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  • Splicing Time. Rome and the Roman Campagna at UCL Art Museum

    By Martine Rouleau, on 2 March 2017

    Being invited to take up the role of artist in residence at UCL Museum was an unexpected outcome of Splicing Time, Rome and the Roman Campagna, my 2016-17 Leverhulme Fellowship.

    Liz Rideal

    Liz Rideal, photo: Mike Dye

    One theme was to study Claude Lorraine’s Liber Veritatis drawings, in the British Museum’s collection and attempt to plot their contemporary locations, to study his concept of real, imagined and invented landscape and relate this imagery to my own work in the Roman Campagna today. However, it occurred to me that UCL Art Museum might also be a fruitful venue for my quest and I decided to approach curator Andrea Fredericksen to investigate this further. Coincidentally the museum’s upcoming Legacy exhibition was to concentrate on Richard Cooper Jnr, eighteenth century Grand Tour printmaker, an artist who followed the footsteps of Claude Lorraine and who was thus perfectly suited to my own theme. So, in this synchronous and surprising manner I started to consider Cooper Jnr’s work.

    (more…)

    Silking a spider

    By Dean W Veall, on 22 September 2016

    spider3Glass sponges were the focus for Eleanor Morgan during her residency with us last year, but this guest blog Eleanor shares her latest project Gossamer Days: Spiders, Humans and their Threads. Eleanor traces the story of what happens when one making animal meets another, from the spiritual sticky spider fabrics of the South Pacific to the European desire to create spider silk underwear fit for a King.

    (more…)

    Specimen of the Week 192: The Harvestman

    By Rowan J J Tinker, on 15 June 2015

    Dried harvestman LDUCZ-J416

    Dried harvestman LDUCZ-J416

    Case 11: the final resting place of those that once scuttled and dashed between the shadows. Many eagerly feature in our lives, brushing softly against the unaware’s skin, only to dart off as they are noticed, leaving a split second image of many a shambling leg to return as a parting gift at night when the lucidity of dreams kick in. Staring out from the dim stillness a dour creature resides, and an eternal watch it holds.

    It was at first the near-symmetry of this specimen that drew me to it while bumbling around the Grant Museum; but after doing a little research, only then did it become apparent that this creature is far deserving of a week-long bask in the limelight. These critters are easily mistaken for spiders, both having eight spindly legs, but in fact they are far cuter, and much to the ire of arachnophobes. Many aspects of their biology and their cultural influence make them the spider’s rather well-appreciated cousin, and rightfully so.

    So thus begins my job to convince you, dear literary companion, of this creature’s cause, lest it be cast off back to the tenebrous corners where the resting beasts of Case 11 do creep and surge. This week’s Specimen of the Week is…

    (more…)

    The earliest Strange Creatures: Europe’s first meetings with marsupials

    By Jack Ashby, on 5 May 2015

    There is a popular British colonial narrative in which Captain James Cook “discovered” Australia in 1770, as demonstrated by this Google autofill:

    Evidence that James Cook discovered Australia

    Evidence that James Cook indeed discovered Australia

    In reality, not even Cook thought this was true. Australia had been known by the French, Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch (hence its original European name “New Holland”, which Cook himself used) for at least two hundred years before Cook landed in the southeast of the country on his ship HMS Endeavour. Obviously Indigenous Australians and their neighbours also had been there for around 50,000 years.

    The Kongouro from New Holland (Kangaroo), George Stubbs (1772). ZBA5754 (L6685-001). National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London*

    The Kongouro from New Holland (Kangaroo), George Stubbs (1772). ZBA5754 (L6685-001). National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

    Our current exhibition Strange Creatures: The Art of Unknown Animals explores how newly discovered animals are communicated to the public back home. It is is centred around a painting that resulted from that voyage of Cook’s – a kangaroo by George Stubbs. This is the first painting of an Australian animal in Western art. As I wrote in the exhibition text:

    This painting helped begin Europe’s relationship with Australian wildlife. Commissioned by legendary naturalist Joseph Banks, painted by celebrated animal artist George Stubbs, and based on findings from Captain Cook’s famous voyage, this kangaroo truly captured the country’s imagination.

    Stubbs’ image became the archetype for representations of kangaroos for decades – reproduced and refigured prolifically. It may not be anatomically perfect, but this is how Britain came to know the kangaroo.

    It is an emblem of the age of exploration at the historical threshold of the European occupation of Australia. Nothing was ever the same again.

    Here I’d like to explore some of the meetings between Europeans and Australiasian marsupials that preceded Cook’s visit. (more…)

    Strange Creatures: The Art of Unknown Animals opens today

    By Jack Ashby, on 16 March 2015

    Imagine that you are in a place no-one from your country has ever been before. You have just set eyes on an animal incomparible to anything you’ve ever encountered – it might as well be an alien. Cameras haven’t been invented. It will take a year for you or anything you send to reach home. Your job is to communicate what you’ve discovered to the people back home.

    The artistic outcomes of scenarios like this are the basis for much of our exhibition Strange Creatures: The Art of Unknown Animals, which opens today.

    The Kongouro from New Holland (Kangaroo), George Stubbs (1772). ZBA5754 (L6685-001). National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London*

    The Kongouro from New Holland (Kangaroo), George Stubbs (1772). ZBA5754 (L6685-001). National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

    The natural history of art; the art history of nature

    By examining the world of animal representations, the exhibition explores how imagery has been used to bring newly discovered animals into the public eye. From the earliest days of exploration, visual depictions in artworks, books, the media and even toys have been essential in representing exotic species that are alien to people at home.

    Strange Creatures investigates what we can learn about art history by researching natural history, and what art history can contribute to natural history.

    (more…)

    Animals in Art

    By Mark Carnall, on 23 May 2014

    One of the aspects of working in a museum that I most enjoy is ‘enquiries’. Normally this will be museum visitors bringing in or sending in photos of mysterious objects that they want identifying. Not only is the challenge of identifying a mystery object fun but it’s very satisfying to work out what the object is and most visitors are happy to have had their object identified (with the rare exception when a dragon/dinosaur egg turns out to be a large very spherical pebble). Occasionally however, I receive an enquiry from a colleague from another museum asking for help with identifying animals depicted in a work of art or archaeological object.

    From the earliest images made on the walls of caves through to today, animals have inspired many people and we see this throughout the history of humans. Animals can be depicted as a record of the animals that an artist readily comes into contact with but often they carry symbolic representations or are merely a visual representation of the idea of an animal not meant to depict a specific species or individual.

    (more…)

    Angels, fairies and dragons revisited: Did putti fly like bumblebees?

    By Jack Ashby, on 30 April 2014

    In 2011 our 15th Annual Robert Grant Lecture was given by UCL’s Professor Roger Wotton. It was called Zoology and mythology: looking at angels, fairies and dragons and explored the biological plausibility of these creatures based on their representations in art. Prof Wotton dissected (not literally, obviously) the anatomy that would be required for angels, fairies and dragons to fly. The lecture was amusing and illuminating – and we wrote about it at the time.

    Now, on his blog, Roger has returned to the subject to investigate something he couldn’t fit into the lecture – putti. Putti are the porky little naked boys with tiny wings. Many people might (inaccurately) call them cherubs. In his whimsical yet biological account, Wotton says…

    It is only possible to speculate on how putti fly, although their naked, often chubby bodies indicate that the generation of sufficient temperature is not a problem. (more…)

    A stylish workshop on Subversive Millinery

    By Helen R Cobby, on 5 November 2013

    P1010920-2Subversive Millinery was an eclectic, creative and colourful evening event at the UCL Art Museum. It comprised of a mini art history lecture on the role and significance of hats, and a hands-on practical workshop where participants were encouraged to create their own beautiful hat or fascinator. This fun mix was led by Sue Walker, who completed her MA and PhD in art history at UCL, specialising in 18th and 19th century French prints.

    Sue began by explaining why she had become obsessed with hat making and encouraging communal creativity. She felt it was predominantly triggered from feeling disconnected with art objects after studying so much theory. She decided to start making things and focused on fashion as a way to get others involved and interested because it is something everyone is affected by and has opinions about. This idea of making judgments and engaging with ideas through ‘visual signs’, such as those of fashion, is fundamental to art historical questions that ask ‘what is it and what do we do when we make a visual sign?’ (more…)

    Zoology and Mythology – Looking at Angels, Fairies and Dragons

    By Jack Ashby, on 25 November 2011

    Last week was the Grant Museum’s 15th Annual Robert Edmond Grant Lecture, in which the superb Professor Roger Wotton explored the world of mythical creatures. He applied Grant’s own science of comparative anatomy to see whether things like angels, fairies and demons could actually fly, biologically speaking.

    The science was solid, and – SPOILER ALERT – the answer was no. UCL Events blog reviewed the event in full, so you can read all about it there.

    Roger’s original article on the topic can be found here in the Telegraph