How loaning art and artefacts around the world enriches Norfolk Museums Service’s collections back home
PUBLISHED: 13:46 23 January 2018 | UPDATED: 14:45 23 January 2018
Archant Norfolk 2017
From a Turner painting being sent to Japan to a 6th century jewellery hoard being borrowed by the British Library, Norfolk Museums Service’s collections contribute to exhibitions across the country and wider world. Arts correspondent Emma Knights finds out more.
Norfolk Museums Service’s treasure trove of art and historic artefacts create fascinating exhibitions across our county, and the collections also attract interest around the world.
They fly the flag for NMS on a local, national and global scale, and there are loans out to about 10 exhibitions at a time.
“Loans are a way of the whole museum community helping each other,” said NMS registrar Fiona Ford.
“We ask for about six months notice because that’s the time we need for all the backwards and forwards negotiation, then any work that is needed on loans to make them ready by our conservators.”
One of the most high profile loans recently was of the Magritte painting La Condition Humaine. It made international headlines when specialists, who were preparing it for a loan to the Pompidou Centre in Paris and a venue in Frankfurt, discovered it was hiding part of Magritte’s La Pose Enchantée painting which had been lost for 80 years.
“It’s only because the Magritte painting was going on loan that the conservator looked at it out of its frame and discovered it had another painting underneath,” said Ms Ford.
A JMW Turner watercolour of Malmesbury Abbey is currently the furthest afield in the loans programme. It is part of Turner and the Poetics of Landscape at Japan’s Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art and also going to three other Japanese venues.
“Usually watercolours may only be on loan for six months after which they will be rested. However, this is an important exhibition and project, showing the work of one of the greatest British Romantic artists to new audiences,” said Ms Ford.
“Most of our international loans are made within northern Europe so this is a great opportunity to share collections with a wider audience,”
Meanwhile the oldest artefacts currently in the loans programme are a collection of 6th century gold pendants, known as bracteates, and other jewellery from a hoard found at Binham. The hoard is thought to be the largest collection of 6th century gold found in Britain and the only bracteates hoard discovered in the country, and the items are being lent to the British Library for a major Anglo-Saxon England exhibition opening in October.
“Loans to projects like this show some collections have importance beyond Norfolk, which enhances the profile of Norwich Castle and the Museums Service,” said Ms Ford. The items were acquired with the help of grants, and Ms Ford said the loan would help NMS show how artefacts obtained by grants were reaching wider audiences and could help with the acquisition of future artefacts.
Another loan is part of a transatlantic partnership and it will also result in an exhibition at Norwich Castle later this year. It will see 17th century painting The Paston Treasure, along with the strombus shell cup featured in it, being loaned to America’s Yale Center for British Art for the exhibition The Paston Treasure: Microcosm of the Known World which opens in February. The show will open in Norwich this summer.
“This was the first painting to record the possessions of an English gentry collection, of the Paston family of Oxnead Hall,” said Ms Ford.
“The curator of decorative art has been working with the prestigious Yale Center for British Art for a few years researching this painting and the objects depicted in it and the discoveries will be shared in a very exciting partnership exhibition.”
A request for the Leonard Rosoman oil painting Figures in a Square to be featured in the Leonard Rosoman: Painting Theatre exhibition at Chichester’s Pallant House from February also highlights how loans can lead to a greater understanding of items.
“We don’t always know the full stories behind things in our collections and when objects are loaned out they are put in exhibitions that have completely different themes...When the request came in for this it mentioned the artist had been inspired by a play called A Patriot For Me,” said Ms Ford, explaining the information shed new light on an LGBT context to the painting because the play has a focus on homosexuality and was first performed in 1965 while homosexuality was still classed as illegal.
The painting, which is on long-term loan to NMS from East Anglian Art Fund, is also benefiting from being restored because of the Chichester loan.
“When borrowers request paintings as part of the negotiated agreement they must meet the costs of making an item fit for loan,” explained Ms Ford.
And so, as these examples show, as well as the loans programme helping enrich exhibitions around the world it is also a great investment in the future of Norfolk Museums Service’s collections back home.
A snapshot of some of the other items loaned by Norfolk Museums Service over the last few years:
• Anglo-Saxon gold – for Gold: Found Treasures from the Middle Ages at Fries Museum, Netherlands, June 2015-2016
• The Distant Mountain, Cader Idris, a painting by J.S. Cotman – for Romanticism in the Welsh Landscape at Museum of Modern Art, Machynlleth, Wales, March-June 2016
• Rockland Broad painting by Thomas Goodall – for Painting with Light: Art and Photography from the Pre-Raphaelites to the Modern Age at Tate Britain, May-September 2016
• Thinking About Women, a painting by Allen Jones - for This Was Tomorrow, The Invention of Pop Art in Great Britain at Kunstmuseum, Wolfsburg, Germany, October 2016-February 2017
• The Red Shop (October Sun), a Walter Sickert painting – for Sickert in Dieppe at Musee de Dieppe, France, June-September 2016
• A mix of artwork and taxidermied animals - for The Russia Season: Royal Fabergé at Norwich’s Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, October 2017-February 2018
• Bones from the West Runton Mammoth, for the Science Festival at Norwich Cathedral, March 2016