For a curator the best part of any exhibition, is the first time you properly look at the objects. This is a time when you can make discoveries and investigate objects beyond their normal scope. When I first began work on the Whistler & Pennell: Etching the City exhibition, Keith our paper conservator analysed the condition of the prints. In doing so, he noticed a wonderful watermark on the paper used for James McNeill Whistler’s prints (1834-1903). It is a beautiful design with a central beehive motif surrounded by ornate scrollwork of leaves and flowers crowned with a fruit tree. It also shows the initials DEDB. I immediately wanted to learn more about where this paper came from and why it was used for Whistler’s prints so I could include it in the exhibition and share it with our visitors. This is what I found!
Apparently Whistler was very selective about what paper was used for his etchings. This wasn’t at all unusual; the etching revival had instigated a new interest in the aesthetic tone and structure of paper. Modern paper made in the early 19th century could be highly acidic and appear bright white after the introduction of wood pulp and chlorine bleaches into the paper-making process. Laid paper was also gradually replaced with wove paper which had a more even surface. Whistler, and indeed most printers, refused to use such paper as it affected the overall tone and aesthetic of the work. The modern paper created too much of a contrast between the inks and the white background. Also wove paper did not hold the ink in the same way as laid paper.
Following Rembrandt’s example, Whistler like most etchers’ and printers preferred to use ‘Old Dutch’ or silky Japanese paper. Throughout his life Whistler constantly searched stationers and old book shops looking for it, as large quantities could still be found in London, Paris and Amsterdam. Made from boiled and beaten rags, drained on wire moulds, ‘Old Dutch’ paper was high quality with a ribbed texture and creamy in colour. Japanese paper was alternatively made from the bark of a mulberry tree; it could vary in thickness and tone from pale cream to a pronounced yellow. These types of paper could be identified by their unique watermark.
A watermark is design or motif that is caused by thickness variations created by the wire mould when shaping the paper. The ‘beehive’ watermark that we found on Whistler’s print’s, shown in transmitted light, is not the mark of ‘Old Dutch’ papermakers as I originally thought, but it can be traced to Holland.
The ‘beehive’ watermark is associated with the Honig (honey) family of Dutch papermakers who owned mills in Zaandijk, North Holland. The coat of arms was widely copied throughout the Netherlands and came to represent Dutch papermaking more generally. Whistler’s ‘beehive’ watermark is a variation belonging to the De Erven de Blauw papermakers from the 1820s, which explains the initials DEDB within the design (there were alternate versions of the De Erven de Blauw watermark also shown)
We would have never known that these watermarks existed on the Walker Art gallery’s prints before as they are not visible under normal lighting conditions, it was crucial to photograph our findings through transmitted light to document the work. This research and photographs of all the prints which contain the watermark are permanently available for everyone to view on Watermark, our online collection of works on paper.
We’re preparing to bring a little bit of city life to Port Sunlight and the Lady Lever Art Gallery this week as we countdown to the opening of our spring exhibition Whistler & Pennell: Etching the city on Friday 4 May.
Profiling the work of American artists; James McNeill Whistler and Joseph Pennell who made London their home, the exhibition reveals their passion, innovation and influence upon an artistic technique that at the time was in decline.
8 March 2018 by Alan Bowden
Lord Leverhulme was a collector in the broadest sense of the word, known for his collections of Victorian paintings, sculpture, eighteenth century furniture, tapestries, Wedgwood jasperware and Chinese ceramics. In his collection at the Lady Lever Art Gallery there are also fascinating historic documents which he collected.
In light of International Women’s Day on 8 March we have been enjoying a beautifully written letter which has brought into focus the life of a remarkable woman of science who lived in the eighteenth century. The woman is Caroline Lucretia Herschel, sister to the better known William Herschel (1738-1822), Royal Astronomer to George 3rd. William shot to fame when he discovered the planet Uranus in 1781 from his home in Bath. He used a telescope he had designed and constructed himself. Read more…
6 March 2018 by Laura
National Museums Liverpool is marking International Women’s Day (Thursday 8 March) with a programme of free exhibitions and events on the day and the following weekend (Saturday 10 and 11 March).
Through exhibitions, talks, workshops and poetry there are a variety of ways for everyone to get involved and celebrate this important date.
15 February 2018 by Scott Smith
February marks the start of the new lunar year, and it’s during this time that millions of people across the world will gather to celebrate Chinese New Year. Starting on 16 February, we’ll have seven days of joyous festivities filled with fireworks, lanterns and revelry as the city is lit up in red.
This year is the beginning of the Year of the Dog, defined by the Chinese zodiac cycle. Dogs are the eleventh sign in the zodiac and are seen as independent, sincere and decisive. Honest and loyal, dogs are the truest friends and most reliable partners. Those born in 1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006 all fall under the year of the dog.
To celebrate man’s most faithful of friends, we’ve pulled together a list of dogs from across National Museums Liverpool’s collections and exhibitions.
‘Table d’Hote at a Dogs’ Home’ by John Charles Dollman
Saint Valentine’s Day, our National day of love is celebrated by couples around the world. It just so happens that it falls under February, the month that we celebrate LGBT History Month – a month-long annual observance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history. So, we thought we’d take the opportunity to highlight some LGBT+ relationships from history that we think you should know about.
The artworks and objects discussed here are part of National Museums Liverpool’s collections and all relate in some way to intimate relationships between members of the same sex, both real and fictional, which go beyond platonic friendship in some way. All of these partnerships offer, in their own way, an alternative to the type of heterosexual relationship that continues to be socially dominant. Read more…
13 February 2018 by Siobhan
April 2019 will see the return of the biennial schools exhibition Fresh Perspectives: Art from Wirral schools at the Lady Lever Art Gallery. Fresh Perspectives is a fantastic opportunity for schools to nurture and promote the talents of their students, for young people to engage with arts and culture outside of the classroom environment and to support those with an interest in further education in the arts, offering them an insight into creative careers. This will be the fourth occasion that the exhibition has taken place but for the first time schools will have the opportunity to apply to have their students GCSE and A Level work included.
As one of the most recognisable works from the Lady Lever Art Gallery’s collection and among William Holman Hunt’s most famous paintings The Scapegoat often attracts a lot of attention. In art gallery circles this results in frequent requests to loan the painting for exhibitions across the world. It is our role at National Museums Liverpool to ensure above all that artworks are accessible to as many people as possible, and that they are preserved for generations to come to enjoy as we do today.
With Christmas approaching it’s time for one of my favourite annual traditions – the unveiling of National Museums Liverpool’s free online advent calendar! Each year we ease you into the festive season with daily treats from our collections and displays, including a few surprises, incredible tales and fascinating facts along the way.
Last year’s advent calendar featured cats from our museums and galleries, so to restore balance to the universe, the theme for 2017 is dogs. Read more…