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.

Enlightenment! exhibition heads to Strutt’s North Mill

Enlightenment! exhibition at Buxton Museum, photographed by Nick Lockett

The Enlightenment! exhibition comes to an end at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery this Sunday, 14th April. 

Although it will be sad to see it go, the next part of its journey begins at Strutt’s North Mill.  ‘Derbyshire in the Age of Enlightenment’ opens in Belper on the 20th April and runs until 27th May.  The exhibition incorporates loans from Buxton Museum and Derby Museums and is accompanied by an events programme which includes guided walks of the town, a tour of Strutt’s Ice House, and a Night at the Mill evening event. More details can be found on their website.

Strutt's North Mill poster

World Heritage Site Discovery Days 2012

Matt Edwards is giving a talk about the Enlightenment! project on Friday 2nd November, 1pm – 2pm at Derby Museum and Art Gallery.

There will be a chance to see some of Derby Museums’ purchases up close and personal at the end of the talk.  It is FREE but places are limited so please call Gwen Wilson , Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site Administrator, during office hours on 01629 536831.

The talk is part of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site Discovery Days.  The festival is in its eighth year and there are over 160 events happening up and down the Valley between 27th October and 4th November.  You can see the full programme here.

I’ll just flag up a few events that might be of particular interest:

Joseph Wright’s Derby

Saturday 27th October

11.00am -12.30pm, starting from the Joseph Wright Gallery at Derby Museum and Art Gallery. FREE. Suitable for adults. Booking is essential on 01629 536831 (office hours only).

Internationally respected 18th century artist, Joseph Wright, had a strong connection to Derby – the place he lived, worked and died. Join the Assistant Head of Museums, Jonathan Wallis, for this fascinating walk around Joseph Wright’s Derby.


Joseph Wright’s Life and Work

Thursday 1st Nov

1.00pm – 2.00pm, Derby Museum and Art Gallery. FREE. Suitable for adults. Booking is essential on 01629 536831 (office hours only).

Join the Assistant Head of Museums, Jonathan Wallis, for his ever-popular talk on the life and work of the internationally renowned 18th century artist, Joseph Wright.


John Smedley’s Mill – 228 Years of Production at Lea Bridge

Saturday 3rd Nov

7.30pm at the Gothic Warehouse, Cromford Wharf. FREE. Pre-booking recommended on 01629 536831 (office hours only).

Illustrated talk by Jane Middleton-Smith, to include the history of the mill, the Smedley family and the project to catalogue the company’s unique heritage.

Arkwright Housing – From Cottages to Grand Houses

Sunday 4th Nov

2.00pm – 3.30pm, from outside the Greyhound Inn, Cromford Market Place. FREE. Pre-booking recommended on 01629 536831 (office hours only).

Barry Joyce reveals recent research on Alison House, one of the lesser known Arkwright Houses, on a walk from Cromford Village, past the housing built for the mill-workers on North Street.

‘Revealing the World’ exhibition at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

Last week we opened our latest exhibition at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, ‘Revealing the World’. The exhibition looks at the curios and artefacts brought back by travellers, scientists and explorers who travelled the world. The exhibition includes loans from the British Museum, Derby Museum Service and Bakewell Old House Museum, and includes some of our Enlightenment! purchases. Other items were donated by Enlightenment figures with Derbyshire links such as Joseph Banks and Thomas Bateman.

On display there is an oil painting called ‘Near Tokyo’ by Frank Beresford that Derby Museum and Art Gallery bought from Ebay earlier this year. Frank Beresford was born in Derby in 1881 and trained at the Derby School of Art. In 1908 – 1909 he went to Japan on a painting tour, you can find out more about the artist and his visit to Japan here.

The other two loans from Derby Museum Service look at how far-away places influenced fashions and designs back home. On display are the two Derby Porcelain plates that the project bought in 2009. The plates painted by John Brewer show Arctic scenes including a Newfoundland dog rescuing a sailor and a rather docile looking Polar Bear. Their production shows the level of interest in the Arctic explorations that were happening at the time.

Another loan from Derby is a mettzotint of Joseph Wright’s painting ‘The Widow of an Indian Chief Watching the Arms of her deceased husband’ – showing the fascination there was for the image of the ‘Nobile Savage’ in late 18th century Britain.

Other loans include a pyramidion collected and donated to the British Museum by Sir John Wilkinson Gardner, an Aleut Indian canoe donated by Joseph Banks and three Peruvian figures collected by Thomas Bateman.

The exhibition is free and runs until the 24th November.

William Day – View at Cromford, Derbyshire, taken from the Bridge

William Day (1764 – 1807)

View at Cromford, Derbyshire, taken from the Bridge

 After a couple of false starts we have bought this William Day (1764 -1807) watercolour of Cromford. The view is particularly interesting as it shows the view from the bridge with the smelting mills on the left hand side. This is an unusual and rare view as the mills were soon to be demolished to make way for the building of St Mary’s Church – Arkwright’s private chapel.

We know the watercolour was painted in 1789 while William Day was on a tour of Derbyshire. Day was a geologist and self-taught artist who showed work regularly at the Royal Academy as an ‘Honorary Exhibitor’ between 1783 and 1801. He visited the County with his friend and fellow artist John Webber (1751-1793), who was the official artist for Captain Cook’s third voyage.

This purchase adds to the ‘pair’ of Webber and Day watercolours of Castleton that Buxton Museum and Art Gallery bought in 2011.

Buxton Crescent Souvenir Patch Box



Buxton Museum and Art Gallery bought this enamelled patch box in January 2012.  It dates from the late 19th century and has a transfer print of the Crescent in Buxton.

Patch boxes were used to store ‘patches’ which were decorative beauty spots used to cover blemishes, scars, moles etc.  They ranged from purely functional paper or mole skin patches to highly decorative silk and satin ones which were cut into elaborate shapes such as hearts, stars and diamonds.

Buxton Crescent was a popular subject for artists and printmakers and features on a range of souvenirs from the period. 


Buxton Crescent, oil on Canvas, artist unknown, c. 1825

Buxton Crescent attributed to W. Cowen, c. 1850

Belper Bridge

Belper North Mill have purchased an oil painting of ‘Belper Bridge’ by W. Richards Sen. 1887

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!