Leamington Spa Art Gallery and Museum

Behind the scenes at the museum …. for real

An opportunity to learn about what’s not usually on show, as well as see some things for the first time, is offered by a Warwickshire gallery.

Unlocked! Behind the Scenes at the Art Gallery & Museum is the current exhibition at Leamington Spa’s Art Gallery & Museum.

It is billed as a chance to see items that are rarely displayed, and others that are undergoing conservation work.

It seemed strange then that the first painting you see is The Three Generations by Sarkis Katchadourian, which featured in a recent exhibition of works donated to the gallery by Alderman Holt. It is justified though by its appearance in a book of 1,000 paintings to see “before you die”, and the fact that this means the gallery gets requests to see it. And the painting of three Muslim women in varied looks means it is a highlight of the Leamington collection.

The first item listed in the gallery’s collection was a copy of The Antiquities of Warwickshire by Sir William Dugdale, but the real first item is thought to be a mug commemorating a boxing match in the 1860s, when the collection began. It now amounts to 12,500 items, acquired through a mix of donations and some acquisitions. The most recent acquisition is the stunning Satellite II by Noémie Goudal, a large photographic print combining real and imaginary scenery which is on show in the main gallery.

The exhibition moves on to show ethnographical items from around the world, donated over the years (and no longer accepted as gifts), all rather incongruous and not forming a coherent collection, plus ceramics from different eras and countries.

One fascinating item is a Buddhist text in a long scroll, held together with string and a wooden front to it; but in a mixed eclectic collection like this there’s bound to be something to please all tastes.

The Dancing Bear, a painting by William Lee Hankey (1869-1952), is used as an example of conservation work, with what looks like tissue paper currently stuck to parts of it as an element of the work.

Natural History and Archaeology is seen as an orphaned collection, with no new items being accepted, and featuring both local and national pieces. It includes a lovely book showing a drawing of a Blue Heron and Little Egret.

More up to date there’s a photograph of a work created by former artist-in-residence Gerard Mermoz, taking a damaged old portrait and superimposing a comptometer machine on top of it to create a new work, in his familiar style of bringing two things together to create a third.

One area looks at how things have changed over the years; there’s Simeon Solomon’s 1870 painting of The Sleepers and the One That Watcheth, three people embracing, plus Ralph Nicholas Chubb’s Contemplation, and Reclining Nude, the latter featuring a naked young man painted from behind laying in a field where rabbits gambol, both from the 1920s. They all hint at a love that could not then speak its name.

A well-known image of Leamington graffiti, Avoid Cider, features amongst several photos from a Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane exhibition.

It’s interesting to see what’s in the stores and also slightly disappointing there’s no amazing new surprises – but then if there were it would be a scandal they had been hidden away so long. An enjoyable visit, and interesting to learn more about collecting policy and conservation and storage work.

The exhibition is on until July 15.

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Let there be light for mixed exhibition inspired by town festival

A slightly puzzling exhibition starts the new year at Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum.

Back in the 1950s, Leamington’s response to the Festival of Britain was its own festival called The Lights of Leamington, which apparently drew 300,000 visitors to the town. Jephson Gardens was lit up with thousands of coloured electric lights to create a wonderland, with the event so popular it was repeated up until October 1961. It only came to an end then as it was a victim of its own success, increasingly costly to run, and with complaints about visitor rowdiness. There was even an attempt to revive it in the 1980s but it was too expensive.

So as the gallery’s new exhibition Lights of Leamington was inspired by it, I’d expected to see more photos of this amazing creation, and it was a bit disappointing to find only one cabinet of black and white photos, showing what looks like lovely scenes of characters, creatures and lit-up trees and walkways.

The exhibition, described in its own publicity as eclectic, has been selected and curated by Birmingham-based artist Stuart Whipps who has gone through the gallery’s collection and followed the theme of light through it.

This means the rest of the display has this general theme. Whipps himself has added one work involving burned bits of photo negative found in the collection.
There are paintings, including some of people or things lit by candlight; Godfried Schlacker’s self portrait by candlelight is a striking work dating back to 1695, and Christmas Roses by James Valentine Jelley from 1856 shows the flowers gently illuminated.

A painting entitled Moonlight showing two boats under the night sky was one donated by Alderman Holt, the subject of a previous exhibition, and a travel poster shows the bright lights of the Ostend Casino as a draw to visit Belgium.

Kathlen Mary Lamphier Calcutt’s Park Farm, Stareton, is an attractive watercolour, and Catherine Yass’s colourful lightbox work shows a figure and a strange flash of light at Guy’s Cliffe, near Warwick.

Many people have happy memories of Leamington’s Toytown shop, and Stuart Whipps has found the letters from its sign in the archive, and displayed them with LED flashing lights included in the exhibition, but in the order they came out of the storeroom, so not spelling out the word – still it’s a good reminder!

Other additions include metal candlesticks and a collection of photos of streetlamps in Leamington.

Eclectic is certainly one word for this slightly strange connected, yet rather disconnected, exhibition. Hopefully visitors will come forward with more memories and pictures from the 1950s show for a follow up.

*The exhibition runs until April 15.

Art Fund lecture focuses on 17th century court painters

The paintings of court artists Anthony Van Dyck (whose triple portrait of King Charles I is above) and Diego Velazquez will be discussed in an Art Fund lecture, illustrated with slides, by member, Margaret-Louise O’Keeffe, at Leamington Spa Art Gallery and Museum on Thursday, January 27 from 5.30-7.30pm.
Both artists were born in 1599 and helped immortalise the courts of Spain and England respectively. The talk is open to members of the Art Fund and anyone else interested, who can contact David Page on 01564 773825 for tickets which cost £12 including a glass of wine on arrival.

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