Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Conservator David Graves talks about Princely Treasures

David Graves in his studio at the Art Gallery of WA
David Graves has been the Object Conservator at the Art Gallery of Western Australia for the past 4 years. When it comes to the State’s Collection, David is one of the people ensuring that our Collection is protected and preserved for future generations to enjoy. His skills and expertise are also called upon for big traveling exhibitions and items on loan in the Gallery’s care. I sat down with David over coffee to see if I could get some sort of insight and understanding of the conservation work involved for Princely Treasures.

David’s experience and expertise are extensive and the Gallery is extremely fortunate to have someone with his skill base on staff. Prior to his position at the Gallery, David worked on archeological digs in Australia and overseas, stabilising items after they were extracted from the ground. Pretty cool stuff if you ask me!

On a Princely Treasures specific note, David’s explanation was clear and informative and I found the conservation requirements for big exhibitions, such as the following, to be most interesting. Here is what I learnt…

When the discussions and negotiations first started taking place between the Gallery and the lending institution, in this case the Victoria and Albert Museum; conservation is on board from the get go. In the context of Princely Treasures it was essential that David was aware of any specific conservation requirements relating to these delicate pieces; for example the enormous tapestry hanging in the concourse. Due to the size of the artwork, much discussion surrounded the installation of this tapestry called The March. This piece could not be hung in its usual way, which typically involved unrolling the tapestry on the floor and then raising it into position. Due to the space constraints our team (pictured below) needed to unroll the tapestry and then re-roll in on its long edge so it could be raised directly from the roll. It is requirements such as this that are considered when art works are chosen for display and also in the design of the exhibition space.

The team preparing to hang the tapestry next to the exhibition entrance

(image credit)
Possibly designed by Philipp De Hondt (1683 - 1741); made by judocus de Vos (1661 - 1734) 
The March
Brussels, 1718-19Tapestry woven in wool
V&A: T.283-1972
Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

There are several tapestries on display including the Bed-Cover, Woven Silk and Vincennes’ or ‘July’ from the tapestry series known as ‘The Royal Residences’ or ‘The Months’ all of which are equally as delicate and difficult to install. David also revealed that the two fans on display were so delicate that they required installation by a specialist from the V&A .Which doesn’t surprise me at all as they are so intricate and so old; I would be terrified that I’d damage them just by breathing to close to them.

As eager as I was for a story about a scandal surrounding the exhibition’s installation, I was assured that in large traveling exhibitions, such as this, the conservator works in a more preventative capacity. His role is to ensure nothing happens to the pieces, which I guess does make sense. One could only imagine the ensuing backlash if a piece arrived in pristine condition but was returned missing its lid.

If you have any questions or comments please send them through and I’ll pass them over to our all knowing Object Conservator.

Coromandel Coast, 1725
Resist- and mordant-dyed cotton, quilted
V&A: IS.17-1976
Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Friday, 2 December 2011

Johnny Depp Resembles Thomas Baker

Gianlorenzo Bernini
Portrait Bust of Thomas Baker (1606–58)
Rome, c. 1638
V&A: A.63-1921
Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Last week I sat down with one of the Gallery’s very experienced volunteer guides to learn about her must see pieces in the Princely Treasures exhibition. Rosita has been a Gallery guide for 12 years and is a very active member of the Gallery team as well as the Friends of the Art Gallery of WA. When I asked Rosita which piece she liked the most and why she was quick to announce that her favourite is the Portrait Bust of Thomas Baker which she affectionately refers to as ‘Johnny Depp’. As soon as the words came out of her mouth, the connection was so apparent – Johnny Depp really has a striking resemblance to the late Thomas Baker.

The stories behind these pieces are so remarkable and hugely fascinating. In my opinion facts are useful but stories are so much more engaging and the story behind this bust certainly doesn’t disappoint. The enthusiasm Rosita exudes is contagious and her description is so detailed and captivating that I found myself picturing the whole event in my mind.

And so the story goes…

The Pope decided he wanted to give Charles I, King of England, a portrait bust as a gift. The dilemma however, was that Charles I was in England and Gianlorenzo Bernini was in Rome. To overcome this problem Charles I instructed his Court artist, Van Dyke, to draw a three dimensional sketch that could be sent to Bernini. Once the portrait was produced Van Dyke tells Thomas Baker, who was the sheriff, that he must hand deliver the sketch to Bernini in Rome.

When Thomas Baker arrived in Rome to give Bernini the portrait he cheekily requested Bernini create a portrait for himself also. Bernini agreed, and because of Bernini’s remarkable ability to see a person only once and reproduce a striking replica he proceeded to carve the Portrait Bust of Thomas Baker you see pictured above. Bernini was fascinated by Thomas Baker face and thus focused all his attention on his bust rather than on Charles’s. When the Pope became aware of this neglect he told Bernini to stop carving Thomas Baker’s bust and to finish Charles’s instead. Bernini conceded and thus Thomas Baker’s bust was finished by one of his assistants instead.

Who’d have thought such controversy surrounded such a piece. Thanks for sharing Rosita, I certainly learnt a lot from our chat.


Rosita with her beloved Bernini Bust

Rosita with Jeanne - Antoinette Poissom, Marquise de Pompadour cut-out - located by the Princely Treasures ticketing desk.