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Sir Francis Seymour Haden: Breaking Up of the Agamemnon, No 1 (1870)

24 August 2018 by Ha-il Kim

Breaking Up of the Agamemnon, No 1 (1870), by Sir Francis Seymour Haden, Walker Art Gallery

As a volunteer at the Walker Art Gallery, I have been helping Exhibition Curator, Alex Patterson, to digitise works related to the Whistler and Pennell: Etching the City exhibition, currently on display at the Lady Lever Art Gallery. This exhibition explores the role that James McNeill Whistler and Joseph Pennell played in the Etching Revival (1830-1940) in Britain. It also shows how their contemporaries, such as Sir Francis Seymour Haden (1818-1910), Charles Méryon (1821-1868), and William Strang (1859-1921), were influenced by their art.

One of the etchings that really caught my interest was Breaking Up of the Agamemnon by Sir Francis Seymour Haden, which was one of three works by him included in the exhibition. It shows a large hulk of a vessel being demolished. The vessel is HMS Agamemnon, the Royal Navy battleship moored at the Naval Arsenal at Deptford on the River Thames, seen against the setting sun. Launched in 1852, the 230-feet long Agamemnon was one of the most intimidating of all wooden warships and the first British steam-powered flagship. The Agamemnon saw action in many battles, including the Crimean War, and was the predecessor of iron-hulled ships, which were introduced in the 1860s.

Breaking Up of the Great Eastern, No 2, 1890, by Sir Frank Short, Walker Art Gallery

Breaking Up of the Agamemnon reminded me of another etching, Breaking Up of the Great Eastern, No 2 (1890) by Sir Frank Short (1857-1945), also in the Walker Art Gallery collection. I came across the etching when I was researching scenes of Liverpool Docks. Both ships had illustrious histories, and I felt that the images of their breaking up expressed a deep sense of loss and sorrow.

Haden’s etching of the Agamemnon was a spontaneous response to what he saw on the Thames one day in July 1870, but it became the most important subject of his career, which he continued to work on over the next 16 years.

Early in 1870 the art scholar, artist and etcher Philip Gilbert Hamerton (1834-1894) asked Haden to etch a plate to be published in the first edition of his new art journal, The Portfolio (1870-1893). The journal, named after a folder in which collectors often kept valuable prints, championed etching as original art, rather than a reproductive medium. This concept played an instrumental role in the British etching revival during the second half of the 19th century. Haden, like the French Impressionists, always tried to work directly from life, and for this purpose, he always carried prepared copper plates wherever he went. He drew directly onto the plate to capture the movement of the light and its reflections in the sky, clouds, and water. The demolition of the Agamemnon may not have been a traditional subject for a study of ambiance, but Haden must have been entranced by its grandeur and spectacle.

In a letter to Hamerton, dated July 3, 1870, Haden wrote of the Agamemnon etching: “. . . I had thought of making the sun set behind the old hulk and the distant cupolas of Greenwich and of using the sinking luminary as typical of the departing glories of both . . . .” This shows that Haden indeed drew the initial sketch for Breaking Up of the Agamemnon, No 1 directly onto the copper plate. The sun is setting between the ship and Greenwich, conveying a poignant majestic reference to the glorious history of the Agamemnon. The rays of the setting sun rippling through the clouds are echoed on the stirring water in the foreground. Named after Agamemnon, the King of Mycenae who led the united Greek army to the Trojan War, the ship proudly displays the figurehead wearing a Roman centurion’s plumed helmet pointing towards the sun. The Agamemnon almost appears as if ready to set sail once again into the distant horizon. Although she is now tethered to a much smaller barge, with her ribs exposed and only one of three masts standing, the Agamemnon still looks magnificent. The image highlights the ship’s immense scale and power, but it also conveys a sense an ending.

Breaking Up of the Agamemnon was a very complex project for Haden. He said he had “never undertook a more perplexing job.” The initial spontaneity of etching was followed by many attempts at adding and deleting small details throughout the composition, resulting in 11 states (versions of the print) being made in total. However, the main image of the ship against a shimmering evening sun remained largely unchanged.

Breaking Up of the Agamemnon, No 1 was an artistic and commercial success. The plate was unfortunately too large to be printed in The Portfolio and instead was later published by Frederick Goulding, and sold through Colnaghi’s, bringing Haden a huge financial reward. The plate was so popular that he produced a second version of the subject Breaking Up of the Agamemnon, No 2 (1886) in mezzotint.

As for the etching Haden promised to Hamerton for the first edition of The Portfolio Hamerton instead selected another of Haden’s prints, entitled A Brig at Anchor (1870), which is also in the Walker Art Gallery collection. He etched it from nature by moonlight on the Thames.

A Brig at Anchor (1870) by Sir Francis Seymour Haden, Walker Art Gallery

To discover more about the art of etching and to enjoy Haden’s intricate works at first hand don’t miss Whistler and Pennell: Etching the City at the Lady Lever Art Gallery until 7 October and the fascinating video made by Liverpool John Moores University School of Art and Design explaining the process of etching.

 

 

 

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…

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…

Pembroke Place – read all about it!

13 December 2016 by Liz

pp-newspaper-headlines

Today we have a guest blog from Lucy Kilfoyle, a researcher in the History Department at the University of Liverpool. Lucy is leading a team of volunteers investigating historic newspapers as part of the Galkoff’s and Secret Life of Pembroke Place project.

‘Tragic accidents, grisly murders, heart-rending tales of good people fallen upon hard times: what’s not to like? At first glance, historical newspapers are not exactly the most glamorous of places to find human interest stories from the past. Invariably, old papers and journals are dull and faded and unrelentingly uniform in appearance. The font is often minute and the text packed densely together. Until well into the late 19th century, pictures and graphics were few and far between. Read more…

Celebrating our archaeology volunteers

12 September 2016 by Vanessa

woman at a desk with trays of coins

Volunteer Sophie Flynn starting to clean a hoard of Roman coins

The Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) is a voluntary recording scheme for archaeological objects found by members of the public. Every year thousands of objects are discovered, many by metal detector users, but also by people whilst out walking, gardening or going about their daily work. Such discoveries offer an important source for understanding our past.

As the scheme’s regional finds liaison officer, covering Cheshire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside, I find that every week more and more finds make their way into the office to be recorded for the PAS database. In order to process them all I need help and that comes in the form of some fantastic people willing to give up their time to volunteer.  Read more…

Free national dementia workshops for family carers

9 September 2016 by Sam Vaux

Carers holding a vintage hairdryer

Carers discover a vintage hairdryer © Pete Carr

Sunday, 11 September 2016 marked National Dementia Carers’ Day, which recognises the important contribution family and informal carers make by caring for people living with dementia.

To mark the occasion, National Museums Liverpool has been funded by the Department of Health to launch free dementia workshops for family carers, partnering with museums across the country.

House of Memories dementia awareness for family carers workshops build on the success of our award-winning House of Memories dementia awareness programme, which has been running at the Museum of Liverpool since 2012. Read more…

Harris Jonas takes a look at our Japanese swords

11 March 2016 by Emma Martin

Harris (left) taking in the history of the blades with Mark (right).

Harris (left) taking in the history of the blades with Mark (right).

This week we had a visitor to the Japan collections. Ethnology volunteer Mark Jones tells us about it here.

“In a blog I wrote back in 2014, I discussed the different Japanese blades I’ve documented for World Museum’s Japan collection. This week I had the opportunity to meet Harris Jonas, a 6th Dan in karate and a senior instructor at the Liverpool Shotokan Karate Club (LSKC). Read more…

Caldies Big Dig – an update from the park

4 May 2015 by Andrew

Volunteers begin work on the dig at Calderstones Park

Jeff Speakman, Assistant Curator of Regional Archaeology working with Calderstones Big Dig volunteers.

Liz Stewart, Curator of Archaeology and the Historic Environment and the archaeology team from the Museum of Liverpool are currently out on site at Calderstones Park, working with local people to investigate the park’s history through a series of excavations. This community archaeology project is part of ‘Connect at Calderstones’, an HLF-funded project run by The Reader Organisation, who have their HQ at Calderstones Mansion in the heart of the park.

“Around 30 people have tried their hand at digging, so far they’ve found garden features, pottery, metalwork and building material. The finds are relatively modern, the oldest being 18th century pottery.  As the archaeological investigation progresses we might happen upon more remains associated with the era of the Mansion House’s construction in the 1820s, such as the farmhouse which pre-dated it on a nearby site, or possibly even the longer history of the area back to prehistory. It’s always great fun working with new people and providing an opportunity for them to try their hand at archaeology.  Read more…

Caldies Big Dig

7 April 2015 by Liz

Calderstones Mansion House

Calderstones Mansion House

The Museum of Liverpool’s archaeologists are busy preparing for our next dig, and this one’s a ‘big dig’ at Calderstones Park!

We’re working with The Reader Organisation to run a community dig, giving local people the chance to try their hand at archaeology and help investigate the long history of Calderstones Park. Read more…

‘Buddy days’ for family carers and volunteers

17 March 2015 by Dawn

house-of-memories-DSC_4776

You may have heard about our highly successful ‘House of Memories’ dementia awareness programme, which has reached more than 7000 health, housing and social care workers.

We’re really excited about our latest new initiative, the House of Memories ‘Buddy’ day, which is not for the workforce, but aimed at supporting families, volunteers and friends of those living with dementia. 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.