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Violette Lafleur: Bombs, boxes and one brave lady

f.taylor25 February 2021

Image: Photograph of Violette Lafleur in her conservation lab

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2021, we want to share with you the story of an extraordinary woman who helped save the Petrie Museum Collection during World War Two, UCL conservation student and volunteer Violette Lafleur.

Only one tin of Ptolemaic funerary masks and thirty limestone tomb-wall fragments were deemed beyond repair following the bombing raids during the Second World War. It is remarkable that more was not lost. We owe this to one incredible lady who, through sheer determination, took up the challenge of packing and sorting the collection during this tumultuous time.

Against a backdrop of wartime austerity and danger, Violette Lafleur managed almost single-handedly to save the Petrie collection.

In 1938 the most fragile and most important objects in the Petrie collection began to be boxed up and moved to Blockley, Gloucestershire, home of a naval Captain George Spencer Churchill, a cousin of Winston Churchill. The bulk of the work was undertaken by Lafleur, with the occasional assistance of College porters and a former student. The remaining 160 cases stayed on campus in the South and Refectory Vaults.

On 18 September 1940, the College sustained bomb damage that destroyed the skylights, allowing water to drip onto a tray of funerary cones and wooden toys. Despite this close shave, Lafleur returned a few days later to continue her efforts at considerable personal risk: one day a bomb dropped nearby as she laboured over the collection.

It was arduous work, compounded by the lack of packing crates due to wood shortages, meaning Lafleur had to improvise with drawers and trays. Then in April 1941, the College suffered an almost direct bomb strike and, although artefacts were not directly damaged, water from the firemen’s hoses seeped into the basement leaving cases standing in water. The artefacts had to be unpacked, dried, treated and repacked once again.

Funders were eventually secured from College coffers to finish the last tranche of repacking and some 405 cases were transferred to Compton Wynyates in Warwickshire, where part of the British Museum collection was already safely housed.

As the bombs continued to rain down it was clear London was far from safe. The Ministry of Works arranged for a further 275 cases to be moved to Drayton Court in Northamptonshire, home of Colonel Stopford Sackville. By July 1943 some 14 tonnes of cases and crates had been transported by the Pall Mall Depositing and Forwarding Company in four separate van loads, all sorted and designated by Lafleur.

Her valiant efforts were noted at the time and then-Provost, David Pye, asked that an official letter of appreciation for her efforts be written. There were plans to further acknowledge her remarkable achievements with a plaque. This never materialised, and only a short speech was given at a UCL Fellows dinner in May 1951.

Lafleur had no formal academic qualifications and her professional status at UCL was something of an anomaly. With her extensive experience of collections care and management, she was eventually bestowed the title ‘honorary museum assistant’, a role that she held until her retirement in 1953. She never received a single penny for her work, nor was it ever commemorated in the way she deserved. Her commitment, however, is not forgotten.

You can read more about some of the extraordinary stories behind the Petrie Museum on our website and in the Petrie Museum Entrance Gallery.

 

This article is taken from Pike, H., (2015), ‘Violette Lafleur: bombs, boxes and one brave lady’, in Stevenson, A., (ed.), The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology: Characters and Collections, London: UCL Press (DOI: 10.14324/111.9781910634042)

Object of the week 384: Rosemary Young, Bull, 1951

Nina Pearlman28 June 2019

This blog is written by a team of UCL Museum Studies students – Sarah Waite, Lok Hei Wong, Patricia Roberts and Yiting Fu – and draws upon their research project into the Slade School of Fine art historic sculpture prize, undertaken in collaboration with the UCL Art Museum as part of their MA degree.

VISIT THE SLADE SCULPTURE PRIZE DISPLAY IN UCL’s NORTH CLOISTERS on till 17 FEBRUARY 2020

 

See image credits below

We had the fantastic opportunity to focus our Collections Curatorship course project with UCL Art Museum on an area of the Slade collection that is under-researched. During our research, we uncovered this small bronze sculpture in the UCL Art Museum’s store. Bull (1951) was modelled by Rosemary Young (b.1930) , who was a student at the Slade from 1949 to 1953, and then cast by Reg Butler (1913-1931), who taught at the art school. The artwork won the Slade Sculpture Prize in 1951 and is the only prize-winning sculpture retained by the School and now part of UCL Art Museum’s Slade Collection . A highly sought after honour, to receive a Slade prize meant that the student’s work was recognised as exemplary by a panel of the most highly regarded artists and academics in Britain.

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Object of the week 382: Isaac Cruikshank, French Happiness, English Misery (1793)

Nina Pearlman24 May 2019

This blog post is written by Lisa Bull, UCL Museum Studies 2019-20

contrasted images of life in France and Britain during the French Revolution

Isaac Crukshank, French Happiness, English Misery, 1793, etching, hand coloured

UCL Art Museum is home to an impressive collection of French and British satires from the eighteenth and nineteenth century. This collection is the result of a generous gift by Professor David Bindman made possible through the Cultural Gift Scheme and it forms the basis for a series of exhibitions on visual satires chronicling the French Revolution. The new addition to this series will be Witnessing Terror: French Revolutionary Prints 1792-4 due to open at UCL Art Museum in January 2020.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries satire was the key means to spread news. Satire was and still is an effective means of stimulating debate due to its accessibility. Their intention to have a clear message and the relatively quick method of production meant they could be enjoyed by many. They are often aimed at ridiculing an individual, policy or group in society but while retaining an important moral message. Satires are still a key form of media utilised in most news forums, but here in the twenty-first century social media has filled this gap and is essential for us to keep in touch with current affairs.

My role is to help catalogue the works by British satirists in this collection, such as William Hogarth, James Gillray, Isaac Cruikshank, Thomas Rowlandson and Charles Jameson Grant. (more…)