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Tuesday, 17 March 2015

A new angle on an old master - Joshua Reynolds at the Wallace Collection

Last weekend we got the chance to attend the Wallace Collection's first ever bloggers event to promote their new exhibition, Joshua Reynolds : Experiments in Paint. We were already excited about this exhibition after their twitter tour which was a collaboration with the National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery to digitally bring together Reynolds paintings across many institutions. I mean - who doesn't love a good Reynolds portrait? All those pale beautiful society ladies and cherubic children - besides we love to see museums working together! Reminds us of Anna Darron's suggestions at the Future of Museums conference last year.

Actually the idea of digitally drawing together a national collection of Reynolds is pretty smart because actually this exhibition is pretty small - only 12 paintings in total. But there are reasons for that. In general the curators at the Wallace Collection have a pretty difficult task: there's is a closed collection, so technically closed to new acquisitions, and completely government funded. Plus it's basically a very large house museum so it doesn't actually give them a lot of room, literally and metaphorically, for temporary exhibitions. But we think that's why Experiments in Paint is so great: many other museums could learn from the Wallace's ability to do a lot with a little.
An abstract Reynolds? Nah it's just paint samples
Fitting in with the trend of exhibitions interested in colour science and conservation, the Wallace's exhibition makes a little exhibition big by dissecting the paintings. limited in their ability to acquire and display, the Wallace has made itself known for its research, and the exhibition shows off the best of that brand. Careful, professional, research-based and an eye on aesthetics. In fact, this exhibition was actually co-curated by a project conservator who was on hand to give us a tour on the night.

Alex Gent reveals the world behind the paintings
A conservator as curator, what a great idea is that?! It was absolutely amazing to stand in front of a piece of art that she actually touched! And get to hear all about her struggles and very personal relationship with Reynolds and his style that informed the exhibition. It reminds as that conservators can often know even more than curators about objects that go into the exhibition as they get intimately acquainted with them for weeks if not months in the lead up. Bringing that conservation insight adds a fantastic layer to the displays.

So really we've just teased you and not really said anything about what is actually in the exhibition itself - I guess you'll just have to go stop by yourself! The Wallace Collection and the exhibitions are both free and open 7 days a week! Definitely recommended if you are a Reynolds or a portraiture fan, but we think the real interest is how research and collaboration can produce fantastic results even in small spaces.

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