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?


The Cotton Works and Bridge at Cromford by William Day

In my last post I mentioned how few depictions I had found of the Derwent Valley Mills, both in travel diaries and in amateur sketchbooks.  This isn’t to say that the mills were completely ignored by artists, as Joseph Wright’s oil of Cromford Mill shows.  William Day also sketched the mills on his 1789 tour of the County.  Derby Museum holds this lovely watercolour.

Richard Arkwright's Cromford Mill (Derby Museums)

I have been tracking down the  Day watercolours from 1789 that aren’t in public collections.  Here is The Cotton Works and Bridge at Cromford, Derbyshire which went through Sotheby’s auction house in 1975 – sadly this black and white scan is the best I have found.  It has an unusual composition which shows Cromford Mill on the right and Cromford Bridge on the left, seen through Scarthin Rock.

Day Cromford Mill (private collection)

Amateur sketchbooks and Dovedale

I have been looking at amateur artist’s sketchbooks here at YCBA.  I am looking to see if artist’s visited Derbyshire and if so, where they went and what they drew.  Some of the sketchbooks are catalogued as containing Derbyshire views (like William Brockedon’s sketchbook), while others are simply documented as an ‘Album of 84 drawings’ or ‘4 volumes of landscapes’.

One thing that has become apparent from looking at the 19th century sketchbooks is the popularity of the Lake District.  This is mirrored by what was going on at the Royal Academy in the late 18th century, where Lake District views significantly outnumbered those of Derbyshire e.g Philip de Loutherbourg exhibited 9 landscapes in 1784, of which 7 were of the Lakes and 2 of Derbyshire.

In a letter to his brother Richard, Joseph Wright describes the Lakes ‘as the most stupendous scenes, I ever behold… they are to the eye what Handel’s choruses are to the ear’.  He also goes on to say that Derbyshire suffers greatly from the comparisons drawn between them – being born and bred in the Lake District, I couldn’t resist including that one.  That said, Derbyshire was still a popular sketching destination which offered the unique lure of limestone scenery, fashionable spas, historic manors and rugged and wild vistas.

Castleton and Dovedale have dominated the Derbyshire scenes.  Here is a selection of Dovedale, sketched over a 100 year period.

Head of Dove Dale by William Brockedon, (1787-1854)

Head of Dove Dale by William Brockedon, (1787-1854)

Dovedale by Mary Hart (b.1887)

Dovedale by Mary Hart (b.1887)

Straits of Dovedale by Charles Hamilton Smith, (1776-1859)

Straits of Dovedale by Charles Hamilton Smith, (1776-1859)

Reynards Cave, Dovedale by Augustus Hare (1834-1903)

Reynards Cave, Dovedale by Augustus Hare (1834-1903)

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.

Derbyshire curators head to the Yale Centre for British Art

 Next week I fly to America to take up a 4 week curatorial fellowship at the Yale Centre for British Art.  This was something that I applied for back in July, when it all seemed a very long way off…

One of the aims of the Enlightenment! project has been to undertake collections mapping and gain a clearer overview of relevant Derbyshire collections in the public domain. This has been an on-going project and included Neil Howe’s ephemera report and the object catalogues that Ruth Litton worked on. My 4 weeks at YCBA will build on their research to give us a better picture of what Derbyshire artworks are out there.

I will also hopefully uncover more information about  Derbyshire; the chronology of its buildings, road infrastructure, water engineering, and evolution of industries. I plan to make myself useful indentifying some of their Derbyshire sketchbook views too.Our engraving of the De Loutherbourg

YCBA have a fantastic collection including several Joseph Wright’s, a couple of Stubbs’s showing Creswell Crags, and theoriginal ‘View near Matlock’ by De Loutherbourg – of which we have an aquatint in our collection. I am most excited about seeing their watercolours from John Webber and William Day’s 1789 tour of Derbyshire. Through the Enlightenment! project we’ve bought 3 pictures from this tour, with a fourth possibly on the cards – watch this space…

I plan to share my findings on the blog and hope that my fellow travel companion, curator and ‘fellowshipee’, Lucy Bamford might do the same. Lucy is the art curator at Derby Museums and her fellowship will focus on the works of Joseph Wright. All very exciting and a tad nerve-wracking, but I am sure we’ll have a fantastic experience.

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.

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’.