog post, Bath Time for Bronze Horses.

When damage does occur, whether naturally or by accident, conservators also help us repair and restore works of art. A large, four-paneled, 18th century sporting screen in the permanent collection is currently undergoing treatment by a conservator. In the photos below, you can see the progress so far. The left photo was taken before any cleaning or treatment. The right photo was taken during the treatment process after yellowed varnish and old discolored repairs have been removed. The bright white areas are filled-in repairs that will eventually be repainted.

Details from: (after) James Seymour, Four-paneled Sporting Screen, mid-18th/19th century, hand-colored engravings mounted on canvas, and oil on canvas mounted on a wooden frame, each panel 81 ½ x 27 inches, Bequest of Sonia Phipps Seherr-Thoss, 2006
On the left, photos taken before treatment show cloudy, yellowed varnish and old, discolored past repairs. On the right, photos taken during treatment show brighter colors and details. The areas of bright white are newly made repairs to old damage.

Once cleaning is complete and all repairs have been finished, the screen will be re-coated with a thin layer of protective varnish and can then be put back on view in the galleries.

It takes consistent care to keep these objects looking their best. If you want to help support the ongoing conservation efforts here at the NSLM, please consider making a donation!

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The changing exhibitions displayed in the Museum give us the opportunity to see works of art in a new light. We can reunite works that have long been separated in different collections, or juxtapose objects which are not normally displayed with each other, or gather together multiple works by the same artist.

In the case of our current exhibition, A Sporting Vision: The Paul Mellon Collection of British Sporting Art from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, on view through July 22, 2018, we have the opportunity to view works of art by British sporting artists Benjamin Marshall, John Ferneley, Sr., and Sir Francis Grant, and compare them with works by the same artists in the NSLM’s permanent collection.

Benjamin Marshall (English, 1768-1835), Mr. Thomas Willan of Marylebone Park and Twyford Abbey, 1818, oil on canvas, 34 x 40 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Kathryn James Clark in memory of Stephen C. Clark, Jr., 2013

The more time you spend looking at works of art by the same artist, the more you begin to recognize that artist’s style, or “hand,” as art historians often like to say. This portrait by Benjamin Marshall, which is part of the NSLM permanent collection, shows a gentleman named Thomas Willan on his hunt horse. Willan owned a large farm in Marylebone Park, which is located in the present day area of Regent’s Park, London. His gothic-style manor house and gardens were known as Twyford Abbey. While the man and his horse are painted in glossy detail, the thinly-painted background is hazy and indistinct. There is a glimpse of fence line and gate on the viewer’s right and the hint of a waterway on the left. If the manor house is there, it is lost in the muted tones of the loosely painted landscape.

Benjamin Marshall (English, 1768-1835), Noble, a Hunter Well Known in Kent, c. 1805-1810, oil on canvas, 40 ⅛ x 50 inches, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. Paul Mellon Collection, 99.80. (c)Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Other works by Marshall now on view in A Sporting Vision show a similar treatment of background and subject. In the portrait of Noble, a Hunter Well Known in Kent (where the horse is actually the “sitter”), the landscape is made up of loose brush strokes, with lots of sky and indistinct features. Hounds and huntstaff are shown faintly in the background.

Benjamin Marshall (English, 1768-1835), Colonel Henry Campbell Shooting on a Moor, ca. 1806, oil on canvas, 33⅞ x 40⅛ inches, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. Paul Mellon Collection, 99.81. Photo: Travis Fullerton © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

We see it again in Colonel Henry Campbell Shooting on a Moor. The more you look at Marshall’s works, the more you can recognize similarities in the way he paints his figures as well.

John Ferneley, Sr. (English, 1781-1860), and Sir Francis Grant (Scottish, 1803-1878), The Hunt in Belvoir Vale, c. 1835, oil on canvas, 48 x 133 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Kathryn James Clark in memory of Stephen C. Clark, Jr., 2013

Works on view by John Ferneley, Sr., and Francis Grant are connected as well. Ferneley briefly tutored the younger artist and the two collaborated on The Hunt in Belvoir Vale, which is part of the NSLM permanent collection. This mural-sized group portrait from the mid-1830s shows gentlemen foxhunting near the town of Melton Mowbray, highly popular foxhunting territory outside of London. Thirteen of the riders in the foreground are identified portraits, including Grant at the far left side. The painting was commissioned by the Earl of Wilton (1799-1882), who is pictured leading the group.

Detail of The Hunt at Belvoir Vale showing the Earl of Wilton, who commissioned the painting, leading on the chestnut horse.
Detail of The Hunt at Belvoir Vale, with self-portrait of artist Francis Grant at left.

The Sporting Vision exhibition includes several works by Ferneley and one by Grant.

Sir Francis Grant (Scottish, 1803–1878), The Melton Hunt Going to Draw the Ram’s Head Cover, 1839, oil on canvas, 35 15/16 x 60 inches, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. Paul Mellon Collection, 85.494.1. Photo: Katherine Wetzel © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

The Melton Hunt Going to Draw the Ram’s Head Cover was painted by Grant a few years after the NSLM painting. This group portrait features 36 identified figures riding with the Quorn Hunt, also in the Melton Mowbray area. The Earl of Wilton appears here as well, at center in the long grey coat, along with members of his family. The Countess of Wilton and her son Lord Grey de Wilton ride in the phaeton (a light-weight, four wheeled carriage) pulled by two palomino colored ponies. The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1839.  Grant went on to a successful painting career and was President of the Royal Academy from 1866 to 1878.

When you are here at the Museum next, I hope you enjoy taking time to compare and contrast the wonderful highlights of British sporting art that are currently on view.

Spring has come, along with steeplechasing and flat racing throughout the Virginia Piedmont. The same springtime spirit can be felt across the racing community, and across the world. Few towns are held in as high sporting regard as Newmarket in Suffolk, England. First settled as a market town after the Norman invasion, Newmarket became a hub of horse racing culture in the reign of Charles II (1630 – 1685). Though James I built the first royal residence at Newmarket c. 1610 to pursue sport, it is only with the restoration of the Crown after 1660 that the town grew to become the international center of horse racing, a reputation that it still holds today.

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James Pollard (English, 1792-1867) Newmarket Races, 1909. Engraving from an earlier painting by James Pollard. Copyright Getty Images.

Among the earliest races established at Newmarket is the three-mile Newmarket Town Plate. Charles II founded the race in 1666 with the direction that it should be run in perpetuity. True to this charge, the race has been run for over 350 years. At first there were only two race meets, one in April, the other in October. By 1840 there were seven race meets: The Craven Meeting, the 1st and 2nd Spring Meetings, the July Meeting, the 1st and 2nd October Meetings, and finally the Houghton Meeting. Traditionally the first races of the year took place the week following Easter Sunday. Today the Rowley Mile and the July Course boast races and events every weekend from the Craven Meeting in mid-April to the final meet at the beginning of November.

George Stubbs, English, 1724 - 1806 (Artist); Hyena with a Groom
George Stubbs (English, 1724–1806), Hyaena at Newmarket with One of Jenison Shafto’s Stablelads, ca. 1765–7, oil on canvas, 40 1/8 x 50 1/8 inches, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Paul Mellon Collection (image source: https://www.vmfa.museum/piction/6027262-132161010/)

The long history and distinctive style of Newmarket made it a popular subject for the burgeoning market of sporting artwork in the 18th and 19th centuries, and beyond. Many famous equine portraits are set at the stables in Newmarket, meant to commemorate distinguished careers at the capitol of English racing. This subject allowed artists like George Stubbs (1724-1806) and Benjamin Marshall (1768-1835) to demonstrate their skillful mastery of equine anatomy. Other images of Newmarket show frenetic energy and passion before race meets. This time of year it is easy to imagine oneself pressed in a crowd of spectators as jockeys in brightly colored silks line up for the race.

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Sir Alfred Munnings, P.R.A. (British, 1878–1959), Linin’ ’em Up, Newmarket, ca. 1940–53, oil on panel, 19 ¾ x 23 ½ inches, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. Paul Mellon Collection.  (image source: https://www.vmfa.museum/piction/7898216-110496899/)
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Henry Koehler (American, b. 1927), Jockeys Between Races, Newmarket, 2009, oil on canvas, 12 x 16 in. Gift of the artist, 2012.

Springtime races, whether at Newmarket or in the foothills of Loudoun County, marry the traditions of country life with the perennial newness and passion of changing seasons. The brisk air and thundering hooves can be felt across times as old and new are blended together in our cultural landscapes and in the paintings of sporting artists throughout time.

Not able to make it to Newmarket this spring? You’re in luck! Some of these works and other stunning examples of sporting masterpieces are on view at NSLM both in the permanent collection and in Spring’s feature exhibition, A Sporting Vision: the Paul Mellon Collection of British Sporting Art from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, opening April 13, 2018.

 

 

 

 

Last year, the NSLM received a generous bequest from the late Elizabeth Dunn Clark of Middleburg, which included a beautiful example of work by the great British sporting painter, John Frederick Herring, Sr. (English, 1795-1865).

John Frederick Herring, Sr., The Start of the Derby, 1845, oil on canvas, 28 x 48 inches, NSLM, Bequest of Elizabeth D. Clark, 2017

Herring was well-known for his racing scenes and portraits of all the top English thoroughbreds of the day. The Start of the Derby, 1845, is a large composition showing the chaotic lineup at the start of the race in the foreground, and great billowing skyscape above.

F. Cooke, Portrait of John Frederick Herring, c. 1860, albumen carte-de-visite, 3 1/2 in. x 2 1/4 in. (88 mm x 57 mm) image size, National Portrait Gallery, London, Given by Algernon Graves, 1916. NPG Ax14887
© National Portrait Gallery, London

The Epsom Derby, often just called “The Derby,” was first run in 1780 and takes its name from one of the event’s founders, the 12th Earl of Derby. The 1 ½ mile flat turf race is for 3 year old colts or fillies. Held every June, it is one of the most prestigious and popular races in England. The region of Epsom (the source of the famous “Epsom Salts,” which were discovered there in the 17th century) has been known for horse racing for over 400 years.

The winner of the 1845 Derby was The Merry Monarch, ridden by Foster Bell, and owned by Mr. William Gratwicke, and is shown at the center foreground of the NSLM painting.

The horse was described  in George Tattersall’s 1850 Pictorial Gallery of English Race Horses, as a “bright bay horse, sixteen hands high, and altogether a remarkably fine looking horse.”  Unfortunately, despite this attractive description, he was just a one-hit-wonder. The 1845 race was The Merry Monarch’s only career win. He became known as a fluke, and was later described (in the June 1869 issue of The Sportsman magazine) as a “a very bad horse. . . who could not possibly have finished where he did had the others only stood up.” (Ouch!)

Portraits of The Merry Monarch were painted by Herring and other contemporary equine artists. John Frederick Herring, Sr., G.W. Gratwicke’s bay colt The Merry Monarch, in a loose box, oil on canvas, 28 x 36 in. (71.1 x 91.5 cm.) (Image: Christies)

The start of the race featured more excitement than the owners and jockeys would have liked. As they were lining up for the start, one of the best ranked horses of the year, Alarm, kicked another favorite, named The Libel. The two fought, Alarm threw his jockey, and then injured himself before the race could even start. Another top favorite, Pam, fell during the race. Herring’s depiction of the scene shows the crowded chaos.

A hand-drawn key to the painting, by the artist’s son, John “Fred” Frederick Herring, Jr., labels the horse and jockey portraits shown in the foreground. 18 of the 31 entries are identified – though we hardly need the key to tell us which one is the winner, and which are the two who fought at the start!

John Frederick Herring, Jr. (English, 1815-1907), The Start of the Derby (key), c. 1845, pencil on paper, 8 1/2 x 15 1/4 inches, NSLM, Bequest of Elizabeth D. Clark, 2017

1845 wasn’t the first time – and certainly wouldn’t be the last – that The Derby was marked by drama. The previous year, 1844, the winning horse named Running Rein, actually turned out to be a 4-year-old imposter named Maccabeus and was disqualified. One of the most famous and tragic runnings of the Derby was in 1913, when a suffragette named Emily Davison, who was protesting the lack of women’s voting rights, ran onto the track, was struck by a horse, and later died of her injuries.

Even though The Merry Monarch turned out to be a disappointment in future races, the summer race day shown in our new painting was his time to shine.

Renaissance figure Leonardo da Vinci is famous for many things, from designing the first helicopter to painting the Mona Lisa. One of his most notable achievements was to capture human anatomy on paper, board, and canvas. From the Renaissance onward, science and art went hand in hand, especially in rendering the human form. Horses and other animals, on the other hand, were not always studied in so much detail.

George Stubbs (English, 1724 – 1806) was one of the first artists to use extensive equine anatomical study in his body of work. Stubbs was mostly self-taught, and he studied human dissection at York Hospital to inform his art. His fascination with anatomy then led Stubbs to published Anatomy of a Horse in 1766.

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George Stubbs (British, 1724–1806). Three plates from The Anatomy of the Horse, 1766. Plates: etching; 18 1/4 x 23 in. (46.4 x 58.4 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Lincoln Kirstein, 1953 (53.599.1bis)

The ability to convincingly capture individual horse conformation and motion on canvas eluded most artists of this time. Stubbs, in contract, was not only able to render a horse with paint, but to place the horse within the composition naturally and effectively.

 

George Stubbs, English, 1724 - 1806 (Artist); Hyena with a Groom
George Stubbs (English, 1724–1806), Hyaena at Newmarket with One of Jenison Shafto’s Stablelads, ca. 1765–7, oil on canvas, 40 1/8 x 50 1/8 inches, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Paul Mellon Collection (image source: https://www.vmfa.museum/piction/6027262-132161010/)

Stubbs was made President of the Society of Artists in 1772 and elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1780; he exhibited for both groups.  Stubbs’ recognition, however, seemed to stall even though his skill was recognized far and wide. Animal subjects were relegated to a lower order than historic, figurative, and landscape art in a hierarchy long established by fine art academies and art critics. Stubbs continued to study and paint, but passed away with little fanfare in 1806.

George Stubbs - Whistlejacket, 1762 at the National Gallery London England
George Stubbs (1724–1806)
c. 1762,
Oil-on-canvas
292 cm × 246.4 cm (115 in × 97 in)
National Gallery, London

George Stubbs’ contributions to art do not rest solely in the “animal painter” genre. Though known for his sporting scenes, Stubbs’ dedication to realism and anatomy place him in the category of artists who, like Leonardo da Vinci and Michaelangelo, seek the truth in art through science.

Want to know more about George Stubbs and British sporting art? Visit the National Sporting Library & Museum this Spring to see A Sporting Vision: The Paul Mellon Collection of British Sporting Art from the from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts,  a traveling exhibition organized by VMFA, on view April 13 – July 22, 2018.


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Anne Marie Barnes is the Clarice & Robert H. Smith Educator at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM). Her passion for museum work began shortly after graduation with a Bachelor’s degree in History from James Madison University. Between her experience working at the Fredericksburg Area Museum & Cultural Center and the Washington Heritage Museums, she has done everything from designing summer camps to formulating major fundraisers. Have a question? Contact Anne Marie by e-mail

I recently spent some time in Berlin visiting several amazing museums. The collections in the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (State Museums of Berlin) are incredible – from major examples of ancient art to fabulous modern and contemporary pieces. During my travels, I encountered quite a few works that reminded me of Middleburg and the NSLM. Here are just a few:

The Old National Gallery in Berlin primarily features German artists – some familiar and some lesser known.

Wilhelm Trubner (German, 1851-1917), Equestrian Portrait of Ida Gorz, 1900/1902, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (Old National Gallery), Acquired 1921

My poor quality photo doesn’t do this painting justice – it is quite a striking portrait.

Adolph Menzel (German, 1815-1905), Horse study, 1848, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (Old National Gallery), Acquired 1906

 

Carl Steffeck (German, 1818-1890), Fox in its Burrow, 1842, oil on canvas, mounted on cardboard, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (Old National Gallery), Purchase of Ernst Zaeslein, Grunewald, 1911

With the upcoming show The Horse in Ancient Greek Art on my mind, mythological horses keep popping up everywhere.

Hippocamp (half-horse, half-sea serpent creatures) details on the Friedrichstrausse bridge, over the Spree River, Berlin.

 

Attic (Athens), Greece, Votive Relief for a Chariot Victory, 400–390 BCE, marble, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (Altes Museum), Acquired 1884. Caption reads: “The nude warrior wearing a helmet next to the bearded charioteer is about to jump off the speeding chariot to continue the race on foot.”

 

The German History Museum has a massive collection of almost 1 million objects, spanning the history of Germany from the Middle Ages to the late-20th century.

Gothic Field Armour, c. 1470, iron, German History Museum

 

This 15th century set of battle armor is made of iron. The caption explained that it was so heavy – for both horse and rider – that the knights and their steeds could only fight for a very short amount of time before being overcome by exhaustion. (At least this rider has his heels down).

Sidesaddle, c. 1700, leather, silk, velvet, German History Museum

This early-18th century ladies sidesaddle with velvet cushioning looked like it would be very comfortable.

Hare Hunting und Bird Hunting, 2nd half of the 18th century, oil on canvas, German History Museum

This pair of 18th century sporting scenes show hare hunting and bird hunting with hounds. I thought it was interesting that the hunter in the second scene is mounted on a paint (it almost looks like an appaloosa) horse. Hunting was a large part of social life for royal and noble families of German speaking territories throughout the 16th to 19th centuries. Coursing was adopted by German princes (from the French) around the end of the 17th century.

On a day trip to Hamburg, I discovered the Museum of Arts and Crafts. This fabulous suit is an “Original/Interpretation” piece in the exhibition Sports/No Sports, which explores the correlation between fashion and sportswear.

Foxhunting Ensemble, Museum of Arts and Crafts, Hamburg

The Museum of Fine Arts in Hamburg also has an impressive collection, including this Renoir (with it’s very Renoir-esque figures).

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French, 1841-1919), Riding in the Bois de Boulogne, 1873, oil on canvas, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Acquired 1913

 

This is just a tiny selection of all the wonderful art there is to see in Germany. It was fun to explore new museums and collections and discover pieces that remind me of the art here at home.

This coming Saturday is a big day in the horse racing world! You don’t need us to tell you that May 6 is the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville. The Virginia Gold Cup is also this Saturday, just down the road from us at Great Meadow in The Plains.

There are so many amazing horses, talented people, spectacular stories, and fun facts associated with both of these big events – we could never share them all. Here are just a few stories about some of the four-legged stars connected with the collections here at the NSLM.

Sea Hero
This long-shot bay colt won the Derby in 1993. Today, Sea Hero is the oldest living Kentucky Derby winner and is enjoying a life of retirement standing at stud in Turkey.

Sea Hero
Tessa Pullan (English, b. 1953), Sea Hero, 1995, bronze, on stone base, 88 x 29 ½ x 96 inches, including base, Bequest of Paul Mellon, 1999, Acquired 2014 [(c) Tessa Pullan]
Determine
One of the very few grey horses to win the Derby (only eight have ever done so), Determine won in 1954 – the same year the National Sporting Library was founded.

Man O’War
One of the most famous names in American horse racing never actually ran in the Kentucky Derby, but his progeny went on to win quite a few. The chestnut stallion’s offspring included 1937 Triple Crown winner War Admiral, and he is found in the bloodlines of most top thoroughbreds, all the way up to American Pharaoh (2015) and Nyquist (2016). Another son was steeplechaser Battleship, the first American horse to win the English Grand National Steeplechase in 1938.

Marilyn Newmark (American, 1928-2013), Man O’War, 1977, bronze, 10 ½ x 14 ¾ x 3 ½ inches, Gift of Jacqueline B. Mars, 2016.  Newmark, who is known primarily for her equestrian sculpture, created this posthumous portrait after referencing the many photographs documenting the champion thoroughbred.

Gallant Fox
Gallant Fox was the second horse to ever win the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont races (1930), and the first to be referred to as a “Triple Crown” winner by the press. Gallant Fox: A Memoir, written in 1931 by the horse’s owner, William Woodward, Sr., is one of the scarcest books ever printed by the Derrydale Press. The copy in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room here at the NSLM is numbered one of fifty (but the whereabouts of only five copies are currently recorded).

The Celebrated Horse Lexington, by Boston, out of Alice Carneal, and Churchill Downs, Derby Day, c. 1946, Published by Currier & Ives, Gift of Mrs. Parker Poe, 1978

Lexington
Lexington never ran in the Derby either. In fact, he died in 1875, the first year the Kentucky Derby was run. But Lexington was the leading sire in America for decades. This print in the NSLM collection features a portrait of Lexington after Louis Maurer (German/American, 1832-1932). The portrait is surrounded by images of the first 71 Derby winners – from Aristides (1875), up through Hoop Jr. (1945).

Secretariat
You can see a portrait of the 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat, along with Derby winners Smarty Jones (2004), Barbaro (2006), and many other gorgeous thoroughbreds in our newest exhibition Andre Pater: In a Sporting Light.

Andre Pater (Polish/American, b. 1953), Secretariat, 2004, pastel on board, 20 x 24 inches, Private Collection [(c) Andre Pater]

Happy Race Day!