Saturday, 17 March 2012

Wallace Collection: Rubens The Rainbow; Illuminated Manuscripts;Dutch Gallery Opening and Creative Writing

***Update 19/9/2012
Tweet exchange on Ask a Curator Day on Twitter

#AskACurator How long did it take to move Rubens Rainbow from Great Gallery to new Flemish Gallery @WallaceMuseum

@profwhitestick It took a whole morning, from 9 till around 12.30, 6 people, 2 window cleaning ladders, one picture carrier on wheels and...

On Saturday 10th March I went to the Wallace Museum.  At 7.30 that morning the intercom buzzed and the post delivered a set of paintings from Living Paintings.  The paintings had a weather theme and included Rubens The Rainbow, Turner’s  Temeraire and a Hockney. 

The Rubens must have been stuck in my mind and when Jackie called in to see me, we decided to go and meet the Rainbow and some other familiar paintings.  Jackie had taken me to the ‘Genius of Illumination’ exhibition and has been hooked, like me, by the subject. 

On arrival at the Wallace I hobbled in on my crutch and cane combo and the staff offered to take me upstairs to the Great Hall to see the Rainbow. I can manage to climb up stairs, and the stairs to the landing and the Boucher paintings are spectacular so I wanted to show them to Jackie.  As a general rule I find it easier to find my way to a destination and by following the Ariadne principle of a “reel of cotton” can manage to retrace my way back to some familiar point.  However, we got the details of the lift to get back down again as coming down stairs with a crutch and whitestick combo is tricky! 

The Rubens landscape “The Rainbow” is the match of “Het Steen”.  This other painting of Rubens is in the National Gallery and it was on a tour of landscapes which included paintings by Claud Lorrain, Sisley and others that encouraged me to go to the Wallace in the first place.  

After strolling round the Great Hall and admiring Rubens Rainbow, Jackie recognised the Hals “Laughing Cavalier” and the painting of George IV. On the way I noted that the Canalettos had been moved from downstairs and I could recognise the themed section with ships in harbours such as those by Bonington. 

Cover of monograph on Bonington published by the Wallace Collection

We then went to the illuminated manuscript section in the 16th Century room on the East side of the first floor.  To my surprise I could recognise 3 out of the 4 manuscripts we had discussed at a previous ‘Sensations’ event for the visually impaired.  It may be that I can recognise some feature of the illumination with a change of light and having an experience of more of the genre at the British Library.  Jackie also recognised some of the features or recurring themes such as the Wheel of Fortune and Boethius.

Other themes are mainly drawn from biblical stories and the Wallace Collection has many cuttings and scraps taken from books.  In normal circumstances these single sheets were viewed privately from a book and were not on display.  There was also the issue in the Grand Tour that books were taxed while single sheets of vellum were not. 

The Wallace Catalogue is a good read and it has been added to my library.  Having encountered these themes in the visible pages (on show in complete volumes) in the British Library, it was possible for the pair of us to “recognise” similar themes in a collection of scraps of pages and cuttings out of books.  This practice was common in the 19th Century. I was by now able to decipher the initial letters and we went through the alphabet of illuminations. 

Later, we stopped at the bookshop. One section has the Wallace imprint of catalogues and the gift shop has a general selection of other catalogues and art books covering subjects which may be found in the Wallace.  The Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace were true magpies in that they collected themed items as well as collecting other collections.  The illuminated manuscripts were catalogued in 1975 but the catalogue is out of print.  The bookshop gave me the title and found me books of other publishers on the Olivetan Gradual and the Metropolitan NY catalogue.

We found some copies of the guide to the Wallace Manuscripts and their black and white illustrations which are easier for me to discern.  This was a real discovery. 

Cover of "Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscript Cuttings"
published by the Wallace Collection

The bookshop staff also dug out a monograph on Bonington which had been out of print.  (see earlier picture in this post) I am gradually filling my manuscript details on the blog and will try to consolidate previous posts by linking them. 

The Wallace kindly gave me the images for my blog for the 3 paintings I could recognise.  Jackie recognised the presentation of the infant Christ to the 3 Kings, though it is too small and mainly a shock of white under lighting for me to make out much and I still find the copy which the Wallace gave us easier. 

These scraps and cuttings are an ideal way to stimulate an interest and it shows how much can be done for those with impaired vision to enjoy these paintings and objects.  I took part in an afternoon event in the Wallace Museum and have been in touch with Catherine and Edwina who can arrange special events and if you have any questions can offer help.  The Wallace Collection is worth wandering around and the illuminated manuscripts had me hooked into the subject.

Dutch galleries

The Dutch galleries reopen at the end of March 2012 with new lighting, it should be much better for partially sighted visitors to appreciate the paintings.     I especially like the boat scenes in some Dutch paintings.  My peripheral vision picks out perpendicular lines and ships’ masts are a good example.  Church spires are also discernible.  Many Dutch landscapes have big sky and quite flat “horizon” lines and there is something about the northern European skies which I find attractive.

Creative writing

Creative writing is something that is not obvious as an activity for the visually impaired; we tend to be thought of as listening to books as opposed to writing them.  It may be the scientist in me and as well as being somewhat cynical about a genre such as “Creative Writing”, but when listening to a book I can often be put off by language which adds nothing to the narrative.  There is a shout of “Get on with it” when I hear too many adjectives and adverbs.  In that regard I can be a rather grumpy old man.  Having “read” the 1980 catalogue description of the manuscripts, I can vouch for there being not a wasted adjective.  (The BBC Radio 4  In Touch programme had an audio book review and I agreed with one of the panellists regarding Peter May the author of Blackhouse.)

The Wallace Museum afternoons are called Sensation and I have the following details from them.  You never know and your own creative writing may end up in “print” or in any suitable alternative format.

Sensation! What’s in a Letter?

Wednesday 11 April, midday-1pm - please join us for lunch, bring a packed lunch.  Tea and coffee is provided.

Event runs from 1pm-4pm

This event is for blind and partially sighted visitors.

Find out more about the characters of the collectors of the Wallace Collection, including the 3rd Marquess of Hertford, who inspired the character of Lord Steyne in Thackeray's Vanity Fair, and the 4th Marquess whose character is revealed in lively letters to his agent.  Discover their personalities, see their tastes in art and reveal your own character in some creative writing.

Free but booking essential on 020 7563 9577 or

In wrapping this post I am including a twitter exchange involving touch, audio and a screenreader involvement in art discussion. I may not be able to make the Wallace Museum event as my hip operation is scheduled about then.

@seeingwithsound @acuity_design Just back from Wallace Museum Checking perspective lines of Rubens Rainbow using my peripheral vision

@ProfWhitestick Found image of Rubens' Rainbow at and used The vOICe yellow filter to make rainbow stand out in sound

@seeingwithsound Serendipity: or synchronicity as I "saw" original and it was in a box of tactile paintings which arrived this morning

@ProfWhitestick Nice, are these tactile paintings on the market? If so, where?

@seeingwithsound They are more thermoform from UK charity @LivingPaintings I have recently joined.

@ProfWhitestick @LivingPaintings Thanks, good to know! Now found painting listed in Album 29 "Weather in Art"

@seeingwithsound Mr Postman (Royal Mail) delivered the weather box at 0730, the postman buzzed once