Last Thursday Home, Land and Sea Art in the Netherlands 1600-1800 opened and I could not be more thrilled with it! It really does look fantastic and everything I hoped it would be so I thought it was about time I shared some pictures of it. It was so exciting to see the paintings go up at the beginning of last week and the colour really works with the Dutch paintings. Once the lighting was altered and paintings were individually lit the whole show came to life.
The exhibition starts with a small section on portraiture with works by Abraham Liedts and Gerard ter Borch.
You may remember that I wrote a blog entry on Liedts earlier in the year which recognised the painting’s importance to Manchester’s collection as well as to the artist’s oeuvre. I think the Liedts portrait works really well here, and this originally came about through discussions with Betsy Wieseman, Curator of Dutch and Flemish paintings at the National Gallery. We thought it would be a good idea to have a striking painting in the main doorway which will draw visitors in and Liedts’ work certainly does that.
As you move around to the left you’ll see Abraham Bloemaert’s wonderful Raising of Lazarus at the end of the gallery one of the absolute masterpieces in the collection. It looks brilliant here and the wall was made especially and now dubbed the ‘chimney breast’!
Then around to the left are the wonderful paintings of everyday life which includes paintings by Pieter de Hooch, Philips Wouwerman (one of my favourites), Gerrit Dou, Brekelenkam, Jacob Ochtervelt and David Teniers – a lot to feast your eyes on.
Manchester Art Gallery is also lucky to have a fine selection of decorative arts from the period which includes a roemer (wine glass which often features in Dutch paintings), some Delftware, German beer jugs, but most special of all is a little Dutch tile. This has been displayed next to Jan Ekels’ painting of a man reading where tiles are just visible at the bottom of the wall like a skirting board.
The still life wall has to be one of my favourite sections of the exhibition.
Here the 17th and 18th century paintings have been mixed together with works from Mat Collishaw’s Last Meal on Death Row, Texas series. Part of my brief was to bring in contemporary art into the show and Collishaw’s work really stood out to me for its obvious links to Dutch and Flemish still life paintings. I’ve worked really closely with Blain|Southern, Collishaw’s dealers, to select these works. I drew inspiration from the still life display at the Ashmolean Museum where the works occupy a salon style multiply hang. I thought it would be great to mix old and new in this way and this is the result. The stunning Rysbrack painting of dead game in the centre of this display underwent major conservation work. It was covered in discoloured varnish and its frame was pretty scruffy. It simply would not have been displayed if it wasn’t for the amazing work of the Conservation team so a huge thank you to them!
You may notice that there aren’t any labels on the wall here. I really wanted to keep this wall just about the juxtaposition of works and the labels would have ruined the overall aesthetics. There is a separate layout key nearby which clearly identifies each work as well as a booklet with all the still life labels. There’s a comfy bench upon which to sit and read them!
Either side of this main section are other contemporary pieces: first of all in the little case on the left are 2 gnawed, shriveled apple cores by Gavin Turk.
These are incredibly realistic and are actually painted bronze sculptures. Modern still lifes, these everyday, chewed apples made of bronze have been turned from the discarded into the treasured.
On the other side is Rob and Nick Carter’s homage to Ambrosius Bosschaert Transforming Still Life Painting. Working with the Moving Picture Company, the artistic duo replicated and animated Bosschaert’s flower painting in the Mauritshuis, The Hague with great precision and attention to detail. It has caused quite a stir amongst visitors already as little insects fly in and out, a snail works its way up the vase, the flowers move in the breeze and the light in the background gradually turns to dusk. It really is a work you need to see for yourself – as well as all the others in this exhibition!
The other adjoining gallery is divided into 3 sections. One part contains the landscapes by Jan van Goyen, Aelbert Cuyp, Philips Koninck, Esaias van de Velde and Salomon van Ruysdael: all major Dutch landscape painters.
It was a great opportunity to display the early Aelbert Cuyp (in the middle) next to the Jan van Goyens (to the right) as the former was very influenced by the latter in the 1640s.
The other 2 spaces in this gallery are dedicated to the seascapes. Jacob van Ruisdael’s wonderful choppy sea, one of the most important Dutch paintings in the collection, takes centre stage here and it is surrounded by other stormy seas by Hendrick Sorgh and Willem van de Velde as well as calm inland waterways by Jan van de Cappelle and Abraham Storck. Many of the seascapes in this section were especially conserved with lots of discoloured retouchings and varnish now removed (see an earlier blog entry).
Eager to bring these seascapes to life through a contemporary film which was about the sea I found Rosalind Nashashibi’s Bachelor Machines Part I. In 2007 Nashashibi spent 3 months filming the lives of an all-male crew on broad the Gran Bretagna,a modern day cargo ship.
The film is shown in an especially designed cinema room next to the seascapes and I really hope that it will help visitors think back to what life was like at sea in the 17th century especially as the hard life of sailors was never depicted by Dutch artists. Nashashibi’s film is rooted in the seascape tradition and it includes beautiful scenes of the sun setting over the sea framed through doorways and portholes. She also focuses on the deck or mast of the ship as it sways in choppy waters and stormy weather.
Above the seascapes are quotes from 17th century letters written by Dutch sailors to and from family at home. These came from letters currently being researched at the University of Leiden in the so-called Letters as Loot programme. The letters reside in the National Archives in Kew having being commandeered by the English during the Anglo-Dutch wars. They provide much insight into life at sea in the 1600s. A fascinating project.
I really hope you get the chance to visit the exhibition. It remains as it is now until 23 May 2014 after which the contemporary loans will be returned. The display will then be reshuffled but the Dutch and Flemish masters will always be on display in gallery 12.
Lastly, this exhibition would not have been possible without the generous support of so many people. I am most incredibly grateful for the invaluable expertise and help of Betsy Wieseman at the National Gallery. She helped me to select the best works for display, advised me on the layout, and approved all the exhibition text. Ruth Shrigley, Principal Manager: Collections Access at Manchester Art Gallery has likewise been incredibly encouraging and supportive. The Conservation team at Manchester has been truly amazing and achieved miraculous things so thank you Julia Jackson and Chris Russell. Mary Hersov, National Programmes Manager at the National Gallery, has lent much support as has Philippa Stephenson, my fellow Curatorial Trainee working with Tyne & Wear Museums and Archives. We have been in constant contact throughout the traineeship sharing ideas and seeking advice from one another. And of course a huge thank you to the Art Fund who have supported me and Pippa throughout our traineeships and have recognised the need for extra curatorial expertise and training within today’s museums and galleries. This project would not have been possible without them. Thank you to everyone!