Barber Association trip to the New Art Gallery Walsall

Barber Association members, Hollie Pimm, Emily Robins, Jess Stallwood and Sarah Theobald, tell us about the New Art Gallery Walsall and some of their favourite works on display…

Earlier this year, the Barber Association organised a trip to the New Art Gallery Walsall for its members. This was certainly a treat as none of us had visited the gallery before. We had a private, behind-the-scenes tour of the collections with curator Julie Brown, which made the trip even more exciting for those of us art historians who see working in galleries as our dream jobs.

The Walsall gallery was built in 2000 and is a very modern and impressive building. Once inside, the gallery space is very intimate with a number of small rooms and big wooden staircases leading between floors. A great feature of the gallery is the fact that it offers artwork to suit all tastes, from panel paintings from the Renaissance to post-Impressionist and Modern works of art.

The main attraction of the gallery is its Garman Ryan collection, which was donated to the borough of Walsall by Kathleen Garman, the wife of well-known English sculptor Jacob Epstein. The collection is on permanent display and has a wealth of interesting artworks by a number of significant artists, such as Gauguin, Monet, Turner and Constable. We found the curating of the gallery very interesting; instead of the usual chronological grouping or the organisation of work according to artist, the artworks are arranged by general themes, such as landscape and townscape, animals and birds, portraits and religion, to name a few.

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The New Art Gallery Walsall

Here are some of our favourite works of art from the trip:

Lucian Freud, Portrait of Kitty, 1949, Oil on board, 32 cm x 24 cm

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This is a portrait by Lucian Freud of his first wife Kitty Garman, daughter of Kathleen Garman (donor of the main collection) and Jacob Epstein. Kitty was married to Freud in 1948 and therefore this portrait is from very early on in their marriage. Although their marriage together didn’t last very long, what strikes me about this portrait is that it is incredibly intimate. The viewer is left with the impression that they are very close to kitty, leaving us to imagine that she is right in front of us. The muted green and brown colours also make her delicate, pale skin glow and her beauty stand out to the viewer. The viewer takes on the role of the artist and we perhaps see her through his loving gaze.

Hollie Pimm


Epstein Archive

What fascinated me the most was the archive interventions provided by leading contemporary artist – Bob and Roberta Smith, in his ‘Epstein Archive Gallery.’ Smith’s two year residency at Walsall has resulted in an installation which not only illuminates the interesting history of the Epstein Family, but allows viewers to interact and engage with archival items and gain a deeper understanding not just of the family, but of the collection itself. Furthermore, the artistic response to the letters, photographs and diaries which form the archive basis is in keeping with the themes present in the permanent collection at Walsall, whilst remaining committed to the gallery programme which seeks to explore the diversity of contemporary art.

Emily Robins

 

Gauguin, Auti Te Pape, c.1893-1894, woodcut

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While wandering round the New Art Gallery Walsall I found myself amongst a great number of artworks by some of the most important artists in history, such as Paul Gauguin (1848-1903). Personally, I have always been fascinated by the life and work of the French post-Impressionist and I was excited to discover that Auti Te Pape (c.1893-1894), a woodcut by the artist, was part of the collection.

As a man who chose to abandon his family and ‘civilized’ life in Europe, Gauguin developed a reputation as an artist attempting a return to man-kind’s so-called ‘primitive’ origins and connection with nature. His time living and painting in Tahiti towards the end of the nineteenth century was seen by many as an escape from the artifice of modern and industrialized France. This particular print depicts two Tahitian women, supposedly unaware of the artist’s gaze. The stylized impressions made by woodcut prints were perhaps used to represent the seeming honesty and purity of the Tahitian people. The simplified and inky markings perhaps symbolise the exotic and erotic myth which Gauguin presented to his stifled and constrained Western world.

Jess Stallwood

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Portrait of Elizabeth Siddall, The Artist’s Wife, pencil on paper, 23cm x 19.5cm

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‘This particular drawing depicts Lizzie being interrupted whilst reading, with her head propped on her hands as her famous copper hair cascades down her back.’

Being a fervent admirer of the Pre-Raphaelites, spotting this painting was a pure delight. I immediately thought that it was a very intimate portrait of Lizzie Siddall, with her dream-like gaze from her heavily hooded eyes and the soft touch of her hands on her jaw line. Although Rossetti’s speed can be seen in his pencil strokes, he has arguably taken great care to capture his beautiful wife. Another thing to note about this work is its title. It is hoped that ‘Portrait of Elizabeth Siddall, The Artist’s Wife’  was the title that Rossetti himself gave to the drawing because it suggests that he was accepting commitment as they were married the same year in which this drawing was made. By titling the drawing of Elizabeth Siddall in this way, it might suggest a grand loving gesture from him to his new wife who was suffering from depression. It is unlikely that he would have named a sketch, but it was found on the wall of his studio after he died.

Sarah Theobald

Overall, we all thoroughly enjoyed our trip organised by the Barber Association, and we were very lucky to get a sneak peak behind the scenes of the gallery. The gallery is definitely worth a visit – it is only 20 minutes away from Birmingham by train and has lots of hidden treasures in its collection…

Hollie Pimm, Emily Robins, Jess Stallwood, Sarah Theobald

Departmental Research Seminar: Thursday 7 May

Trouble at the Vale:
Chelsea Anarchists in the 1890s

Professor Anna Gruetzner Robins
(University of Reading)

Thursday 7 May, 5.15 pm
Barber Institute Photograph Room

The Vale, Chelsea, where the artists Ricketts and Shannon lived between 1888 and 1894 was one of the centres of bohemian London. Their circle included the poet John Gray, Oscar Wilde, the poets Katherine Bradley and Edith Cooper who published under the names Michael Field, Lucien Pissarro and many others. Lucien Pissarro had well-established links with the French anarchists in exile in London and also in Paris, and several of the others were declared anarchists. This paper looks at this network, and discusses the ways in which their anarchist beliefs impacted on their art.

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Refreshments served

All Welcome!

Enquiries to Imogen Wiltshire: ixw713@bham.ac.uk

REGISTRATION NOW OPEN: House, Work, Artwork: Feminism and Art History’s New Domesticities

Yayoi Kusama, I'm Here, But Nothing, 2000/2001.

Yayoi Kusama, I’m Here, But Nothing, 2000/2001.

Registration is now open for the conference House, Work, Artwork: Feminism and Art History’s New Domesticitieswhich will take place on 3 and 4 July 2015 at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham. The conference has been co-organised by our very own Fran Berry and Jo Applin (University of York).

The keynote speakers are Mignon Nixon (Courtauld Institute of Art, London) and Julia Bryan-Wilson (University of California, Berkeley).

Other speakers include: Sarah Blaylock (UC Santa Cruz), Amy Charlesworth (Open University), Agata Jakubowska (Adam Mickiewicz University), Teresa Kittler (UCL), Alexandra Kokoli (Middlesex University), Megan Luke (University of Southern California), Barbara Mahlknecht (Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna), Alyce Mahon (University of Cambridge), Elizabeth Robles (University of Bristol), Harriet Riches (Kingston University), Giulia Smith (UCL), Catherine Spencer (University of St. Andrews), Amy Tobin (University of York).

For further details and to register (tickets £10), please visit the conference website.

House, Work, Artwork: Feminism and Art History’s New Domesticities is co-sponsored by the University of Birmingham, University of York, and the Oxford Art Journal.

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Remembering Louise Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun

Esther Newman, student of English Literature and Classical Civilisation and a volunteer at the University’s Research and Cultural Collections tells us about the artist behind one of the Barber’s most iconic images…

Today, Thursday, 16th April, marks the birth, 260 years ago, of Louise Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun (1755 – 1842), a pioneer in women’s art and the artist behind the portrait of Countess Golovine who gave her name to this blog. Through her work, Vigée-Lebrun radically changed the perception and respectability awarded to female artists. She is recognised today as the most prominent female painter of the eighteenth century; during her impressive career, she was one of the first women accepted into the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in 1783 and was granted the patronage of Marie Antoinette for six years.

Her style, while generally considered Rococo, also shows an interest in Neoclassicism. In reflecting the Age of Enlightenment, late eighteenth century art rejected the excesses of Rococo in favour of the style and spirit of classical antiquity. While Vigée-Lebrun’s work echoes these transitions, her work, and especially her portraits of Marie Antoinette, are now considered exemplary of Rococo.

Vigée-Lebrun was born in Paris on April 16th 1755 to a hairdresser mother and artist father. Her father, Louis Vigée, a noted portraitist, was her first teacher. By the time she was in her early teens she was painting portraits professionally of various members of aristocracy and her works were exhibited at the Académie de Saint Luc. In 1779 her big break came when she was summoned to Versailles to paint Marie Antoinette. Having previously disregarded other portraits of herself, the queen was impressed by Vigée-Lebrun’s style; Vigée-Lebrun continued to paint the queen for six years, resulting in over thirty portraits.

Vigée-Lebrun, Marie-Antoinette, 1783 (Versailles)

Vigée-Lebrun, Marie-Antoinette, 1783 (Versailles)

 

Given that this was a pre-photographic society, portraiture was incredibly important in the presentation of public figures. In 1785, Vigée-Lebrun was commissioned to paint the queen and her children. In response to ever-growing hostility, Vigée-Lebrun’s Marie-Antoinette and her Children (1787), which depicts the queen as a devout motherly figure, was instrumental in improving public opinion and in making her more relatable to the French people. Even today, Vigée-Lebrun continues to shape how we see Marie Antoinette.

Vigée-Lebrun, Marie-Antoinette and her Children, 1787 (Versailles)

Vigée-Lebrun, Marie-Antoinette and her Children, 1787 (Versailles)

 

Due to her connection with the queen, in 1783 Vigée-Lebrun was begrudgingly accepted into the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture alongside three other women.

With the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, Vigée-Lebrun, a strong Royalist with close connections to the royal family, left France. For 12 years she lived and travelled abroad, visiting Rome, Naples, Vienna, Berlin, St. Petersburg, Moscow and London, and painting portraits of aristocrats and prominent social figures.

During her time in Moscow, Vigée-Lebrun met and befriended Countess Varvara Nikolaevna Golovine (1766 – 1821). Her portrait, which is housed in the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, depicts the Countess almost entirely enveloped in a red cloak. What leaps out of the portrait is her gaze; her eyes fix upon the viewer unwaveringly, and with unnerving candour. A ray of light falls into the portrait at an angle, cutting the background diagonally into a dark side and a light, with which the artist heightens the dramatic nature of the pose. There is an aspect of spontaneity and informality about the Countess’ pose which, along with her fixed stare, draws in the viewer.

Vigée-Lebrun, Countess Golovine, 1797/1800 (Barber Institute of Fine Arts)

Vigée-Lebrun, Countess Golovine, 1797/1800 (Barber Institute of Fine Arts)

While travelling, Vigée-Lebrun maintained a place in high society and, as such, gained respect and influence. In 1810, she returned to Paris to live, remaining here and continuing her work, until her death on the 30th March 1842.

In her memoirs, Souvenirs de ma vie (1835 – 1837), Vigée-Lebrun accounts that, during her career, she painted 900 pictures, including some 600 portraits and 200 landscapes. Her depiction of the French aristocracy before its downfall sees a world of decadence and luxury; her work, which pays great detail to the fashion and clothing of her subjects, documents a time in history that we will never see again. Her legacy is of a woman who, despite contemporary attitudes to female artists, proved herself one of the most technically skilled portraitists of the age, and perceptively aware of what her art could achieve socially.

 

If you would like to write for The Golovine on art-related subjects in Birmingham and beyond, send us an email to thegolovine@gmail.com

First-year Camila Poccard reviews ‘Antonio Berni: Juanito y Ramona’ in Buenos Aires

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I was in Argentina recently and whilst I was there I visited an exhibition Antonio Berni: Juanito y Ramona at the MALBA (Museo de Arte Latino Americano de Buenos Aires/ Museum of Latin-American Art of Buenos Aires). The exhibition displayed a large collection of the work of Argentine artist Antonio Berni, the majority of which was created from the late 1950s to the late 1970s. The MALBA is one of the only art galleries in Buenos Aires that was purpose built to be an art gallery and consequently it has a modern, bright and clean interior, which seemed juxtaposed with Berni’s hectic and vibrant work.

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Berni, ‘Juanito y su familia mirando el televisor’, 1974

The exhibition focused on a period in Berni’s career when he began to paint two fictitious characters he invented, Juanito Laguna and Ramona Montiel, to help explore social issues of large Latin American cities. This exhibition was the first of its kind to gather so much of Berni’s ‘Juanito and Ramona’ works, and MALBA collaborated with the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston to do so.

Juanito Laguna is portrayed as a young boy from a poor neighbourhood or shantytown, who collects garbage. Although his situation is bleak, he still retains his hopes and dreams, which Berni himself discusses in this video. This sense of hope can be seen, for example, in the painting of Juanito playing with a toy airplane and gazing up at a spaceship, dreaming of opportunities. As this was painted around the time of the moon landings, Berni makes Juanito like any other boy of his time who dreams of going to space, perhaps making him a relatable, contemporary character.

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Berni, ‘Juanito Laguna y la aeronave’, 1978

Ramona Montiel, on the other hand, was created as a character to represent lower-class women. She becomes a prostitute in order to earn enough money to live and, through her character, Berni comments on the sex trade, the status of women, and also the lack of professional opportunities afforded to women.

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Berni, ‘El Examen’, 1976

 

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Berni, ‘Juanito Laguna going to the factory’, 1977

The paintings of Juanito in particular are large in size and striking. Berni was a very experimental artist and used new techniques in his artworks. Whilst he uses oil paints for the background and to paint Juanito himself, the work is dominated by collaged industrial waste and garbage that Berni collected. These objects protrude from the paintings, creating a 3D effect. The amount of metal used in the paintings is also quite jarring, as it reminds the viewer of the environment in which poor children represented by Juanito live. Instead of painting Juanito’s clothing, Berni places real items of clothing onto the canvas, often using popular clothes of the time, suggesting further how the character represents a particular class of children. However, the artist is also perhaps making a statement about how capitalist society and consumer culture fuel poverty. By using real, relevant and contemporary objects and popular culture to explore social issues, Berni creates in a way more ‘real’ characters. In fact, his characters have since taken on a life of their own in Argentina, becoming folks legends, incorporated into the lyrics of tango music and folks songs, as well as in poems and stories.

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Berni, ‘Juanito the Scavenger’, 1978

In Juanito the Scavenger, the child is lost in a sea of industrial waste and garbage, and his face looks despondent. This painting depicts the common practice of children in slums rummaging in garbage for things to sell. Even though the scene is bleak, Berni’s use of colour brings life into the painting. I found that even though the paintings are gripping and have a serious political message, Berni’s use of colour makes them accessible and almost child-like. It suggests the vibrancy of Latin America, whilst also reminding viewers that Juanito is just a boy.

Overall I found the exhibition fascinating; it compiled so much of Berni’s work and was a testament to this experimental stage in his career. The exhibition was large and comprehensive, spread across different rooms over three floors, encompassing printmaking, sculpture as well as painting; I think it was a triumph. The exhibition opened in October in 2014 and proved to be very popular. Although Berni’s paintings were created in the late 1950s through to late 1970s, the social and economic issues they explore still plague many large Latin American cities today, so the political meaning of these paintings is still gripping and relevant.

Camila Poccard (1st-year History of Art student)

 

Prague, Pilsner and Palaces: Study Trip Abroad 2015

Every year in February, second-year BA History of Art students at the University of Birmingham go on a Study Trip to examine the art and architecture of a major artistic centre abroad, such as Paris, Berlin or Rome. Emily Martin and Anna Stileman report on this year’s trip to Prague…

This year’s second-year Art History Study Trip was to the art hub of Prague, led by Professor Matthew Rampley. Courageously his wife, Dr Marta Filipová, herself a Czech art historian, and University of Birmingham PhD student Kristine MacMichael agreed to come along and share their knowledge with us. The striking image of the Jan Hus memorial greeted us on our first day in the city, as it impressively stands over the square of the Old Town. Hus’ gaze took in the historical churches and decorated buildings, as well as wonderfully brightly coloured preparations for the Chinese New Year. The amount of art we saw, admired, and discussed over pints of Pilsner beer during our trip was incredible. The entire city of Prague is a work of art with its cobbled streets, painted facades and Gothic churches.

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Jan Hus Memorial, Old Town Square

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Enjoying some Pilsner

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The Czech Republic is a country which appears to have been in a constant battle to define its own national identity. The complicated history is intimately entwined with the Habsburg Holy Roman Empire and all this is what makes its collection of art, found throughout the city in its numerous palaces, so interestingly dynamic, if not a bit strange. Take St. Vitus Cathedral as an example. A testament to Gothic architecture but re-worked so many times that it reflects the interests of its nineteenth-century renovators as much as its original architects. Of note are the more contemporary stained glass windows by the Czech artist Alfons Mucha, who is well known for his Art Nouveau posters in Paris, but was also an ardent Czech patriot during the 1920s. We saw his Slav Epic, a cycle of 20 large canvases, on the penultimate day of our trip and it was a favourite for many of the group. The cycle of canvases grouped together in Veletržní palác are powerful in their patriotic display of the history of the Czech nation. However, the works were sadly viewed as too archaic in their day, and displayed since 2012 in the Veletržní palác, alongside the rest of the late-nineteenth and twentieth-century collections of the national gallery, is contrary to the works’ art-historical context.

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Alfons Mucha, The Slav Epic; Master Jan Hus Preaching at Bethlehem Chapel, 1916

The visit to the Senate of Parliament of the Czech Republic in Wallenstein Palace (Valdštejnský palác) gave us a glimpse of where the country is governed. Its appearance did not disappoint. Our guide took us on a tour through magnificent rooms, such as the seventeenth-century Main Hall with the slightly outrageous ceiling mural by Baccio del Bianco (note the Italian name) which features the seventeenth-century aristocratic General Valdštejnský as Mars the god of war. In addition, the Knight Hall was extraordinary with walls covered in veal leather tapestries pressed with various motifs. The Czech Republic’s variable heritage is evident by the way in which this is so casually neighboured by Venetian mirrors of the nineteenth century. Perhaps even more perplexing is how the official Parliament assembly room was originally the palace horses’ stable.

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View from Vítkov Hill

On the last day, those of us who had a chance to see Vítkov Hill Memorial were glad we did. Not only was it a perfect position from which to see panoramic views of the city, but offers an amazing insight into the Czech’s era of Communism. The Communist occupation is also evidently shown in the architecture of the New Town (Nové Mĕsto).

 

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National Memorial, Vítkov Hill

In Prague the people are kind, the beer is cheap and the opportunity to see stunning works is all around. The remarkable thing about Prague is that the palaces and buildings, regardless of when they were built and what historical prominence they hold, all manage to fit into the landscape. Something so bold as the National Memorial on Vítkov Hill looks down on the churches and small building complexes with their red roofs, and yet doesn’t seem out of place. The friezes by Alfons Mucha do not appear juxtaposed to St. Vitus Cathedral. Prague is an eclectic city, but one which suits its own style.

By Emily Martin and Anna Stileman

 

 

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An obligatory Prague selfie…

 

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Second-year student Patricia Nistor reviews ‘Marlene Dumas: The Image as Burden’

Last term second-year History of Art student Patricia Nistor spent a Semester Abroad in Leiden at one of the most reputable universities in The Netherlands. She describes her experience as follows: “I developed a wide range of skills but also had a lot of fun, making for what were probably the best four months of my life.”  While in Amsterdam she took the opportunity to visit the exhibition Marlene Dumas: The Image as Burden at the Stedelijk Museum, which is now on at Tate Modern, and wrote a review for The Golovine…

‘Painting?! Are you kidding me?’ was my first reaction when I found out we were going to see the Marlene Dumas exhibition at the Stedelijk in Amsterdam. I consider myself a lover of all arts and all periods alike, but I was virtually convinced that painting has to be on its deathbed in the 21st century. There seemed to be no potency left for painting in a time where new media and new approaches are competing fiercely for our attention. Needless to say that Marlene Dumas is the exception that proved me wrong.

The Image as Burden is a retrospective of works created in the last 40 years by the South African-born artist Marlene Dumas. The Stedelijk is a particularly powerful place to hold such an exhibition, as it was the museum where she took part in her first group exhibition in 1978. The inclusion of the artist, then only 25, reinforces the museum’s position as a maker, rather than follower of canon.

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Marlene Dumas, ‘The Image as Burden’, 1993 © Marlene Dumas

The exhibition brochure opens with a quote that is key to what is on display: “images are always political. Something is always assigned to an image –this is a criminal, (…) that is erotic – and that’s what I am involved with: the psychology of perception’’. Dumas’ subject matter is incredibly wide and fluid: ranging from religion, war, race, love, death, guilt, and art itself – all converging in representing the theme we might call life itself. In the end, the power always lies in the hands of the viewer to decipher the meaning.

The varied subject matter in the exhibition is tied together by Dumas’ style and technique, and all her works somehow find a particular place within the pictorial universe she creates. Her art seems to be a construction of simplicity: all lines seem to be in the right place and the scarce amount of detail is perfectly controlled to achieve a vagueness but at the same time coherent figures.

Marlene Dumas, ‘Evil is Banal’, 1984 © Marlene Dumas

Another major characteristic in her art is reworking. Dumas never paints life directly; the mediation of photography is always present. She uses personal Polaroids as well as newspaper photographs as a basis as she launches into a radical decontextualisation and processing of visual culture. She ends up creating her own space where people are not exactly real but they are not imaginary either. In one piece, Jesus Serene, she uses existing images of Jesus, such as the one on the Turin Shroud, side by side with images of her friends. The result is an exploration of humanity itself, with the figures all seeming equal, genderless and not of any particular race.

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Marlene Dumas, Jesus Serene, 1994 © Marlene Dumas

Echoes from Dumas’ childhood in South Africa still deeply permeate her work. She unapologetically tackles feminism, race, grief and the naked body all at once in haunting pictures such as The Widow. She also works to include African figures ignored in the narrow Western standard of beauty. It is interesting to note how the Stedelijk chose to tiptoe around this issue, claiming the title of the exhibition refers to ‘the conflict between the painterly gesture and the illusion of the painted image’. Rachel Spence writing for The Financial Times offered an alternative reading of this. She reminds that South Africa was a country where representations of certain people were banned and that it ‘had become a country where images were regarded as bombs’.

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Marlene Dumas, ‘Naomi’, 1995 © Marlene Dumas

All in all, Dumas’ work probably owes its success to a strong mixture of emotional intensity and current political relevance. In this review, I barely touch the surface of the two hundred artworks displayed in the exhibition. The multiplicity of aspects and depth in her work would require many more words to be properly explored. However, this serves as a reminder that The Image as Burden is currently on at Tate Modern until 10 May 2015, and it is definitely a great opportunity to visit a wonderfully-curated exhibition of one of the most intriguing painters of our time.

Patricia Nistor (2nd-year History of Art student)

Second-year student Emily Robins visits the Newman Brothers Coffin Works…

With a touch of what some may deem to be ‘morbid curiosity’, I decided to spend a free Wednesday afternoon visiting Birmingham Conservation Trust’s latest project – the Newman Brothers Coffin Works. The slightly-misleading name ‘Coffin Works’ conjures up an image of a rather gloomy, depressing funeral parlour place but, to dispel some myths, this image couldn’t be further from truth. In fact, the Conservation Trust has succeeded in creating not only a sensitive portrayal of several aspects of the funerary industry, but also, more importantly, an intriguing time-capsule experience of factory life in the early 1960s. After 16 years of closure, and following a national campaign, this historic jewellery quarter business has been restored to the former glory of its post-war heyday.

On arrival I was greeted by staff in authentic 1960s uniforms and asked to ‘clock in’ using the original machine. It was pretty quiet for a Wednesday afternoon, so our tour guide, the exceptionally knowledgeable Robin, took me and two other visitors for a tour. We began with a brief history of the company. I was surprised to learn that Newman Bros had never actually made coffins, only handles, plates and shrouds. All of these objects are in keeping with the company’s Jewellery Quarter location and credentials. We headed over to the first stop on the tour, the ‘Stamp Room’. Here Robin provided a hands-on demonstration of the traditional equipment used to cut out coffin plates, crucifixes and other shapes from sheet metal. This was followed by an interactive experience in the storeroom, where we were invited to touch and examine designs used for handles and accessories. The room was full to the brim with all sorts of objects; I couldn’t help but admire the sheer quantity of original packaging and furniture still in-situ.

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Inside the Stamp Room

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Authentic Coffin-Handle Packaging and Embalming Chemicals

Afterwards, Robin took us through to the main office, again beautiful preserved and complete with the very Mad Men-esque addition of a drinks cupboard stocked with champagne! Here I was asked to answer the telephone and jot down the orders from a client on the other end of the line, half expecting the big boss to arrive back any minute!

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The Big Boss’ Desk in the Office

Robin then ushered us upstairs to the last room on the tour, the ‘Shroud Room’. The name is enough to send shivers down anyone’s spine; you might imagine a ghostly and dusty attic room. However, once again Newman bros challenged my assumptions as I entered a light and airy workshop, more befitting to a designer atelier. Piled high across every available surface were luxurious fabrics in numerous prints, textures and colours. By the windows sit sewing machines and workstations which appear as if they were only vacated a minute or so ago, whilst the factory girls nip out to lunch. Throughout the tour, keen eyes will be drawn to more of these authentic and detailed touches, which make a visit to the Coffin Works feel like as if you’ve stepped back in time. My personal favourites were touches such as the tea-break corner, complete with a variety of cups and cosies and listing how everyone prefers to take their hard-earned cuppa.

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Box of Shroud Labels

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Workspace in the Shroud Room

Robin finished the tour with some final reflections and anecdotes about the staff and personnel who spent the best part of their lives in these very rooms. Overall, I left the Coffin Works with the image of a workplace that was not without its eccentricities, but that nonetheless played a crucial role in the shaping of Birmingham as an industrial city; a role which will remain crucial as Newman Bros continues its transformative trajectory as not only a heritage attraction, but a perfectly preserved slice of social, cultural and manufacturing history.

Emily Robins (2nd-year History of Art student)

Another Michelangelo whodunnit . . . one nun, one ex-Vatican employee and one ransom demand for a stolen Michelangelo letter

Etienne Duperac's engraving of Michelangelo's finalised scheme for the new St. Peter's

Etienne Duperac’s engraving of Michelangelo’s finalised scheme for the new St. Peter’s

Yesterday the Italian newspaper Il Messagerro reported that the Vatican has received a ransom demand for the return of an autograph letter by Michelangelo which, unbeknownst to the outside world, was stolen from the Vatican archives in 1997. The letter is one of two documents that apparently went missing and is said to be written entirely in Michelangelo’s own hand, which is fairly unusual, since Michelangelo often dictated his letters to assistants who transcribed them for him to sign.

The facts, which are sketchy, are as follows. The documents were taken from the Fabricca di San Pietro, the archive of the department that oversees the maintenance of St. Peter’s basilica, which Michelangelo re-designed. According to a Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, who issued a statement after Il Messagerro published their report, the cardinal in charge of St. Peter’s, Angelo Comastri, has recently received a ransom demand for a “certain price” in exchange for return of the letter; Il Messagerro gave the price as €100,000 and claims that the request came from ex-Vatican employee who could get the documents back for the Fabricca. Father Lombardi added that the theft was first noticed by a nun who, in 1997, informed Vatican officials that the documents were missing. The ransom demand was ‘naturally refused’.

No further details have been made public at this stage. One BIG question, though, is why wasn’t the theft reported in 1997? The Vatican police are now investigating the theft, along with their Italian counterparts.

 

Jamie

 

ARTiculation Workshop: the Barber teams up with Ikon and UoB postgraduates to work with sixth formers passionate about art!

Back in October last year, Jen Ridding, Learning and Access Officer at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, invited History of Art PhD students to help deliver a workshop for sixth formers that she was planning in association with ARTiculation Prize.

ARTiculation is an annual national competition organised by The Roche Court Educational Trust, which invites sixth-form students to give a short presentation on a work of art, artefact, or architecture of their choice. The Midlands regional heat of the competition took place on 19 January at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, adjudicated by our very own Dr Richard Clay, Senior Lecturer in History of Art. Jen and Erin Libetta, Learning Assistant at Ikon, organised the workshop at the Barber to support students wishing to apply for the ARTiculation process. The workshop was also an opportunity for sixth formers who are passionate about art and might be interested in pursuing a Higher Education art-based course to test out their visual analysis skills in a University-based collection.

In preparation for our workshop with the sixth formers, we had a fantastic training session with Sarah Rowles, Director of Q-Art, an organisation that supports access to and development in art education. The training workshop was based on a ‘crit session’ that are normally held in art schools where students present their work to a group of peers who then respond and offer their interpretations of the work under scrutiny. For this workshop we adapted the crit format to consider artworks from the Barber’s collection. We all enjoyed and appreciated spending a Thursday afternoon upstairs in the Barber galleries analysing works that none of focus on in our own research!

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Training session at the Barber with Jen Ridding, Erin Libetta & Sarah Rowles

The following week, 12 sixth formers from 3 local schools and colleges attended our workshop at the Barber, some of whom hadn’t visited the collection here on campus before. Lucy Salisbury, Head of Outreach at The Roche Court Educational Trust also joined us to participate and spread the word about ARTiculation. We began the session by watching a talk given at last year’s ARTiculation competition by Harr-Joht Takhar on BM&AG’s Man with Sheep by Ana Maria Pacheco. Harr-Joht was also at the workshop and was on-hand to share her experiences with the rest of the group. She emphasised how much she had enjoyed taking part previously as it enabled her to develop different skills, not only in presenting but also, for example, the ability to research a subject independently.

We then divided into groups, each led by one or two of us PhD students, to produce a list of questions we might ask when facing an artwork for the first time, such as ‘what kind of reaction does this work provoke’, ‘how was it made’ and ‘what is particularly striking about it’? Armed with our A3 sheets of probing questions, we went upstairs in the galleries where each group selected an artwork on which to test out their enquiries. Group 1 picked a nineteenth-century painting depicting a tranquil, green landscape, Group 2 selected a seventeenth-century bronze statuette of a horse and Group 3 opted for a large Renaissance painting representing an exchange between two figures amidst a crowd of people. Without looking at any labels for clues, insightful group discussions ensued about the possible reasons why the particular spot depicted in the landscape had been chosen, who might have owned a bronze sculpture of a horse, and who each of the figures might be in the Renaissance painting. Each group then gave a short informal presentation to everyone else about their findings.

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Group 1 analysing a landscape

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Group 2 discussing bronze horses

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Group 3 debating the identity of the figures in Paolo Veronese’s painting

Before the workshop, students were asked to bring along an image of their choice. We concluded the session with partner-work where the students swapped images in their pairs and spent a few minutes analysing one another’s artwork.

Overall we thoroughly enjoyed helping Jen and Erin to lead the workshop, and feedback indicates that the students enjoyed the opportunity to interrogate artworks in the Barber’s wonderful collection.

Erin Libetta said of this year’s ARTiculation heat at Ikon:

‘The ARTiculation Regional Heat, has been a highlight in Ikon’s calendar for the last four years. This year’s event was no exception, with seven speakers taking part from Sixth Forms across the Midlands and talks ranging from the subjects of architecture and illustration, to the very artworks that formed a backdrop to the proceedings, namely Ikon’s exhibition of work by Deutsche Bank Artist of the Year, Imran Qureshi. There was a fantastic atmosphere in the galleries, which were full of peers and teachers from the participating schools supporting their speakers. It was really encouraging to see students, that had taken part in taster ARTiculation Crit Sessions and Discovery Days, build the confidence to enter the regional heat, moreover securing runner-up positions.’

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ARTiculation participants with adjudicator, Dr Richard Clay

 

The winners of Ikon’s regional heat were:
First Prize Winner: Thomas Leung from Bancroft’s School for his presentation, The Turbine Hall.
Second Prize Winner: Javerya Iqbal from Holly Lodge High School for her presentation, Imran Qureshi, The Leprous Brightness (2011).
Third Prize Winner: Oscar Boyle from Kings School Worcester for his presentation, Cy Twombly,  Leda and The Swan (1962).

The final of ARTiculation takes place at Clare College, University of Cambridge this Saturday (7 March). The adjudicator will be Dr. Penelope Curtis, Director, Tate Britain.

 

Lauren Dudley & Imogen Wiltshire

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