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Whistler’s beehive watermarks

15 June 2018 by Alex Patterson

Keith our paper conservator working on the Whistler etchings before display

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!

Drawn illustration of the De Erven de Blauw ‘beehive’ watermark from National Gallery of Australia

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.

Limeburner, etching by JM Whistler from the Lady Lever Art Gallery exhibition with 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)

Alternative beehive watermark from Whistler’s portrait of Sculptor, J Becquet.

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.

 

Whistler and Liverpool

Shipping at Liverpool (1867) and The Two Ships (1875) by James McNeill Whistler

My research for the Whistler & Pennell: Etching the City exhibition at the Lady Lever Art Gallery uncovered some really interesting information about James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) and his connection to Liverpool and Lancashire area.   Read more…

Pembroke pubs

2 May 2018 by Liz

Today we have a guest blog from Daniel Edmonds, Research Lead on the Galkoff’s and Secret Life of Pembroke Place project:

“Throughout its history Pembroke Place has been home to a number of different types of leisure activities, from roller-skating rinks to zoos. It probably comes as no surprise that a series of public houses and hotels also thrived in the area. Some of our researchers have been investigating the night-life of Pembroke Place and the history of its establishments.

The Pembroke Hotel was pre-eminent, with mentions of its events appearing in both the local and national press. Throughout the late-Victorian Era, this local fixture hosted numerous gatherings attended by local dignitaries. Read more…

Hard sweat: Liverpool’s garment district

16 March 2018 by Liz

Today we have a guest blog from Susan Bennett, volunteer researcher working on the Galkoff’s and Secret Life of Pembroke Place project. This Heritage Lottery Fund-supported project is exploring the history of this fascinating Liverpool street in all its facets:

“Cobblers, boot and shoemakers, tailors, all manner of drapers, wool, linen and silk merchants, all leapt out of the pages of Liverpool Street Directories in my research Read more…

Tracing Percy Galkoff’s Polish routes

4 December 2017 by Poppy

people looking at documents

Lawrence Galkoff and researcher Agata Jujeczka view documents in Lodz

Galkoff’s and the Secret Life of Pembroke Place is a partnership project between Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and the Museum of Liverpool. Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, research has uncovered fascinating stories linked to this vibrant street from the 19th century to the present. The project focuses on two main heritage assets, Liverpool’s last surviving example of courtyard housing and P Galkoff’s kosher butchers shop. Today the shop’s distinctive green tiled façade represents a sole remnant of a once thriving Jewish community in this area.

In October 2017 the project team embarked on a research trip to Poland. They were joined by Lawrence Galkoff, the great-grandson of P Galkoff’s butchers shop owner Percy Galkoff. Read more…

The oldest Australian night parrot

9 May 2017 by Clem Fisher

Australian Night Parrot

The Australian night parrot specimen at World Museum.

National Museums Liverpool was founded in 1851 after the bequest to the people of Liverpool of an internationally important collection of birds and mammals belonging to Edward Stanley, 13th Earl of Derby, of Knowsley Hall near Liverpool. Amongst this unique collection is a little green-and-yellow parrot…

Read more…

Osmund Bartle Wordsworth – a survivor of Lusitania

2 May 2017 by Ellie

Osmund Bartle Wordsworth in military uniform

Courtesy of The Warden and Scholars of Winchester College

As we approach the 102nd anniversary of the tragic sinking of RMS Lusitania, guest blogger Lucy London is here to tell us about her research project and how she came across a Lusitania survivor as a result:

“Since 2012 I have been researching the First World War for a series of commemorative exhibitions. I began by researching women poets and discovered quite a few poets with a link to Merseyside, for instance, May Sinclair, very famous on both sides of the Atlantic in the early 20th century, was born in Rock Ferry, Wirral. I then moved on to forgotten male poets and, again, found quite a few with links to Merseyside who were not as famous as Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves.

The role of women during the First World War came next; then I added the heading ‘Fascinating Facts’, such as Rin Tin Tin the American film star dog found as a puppy in a bombed out kennels by an American soldier.

During the course of my research to commemorate 1917, I discovered a writer called Osmund Bartle Wordsworth, who was related to the poet William Wordsworth of ‘Daffodils’ fame. I was interested to discover that Merseyside Maritime Museum was looking for further information about Lusitania survivors, and Osmund was one of those.  Read more…

Galkoff’s and the Secret Life of Pembroke Place update

23 February 2017 by Laura

Tiled shop front with decorative hoarding

Galkoff’s butcher’s shop today – behind protective hoarding. Image courtesy of LSTM

The Galkoff’s and the Secret Life of Pembroke Place project team, along with 24 volunteers have been delving into the history of this well-known Liverpool Street. The focus has been on two key heritage sites: Galkoff’s Jewish butcher shop and Watkinson Terrace, Liverpool’s last surviving example of court housing. Read more…

More Pride online!

23 February 2017 by Kay

Statuette of standing Hermaphrodite

Pride and Prejudice is our groundbreaking project to put online the social history collections held at the Museum of Liverpool, and the fine and decorative art collections at Sudley House, Walker and Lady Lever art galleries, that have an LGBT connection. We’re excited to launch the final themes today, coinciding with LGBT History Month and the OUTing the past event at the Museum of Liverpool this weekend.
Read more…

Four funerals and a wedding

26 January 2017 by Liz

view of tightly packed city centre buildings

Aerial view of Pembroke Place c1930s © Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine

An amazing team of volunteers have been delving into historic archives to reveal some of the secrets of Pembroke Place as part our current project, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. And there are some very dark secrets indeed!

The annals of Liverpool reveal that the last ever duel fought in Liverpool took place in a field on the corner or Boundary Place and Pembroke Place on 20 December 1806. Major Brooks was killed by Colonel Bolton. It seems a year-long spat developed after Bolton had refused Brooks a pay rise in the regiment. Bolton eventually became fed up of insults being targeted at him and called Brooks to a duel. Read more…



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We try to ensure that the information provided on our blog is accurate and that appropriate permissions to use images have been sought. The opinions in each blog are very much those of the individuals writing.