After months of planning, ‘Constable: The Making of a Master’ is open to the public. While bringing an exhibition of this scale together takes a lot of time and energy from people inside and outside the museum, it is only in the last two weeks before opening that objects start being moved into the space
Installing this exhibition has been a challenging and rewarding experience. We have almost 200 objects in the exhibition, some coming to the exhibition from as far away as New South Wales and Philadelphia. All of these come with their own set of anxieties and worries. From those with standard oak frames where the colours will vary considerably and are matched wherever possible, to the most beautiful ornate gilt frames, which can present a unique set of challenges to our technicians. The gilt frames are sometimes nearly as old as the paintings they are surrounding, and need to be treated with care and attention to ensure no gilding is taken off.
The variation in the size of the objects also changes how our technicians approach the installations. While the smaller, lighter, paintings are installed without much more than a ladder, the six-footers are installed using scaffolding and a Dandy lift. These large-scale paintings take an all-hands-on-deck approach, and it isn’t only a case of the Technicians moving it into a suitable position.
Our curatorial team, Mark Evans and Ana Debenedetti, have the final say on the positioning of all objects, and will help to direct the technicians with their positioning. Of course, this attracts quite an audience.
This exhibition isn’t only exciting for the breadth of 2D works that are present, we have also built a viewing device for visitors so that they can understand one of Constable’s techniques. He would take a glass into the countryside with him to sketch onto with ink. While this drawing was still tacky and wet, he would print it onto paper as a basis for his larger paintings. This viewing device was built as a collaboration between our conservation department and our technicians; with a little help from the curators.
Installing an exhibition feels a bit like preparing for a party. You get everything ready, lay it all out, bring together all the people who can help you make it special, but in the end, all you can really do is hope that your guests will arrive and enjoy themselves.