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.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

My Favourite Princely Treasure

With so many beautiful and intricate pieces on display in Princely Treasures, choosing a favourite piece to examine in detail was not an easy task. Every time I visit the exhibition a different piece seems to catch my eye and with closer examination, it’s as though I notice something new and interesting every time. After careful consideration I have narrowed my favourite piece down to Joachim Tielke’s Guitar.

The detail in this piece is expressed so precisely and intricately a skill evident of the period; objects such as this were as much fashion accessories as they were musical instruments for virtuosic performances. For me, the internal detail is remarkable, the subtle rainbow shine of the tortoise shell draws my eye in and if it wasn’t for the barrier of the Perspex box I fear personal restraint would not be enough to dispel the urge to pick it up and strum a tune.

From my research (mostly from reading the catalogue and listening to the audio guide) I have learnt:

·        Joachim Tielke is known for building many beautiful stringed instruments for his clients from the court of Cassell in central Germany
·        15 guitars by Tielke have survived the test of time – the V&A in London actually owns 6 of them
·        The body of the guitar is made from pine, which was the cheapest wood and also ensured the best sound
·        Individuals, aspiring to a noble education were required to learn to sing and play musical instruments, guitars such as this one were popular as they allowed the performer to simply strum the strings while singing.

I’m not entirely sure where my fascination of Guitar grew from; it could just be that my love of all things beautiful is abundantly articulated in this gorgeous object. None the less, I am sure everyone has a favourite item in this collection for a host of different reasons. Please do share your thoughts about the exhibition and tell me about your favourite object.

Joachim Tielke
Hamburg, 1693
Ivory and turtle-shell veneer, with engraved marquetry, gilt vellum rosette and carved ivory openwork head
V&A: 676–1872
Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Miller, Lesley 2011 Princely Treasures: European Masterpieces 1600 - 1800 from the Victoria and Albert Museum. V&A Publishing, Hong Kong.



Monday, 7 November 2011

Communicating with a Folding Fan

Personally, I have always been curious about the historical traditions associated with courtly life, particularly those that are no longer used. Is it because we have less time these days to make the effort or have we just realised the arbitrary nature of such traditions? Even though I am not necessarily one for tradition, I certainly can’t go past the opportunity to dabble in such things when the opportunity presents itself.

The historical tradition of the folding fans for use at court and beyond became popular in the eighteenth century. Their introduction in Europe in the sixteenth century came about as a result of Portuguese trading links with Asia. Playwright Molière (1622-73) referred to the fan as “the folding screen of modesty” – a tool of non-verbal communication.

For those who are interested Kelly (the intern) diligently took it upon herself to research the fan as a means of non-verbal communication. Here is what she discovered.

How to communicate with your hand-held fan

Should one desire companionship, all you need  is to grasp your fan in your left hand. This will tell others that you are approachable and would relish company. To answer ‘yes’ to a question, rest your closed fan on your right cheek, and on the left if your answer is ‘no’.

If the company you have just drawn is most agreeable, simply drop your fan to the floor - this signifies that you wish to be friends. However, if you discover that the person you are conversing with is most disagreeable, twirl your fan in your left hand. Your distracted fidgeting will inform them that you wish to be rid of their company. If your fan flinging has drawn the attention of someone whom you truly despise, simply close your fan and draw it through your hand, this will indicate that you find them utterly insufferable.

Perhaps your efforts have drawn in a suitor. If you find them desirable, place the handle of your fan to your face and this will (hopefully) get you a kiss. If you have an undesired suitor, twirl your fan in your right hand. This will let the poor fellow know that your heart belongs to another. If they continue to pursue you, fan yourself as fast as you can; this will say ‘‘I’m married! Leave me alone!’’

Now, if you are conversing in secret, and fear someone may be listening in, draw your fan across your forehead to announce you are being watched. If you wish to reunite with your companion, open your fan wide to ask that they wait for you. If you would like to take them somewhere a bit more private, open your fan with your right hand and hold it at your face, this indicates your desire for rendezvous.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, if you have offended your company draw your fan across your eyes for a swift, sincere apology.

Made by Antonio Poggi (1769–after 1803); engraved by Pietro Antonio Martini (1738–97)

Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Britain, about 1790
Engraved and hand-coloured paper, with carved and pierced ivory sticks and guards
V&A: T.56-1933; given by Dagmar and Gladys Farrant in memory of Arthur and Maud Loscombe Wallis

Miller, Lesley 2011 Princely Treasures: European Masterpieces 1600 - 1800 from the Victoria and Albert Museum. V&A Publishing, Hong Kong.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Which Princely Personality are you?

Take our quiz and find out which historical figure you are most like.

In social situations you would describe yourself as:

  1. The quiet one: You like to sit back and let others make the decisions
  2. The wild one: You’re always up for gambling, partying, you name it
  3. The entertaining one: always singing, dancing and making others laugh
  4. The flirty one: You love making others blush, and aren’t shy about letting others know you think they’re cute

Your favourite subject in school was:

  1. History and Geography
  2. Textiles: the only way to inject fabulous fashion into the dreary school days
  3. Drama: you’re a triple threat, and then some
  4. English: you never could get your head out of the books

You find your biggest flaw is:

  1. You lack self confidence
  2. People think you’re shallow and superficial, when you aren’t
  3. People judge you by your family, rather than for yourself
  4. You have trouble committing to people

If we asked, your friends would describe you as:

  1. Cold and serious.
  2. Beautiful and glamorous.
  3. Empathetic and talented.
  4. Ambitious and successful.

In what field would be your dream job?

  1. Education: A teacher or professor
  2. Fashion: a fashion designer, or a model
  3. The arts: signer, actress, or playing an instrument would keep you happy
  4. Big business: CEO, president, something for you ruthless ambition.

Now tally your answers and find out who you would be.

Mostly A’s…

You are the last king of France, King Louis XVI. You resemble Louis XVI, a quiet, intelligent man who lacked the self confidence to be a ruler, preferring the academic pursuits to the political. Mistaken for being cold and hostile, you really are just shy, rather taking a back seat to making the big decisions. That’s not a problem, as long as you don’t reach the same sticky end as Louis XVI did!

Mostly B’s…

You are the glamorous, infamous, party girl herself; Marie Antoinette. You are on the cutting edge of fashion and everything cool, wild and always up for a good time, much like the last queen of France. People sometimes think you’re superficial, but at heart you are sweet and loving, if not a little extravagant.

Mostly C’s…

You are the talented Madame Pompadour, the official mistress of Louis XV. Madame Pompadour and you both share an artistic flair, enjoying the stage, opera, or even playing an instrument. It’s not all about the drama though; both Madame Pompadour and yourself are empathetic to the feelings of those around you, striving hard to win everybody over.

Mostly D’s…

You have a lot in common with the Russian Empress Catherine the Great II. Ambitious and confident, you won’t let obstacles stand in your way. You know what you want and don’t care about what people say, as long as you get it. Your flirty streak sometimes gets you into trouble, but you know its other people’s jealousy that sparks the rumours, and so far from the truth it’s laughable.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Kids Big and Small enjoy Princely Treasures

The Gallery has been buzzing the past two weeks with all the children’s school holiday activities. We’ve had Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, LegoArt, Story Telling and a host of craft activities.

Delightful squeals filled the concourse throughout LegoArt, it’s official - kids both big and small are unable to contain their excitement when it comes to 60,000 pieces of white Lego. The competitive streak emerges as one by one each tried to outdo the other by building the tallest tower. I’d watch the delight fill each child’s face as they proudly walked from their station towards the display area, mum and dad cautiously assisting the relocation of their mammoth creations. And then, more often than not, their worst nightmare rears its ugly head and during the journey their tower weakens and comes crashing to the floor. Sheer disappointment fills their faces as mum and dad scramble to save what they can. Disappointment lasted only moments as they soon realised they now have the opportunity to do it all again. And that they did. Once their creations are placed proudly and prominently on display in the concourse, mum and dad encourage them to stand next to their work so their achievement can be duly recorded and shared with other friends and family.

One very proud grandmother came and shared a story with me about her grandson. She said, she was so thrilled that her grandson, who has asperger syndrome, was so eager to participate in LegoArt. She told me, the white Lego offered him a creative outlet, and also helped him to interact with other children, something he has immense difficulty doing. The Lego activity was a wonderful experience for their whole family; in addition they took advantage of the opportunity to visit the Princely Treasures exhibition which added further depth to their entire visit and experience at the Gallery, particularly for her grandson.  

I love seeing the creativity and excitement that Lego creates for children every year. I also encourage all the proud mums and dads to send me some of your LegoArt photographs so I can share them with others and show off your child’s wonderful creations. My email is If you want to know what else is on during Princely Treasures  visit our events listing here.   

Mia-Mae aged 4 creating her own dressed historical lady inspired by the exotic fashions and adornments in Princely Treasures.  

Imogen aged 2 and Xavier aged 4 also dress their figures in beautiful paper gowns which they have created 

Children playing in the Friends of AGWA Princely Treasures Children's Space

The finished Courtly Characters created by grandparents and granddaughter at our Princely Treasures Grandparents Day
Spare Parts Puppetry workshop at our Grandparents Day

Spare Parts Puppetry workshop at our Grandparents Day

Friday, 30 September 2011

Opening Night Party

Apologies in advance for my tardiness with this update but I confess I have been all caught up in the excitement of the Princely Treasures opening night party, and what a party it was. The Gallery concourse was transformed into an elegant palace, themed meticulously, instantly evoking a sense of royal decadence. Guests entered the Gallery on a red carpet and were greeted by a string quartet dressed in full period attire.

Two banquet tables, adorned with a sumptuous feast, enhanced the experience and reiterated a time of royal ruling. The usual opening formalities proceeded and guests listened eagerly and intently until the exhibition was declared open! As the guests orderly ascended the staircase to the exhibition entrance they were greeted by a novelty portrait booth with many props to further transform their royal experience. The Marie Antoinette wig was the favourite.
The atmosphere from the Gallery staffs’ perspective was one of relief and elation, not only was the exhibition up and running but it was a resounding success. We can now relax and enjoy the fruits of our labour. Drinks all round.