A Derbyshire salon hang?

William Marlow oil painting of Matlock Bath

William Marlow oil painting of Matlock Bath

Over the last five years Buxton Museum has bought over 30 artworks as part of the Enlightenment! project. These range from oil paintings by Royal Academy artists to watercolours by unknown amateurs. What the pictures all have in common, is that they show either Derbyshire views or Derbyshire people and were created between 1743 and about 1880.

All these artworks have been on display in the Museum, and many of them have toured to Derby Museum and Art Gallery and Strutt’s North Mill. We don’t have a permanent art gallery at the Museum. Instead we incorporate art into the Wonders of the Peak Gallery, especially in the Georgian Room, and into our temporary exhibition programme. As part of Collections in the Landscape we are looking at redeveloping the Wonders of the Peak Gallery and have a commitment to put 10% more objects on display.

Salon hangs were popular in the 18th and 19th centuries.
This is an image of the 1839 Derby Exhibition at the Mechanics Institute in Derby.

I am very keen to get more art on display and one way of doing this in a small space is by implementing a salon hang – basically floor to ceiling art. Although I like salon hangs, I do find that they don’t always work and that pictures can sometimes blend too much into the background. Traditionally the ‘best’ paintings were hung ‘on the line’ i.e at eye level. While those further down the hierarchy were ‘skied’, meaning that you can’t get a decent look at them! The benefits of the salon hang, is that you are able to get more art on show and they are displayed in an appropriate period style.

Salon hang at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Salon hang at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

I think Buxton Museum’s Derbyshire views would work well in this scenario. It would give the wall a strong theme and comparisons could be made easily between the different artists’ interpretations of the views. Oils could be up there semi-permanently while works on paper could be on a rolling programme, limiting their exposure to the light. We could also look at drawers, possibly in a Georgian Gentleman’s style cabinet in which to display prints and watercolours, which would allow public access while limiting light damage.

Anna using the iExplore app at the Clarke Institute

Anna using the iExplore app at the Clarke Institute

It can be tricky to get the interpretation right on a salon hang, as it doesn’t lend itself to the traditional museum label. While visiting museums over the last 6 months I have been keeping my eyes peeled for ideas. I enjoyed the hang at the Clarke Institute in Massachusetts, USA. Here they’ve hung over 80 paintings in a small room and the bulk of the interpretation is accessed via tablets, which are loaned to visitors. It creates an interesting exhibition and I enjoyed the ‘hodgepodgeness’ of depictions of American Indians displayed alongside a Renaissance Madonna and British coastal scenes.

Using the iExplore app

The tablet displayed a programme called uExplore which gave further information on the paintings and sometimes also relevant audio and video content. There was another interactive app called uCurate which allows visitors to digitally curate their own exhibition – you choose the paintings, wall colours, design layout etc.

A visitor using the uCurate app at the Clarke Institute

A visitor using the uCurate app at the Clarke Institute

Both apps are available to use from the comfort of your own home – http://www.clarkart.edu/exhibitions/remix/content/exhibition.cfm We’d be interested to know what you think?


Descriptions of Matlock and Cumberland Cave, 1807 – 1808

I have been looking at some early 19th century unpublished travel diaries which feature Derbyshire. Derby, Matlock and Castleton have featured heavily, as have Chatsworth, Haddon and Hardwicke Hall. What has been surprising (in the ones I have looked at) is the omission of Dovedale.

Also noticeable is the absence of descriptions of the Derwent Valley Mills. It is implausible that these visitors didn’t see the mills, especially as some of them visited Willersley Castle – almost opposite Cromford Mill. It appears that while these tourists were happy to visit the urban Silk Mill and porcelain manufactuing in Derby, they were not interested in seeing industry in a more rustic setting. Their descriptions of the Derwent Valley are full of the sublime and awe-inspiring power of nature and Arkwright’s modern mills obviously didn’t fit with the search for the picturesque.


Diary by an unknown woman 1807 (YCBA)

‘Smedley’s Cavern we visited, who after 17 years labour, and perseverance open’d a communication with this awful abyss, and now acts as a guide to display its beauties.  This cave contains immense treasures of spas minerals and fossils, which he manufactures into very beautiful ornaments of various descriptions….. we purchased many articles for our friends, and sent them to London by the waggon’.

Diary of an unknown woman, 1807


The entrance into Matlock from the South is through a Rock, which has been blasted with gunpowder for half a mile for the purpose of opening a carriage road, on the left is a row of houses for the accommodation of Company, behind which are high barren rocks, in the front are gardens, and beyond those run the River Derwent, on this side of which is a charming shady walk formed through a wood, on the other side rises almost perpendicular stupendous rocks which are 123 yards high, 10 more than the summit of St Pauls…… at the other end of the Town is a cavern called Cumberland Cave, this is a work of art.  Smedley’s of Matlock having worked at it for 17 years in order to clear a passage, it is a vast and awful place, worth exploring’.

Diary of Mary Kerr, 1808

Exploring the photo archive at YCBA

Lucy and I arrived in New Haven late on Wednesday night. The jetlag has begun to subside, we’re settled into our apartments and are beginning to explore New Haven and the Yale Centre for British Art.

The view of the Green from my apartment

The view of the Green from my apartment

On Thursday we had a tour of the YCBA building and departments and spent the afternoon wandering around the fourth floor, which houses their permanent collection of 18th century art. We gazed at Turners, Constables, Hogarths, Reynolds, Stubbs and of course their Joseph Wrights.

The reference library at YCBA

The reference library at YCBA – note the lack of students on a sunny Saturday!

Over the last two days I have got stuck into the photo archive. This archive comprises of 8 bays of roller racking stuffed full of boxes containing black and white photos of selected artist’s known works. The artists are organised alphabetically, starting with Abbot and ending with Zucci.

Lucy hard at work. The photo archive is in the bays on the right hand side.

Lucy hard at work. The photo archive is in the bays on the right hand side

The works photographed might be in the collection here at YCBA, in other museums across the world or in private collections. Although it is not a complete and up to date listing, it is proving to be a really useful resource in my quest to map what Derbyshire 18th century landscapes exist.

A card in the photo archive showing a William Marlow oil of Matlock.

A card in the photo archive showing a William Marlow oil of Matlock.

Spot The Difference

Buxton Museum’s recent purchase of the John Webber and William Day watercolours of Castleton has got us thinking.  These two watercolours were drawn on the same day in 1789 and both show the same view but from slightly different angles.  We have been playing spot the difference with them and this inspired us to put then up alongside other pictures showing similar views from different angles.

 These pictures are on display on our newly repainted landing at Buxton Museum, and include 5 pictures that we have bought as part of the Enlightenment! project.

 These images should give you a flavour – please excuse the poor photography!


John Webber’s 1789 Castleton watercolour on the left and William Day’s watercolour on the right.

John Bluck’s 1805 print of Matlock Bath on the left, and William Marlow’s 1780 oil of the same view.

A lithograph of Buxton Crescent on the left and William Cowen’s 1850 watercolour on the right.

Godfrey Sykes’ 1850 oil of Buxton Market Place on the left and an unknown artist’s oil on the right.

New Bath Hotel, Matlock Bath


Buxton Museum and Art Gallery has bought a watercolour of the New Bath Hotel in Matlock Bath.  The picture was sold to the museum by a private seller and has just come back after undergoing conservation work – check out the before and after photos below.   

 The watercolour shows the front of the hotel, a rather windswept looking fir tree and groups of visitors – complete with the ubiquitous angler that graces so many Derbyshire scenes.

 The sign on the gable end of the hotel reads ‘Saxton’s New Bath Hotel’.  George Saxton and his son (also George) owned the New Bath Hotel from around 1797 to the 1850s.  During this period Matlock Bath was a burgeoning tourist town attracting visitors with its warm medicinal waters and rocky picturesque setting – you’ll see the watercolour shows the hotel against a backdrop of limestone cliffs.

 Matlock Bath had many hotels and boarding houses but ‘well to do’ visitors would stay at either the New Bath Hotel, Temple Hotel or Hodkinson’s Hotel. 

The three hotels had the same tariff and  in 1819 they charged  5s a week for a bed chamber, 14s to a guinea for a private parlour and bathing was 6d a time.  Each hotel would have also provided post-chaises and horses for excursions to local beauty spots. 

 Dr. Granville writing in ‘The Spas of England’ in 1841 considered the New Bath Hotel the best of the three with the decorated ball room being its main attraction.  Benjamin Bryan in his 1903 book ‘History of Matlock’ describes the hotel as being ‘finely placed, has been thoroughly modernised, is luxuriously finished, and admirably managed’. 


Ashford Black Marble pen rest

At Buxton Museum and Art Gallery we have a large and unique collection of Ashford Black Marble objects. The collection contains over 200 items including tables, jewellery, obelisks, candlesticks, thermometers and a window. A lot of these items are on permanent display in the petrifaction shop in the ‘Wonders of the Peak’ gallery.

Thanks to the Enlightenment! project we added to our collection by purchasing the silhouette socle and our latest addition is a pen rest. What made this piece stand out for us was the subject matter (the bird) and the label on the reverse. The label reads;

‘Mawe’s Original Royal Museum, Matlock Bath; Near the rotunda, Cheltenham, and 149, Strand, London. Where are constantly on Sale, A great variety of Italian and Derbyshire Ornaments, beautifully copied from the Antique, by the most skilful workmen. Minerals, Shells, Corals &c. scientifically arranged. Diamond engraving’.

Mawe (1766 – 1829) was born in Derby but left Derbyshire to work as a merchant sailor. During his seafaring days he became interested in mineralogy and began to collect stones and shells. He returned to Derbyshire in 1794 and married the daughter of Richard Brown, a mineral dealer, marble worker and proprietor of the Royal Museum in Matlock Bath. Mawe became part of the family business and managed the London store ‘Brown, Son & Mawe’ in Covent Garden. Mawe published ‘The Mineralogy of Derbyshire’ in 1802.

If you want to find out more about Mawe then read the Peak District Mines Historical Society bulletin (volume 11, Number 6, Winter 1992).

Mawe and Brown’s story intertwines with that of John Vallance who started his career at the Royal Museum before establishing his own rival museum next door. It was Vallance’s museum that originally sold the Ann Rayner engraving of Matlock Tor that we were outbid on in July 2011.

Ashford Black Marble engraving of Matlock Tor

Anna Rhodes, Assistant Collections Officer, Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

On 13 July I went down to Halls Auction House in Shrewsbury to bid on an Ashford Black Marble diamond engraving by Ann Rayner (1802 – 1890). It was a really nice piece with a lovely moonlit view of Matlock High Tor. It had an estimate of £300 – £500, and after discussions with colleagues we decided that our maximum bid would be £750.

At Buxton Museum we already have two Ann Rayner Ashford Black Marble engravings, one is of Haddon Hall and the other of Matlock Bath. The piece for sale had a label on the reverse from the Centre Museum at Matlock Bath. We have a few other pieces in the collection which also came from the Centre Museum, which was owned by John Vallance.

This ‘museum’ like the other museums found in Matlock Bath at the time was basically just a shop selling Derbyshire spars and minerals. John Vallance joined Mawe & Brown at the Royal Museum in Matlock Bath as an assistant in 1811. In 1831 he set up his Centre Museum next door. At the 1851 Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace he won a prize medal for his in-laid marble tables. The juries report went on to say that a ‘Prize Medal has been awarded, not for these tables only, but for his general collection of Derbyshire marble manufactures, which is in a very high degree interesting and instructive’.

Engraved Ashford Black Marble paperweights like the one for sale were popular from 1830 – 1850 and they often featured moonlight scenes and country houses. They were made by scratching the polished marble with a diamond which created a paler line that could be built up into a picture.

Anyway, back to the saleroom…..

At the auction I sat patiently through the Chinese ceramics and watched bids fly in from across the world – China, Taiwan and America clinched most of the deals. Finally after an hour and a half Lot 100 arrived. It started with the auctioneer on commission at £300, before being opened to the room. My paddle shot up at £350 but a millisecond later an internet bid came in offering over a £1000 – my short lived bidding days were over. A fierce contest erupted between a gentleman in the room and the internet and it finally sold for £3400.  Alas…

If you want to find out more about Ashford Black Marble read Tomlinson’s ‘Derbyshire Black Marble’ which is for sale at Buxton Museum, £9.95, alternatively you can borrow it from Derbyshire Libraries.

William Marlow, View of Matlock Bath

A view of Matlock Bath

On the 9th of December we successfully bought an oil painting by William Marlow (1740 – 1813).  The picture dates from the 1780s and depicts Matlock Bath and the River Derwent.  It shows the Old Bath Hotel which was demolished and rebuilt in 1801.  It also very interestingly shows a weir in the bottom right hand corner which shows that the river was being engineered as far back as the 1780s.  The painting will help interpret Matlock Bath and the northern part of the Derwent Valley World Heritage Site.  It will help to tell the story of the opening up of the area; the building of roads, the coming of tourists, river engineering and the associated textile technology.  

Within the collection at Buxton Museum there are two engraved Marlow prints of the same scene and it is fascinating to compare these with the original oil.  A lot of the detail has been lost in the engraving and figures and animals are missing.  Having the original Marlow within the collection adds resonance to these prints and to the others we have of the area – including the 1805 John Bluck prints that we recently bought at the Chatsworth Auction.

The buying process – Anna Rhodes

Before I started on this project the word acquisition mainly summed up images of people dropping things off at the Museum.  Usually these were deposited at the Museum desk and the appropriate entry forms were filled in, although sometimes they were left in carrier bags on the doorstep or round the back – like a kind of charity shop donation.  I have never before had the opportunity to buy at auction so working on the Enlightenment! project has been a completely new experience for me.

 The purchase of the William Marlow oil painting has been the first acquisition of the project that I have been heavily involved in, from start to finish.  My colleagues at Derby Museum first spotted the picture in the Sotheby’s catalogue and after some discussion we decided that it would be a great potential purchase for Buxton Museum.  With a guide price of £20,000 – £30,000 it was evident that we were going to need to secure some additional funding to have any hope of securing it.  Bearing in mind that the auction was less than 2 weeks away we had to get the ball rolling pretty quickly. I contacted the V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Art Fund and after getting some positive feedback we submitted our application forms.  We now had to wait to see whether we were successful and whether their art experts deemed the picture to be in good condition and an appropriate purchase for us.  In the meantime I went to have a look at the picture at the viewing at Sotheby’s and we had the auction house send through the condition report.  The day before the auction we got the go ahead from the V&A and the Art Fund so we put in a commission bid.

The next day myself and Ros kept checking the auctions progress and when lot 270 finally came up we sat there waiting……  Our suspense was soon over and what a result – we got the Marlow for the bottom end of the estimate!

The Chatsworth Attic Sale

At the beginning of October Chatsworth House held a three day auction of furniture and personal artefacts belonging to the Devonshire family.  With over 20,000 objects for sale we felt sure that there would be some interesting and Enlightenment related lots.  The catalogue was excitedly passed around and Ros Westwood, Derbyshire Museums Manager went to have a look at some of the objects in person.

We decided to bid on lot 279, lot 423 and lot 453.  Things started off well as we successfully secured lot 279 – the lot we were most interested in.  We are now the proud owners of six John Bluck early 19th century prints of Derbyshire that show scenes of popular places such as Dovedale and Matlock Bath. 

Things didn’t go as smoothly on the other two lots as the hammer fell way above their estimated price (and our bid!).  The first was an Ashford Black Marble table that went for a whopping £19,000 which was four times its estimate.  The table was unusual as it featured a dragonfly and a large band of Duke’s Red marble.  The second item was a patch box –  a souvenir of Buxton – that also soared past its £150 – £200 estimate and realised £1000. 

These two lots weren’t in anyway unusual in smashing their estimates; it was a general theme of the auction.  It seemed that the allure of owning something linked to the great house and the Devonshire family put an understandable premium on everything.  Perhaps the most extreme example is of a brooch that went for 106 times its estimate.  The brooch belonged to the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire and was estimated at £80 – £100, the hammer fell at £8,500.   The total auction raised nearly £6.5 million, which was £4 million more than expected. 

The six prints that Enlightenment! bought will be undergoing some conservation work and should hopefully go on display at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery next year.