Each year the Library loans artworks, books, manuscripts and objects for national and international exhibitions.
Last year the Library sent works from our collection to exhibition venues as diverse as Dubbo Regional Library, Artspace Mackay, IKON Gallery Birmingham and the Museum of Sydney.
Our registrars in Collection Care administer these loans, balancing the Library’s obligation for the care, safety and security of the collection with increasing demands for physical access to fragile and valuable items.
We work with curators, conservators, cataloguers, photographers, designers, insurers, specialist packers and transport companies over many months — from the initial request until the item is returned to storage at the end of the exhibition.
The beginning of 2018 has been extremely busy, as we’re lending over 150 items to high-profile exhibitions at the National Gallery of Victoria, the Art Gallery of Ballarat and the British Library.
One of the largest loans we’ve ever organised, the National Gallery of Victoria’s Colony exhibition draws heavily on the Library’s colonial art collection. The 75 items on loan — paintings, watercolours, books, albums and objects — are part of a comprehensive survey of Australian art from 1770 to 1861.
Every item sent on loan is assessed and documented, with information provided to curators for wall text and catalogues, and the dimensions and display information given to designers.
Each item has a condition report and is packed into specially made insulated crates for transport. Due to the size and value of these loans, Collection Care staff will accompany the material in transit and oversee unpacking, condition checking and installation at the venues.
Some items require extensive conservation treatment to make them ready for display. The Panorama of Newcastle by Edward Close, made in 1821, took two conservators over 200 hours to prepare. Over three metres long, this watercolour, pen and ink drawing is made up of seven sheets of paper, which depict the settlement of Newcastle in its topographical landscape.
Recently attributed to Edward Close — an engineer and inspector of public works in the Macquarie era, as well as an amateur artist — the work was cleaned, the linen backing removed, tears were repaired and missing pieces were filled and retouched. It was mounted onto backing boards for safe handling, and a new storage box was made.
Sketchbooks and drawings will be on display at the Art Gallery of Ballarat in the exhibition Eugene von Guérard: Artist–Traveller. One of the best-known landscape painters of nineteenth-century Australia, Austrian von Guérard sketched and recorded his travels in Victoria before returning to his Melbourne studio to paint remarkably detailed landscapes.
The exhibition allows the visitor to trace the evolution of a work from sketchbook to final studio painting and includes some items on public display for the first time.
And to mark the 250th anniversary in 2018 of the departure of Captain Cook’s Endeavour voyage, in April Joseph Banks’ Endeavour journal, watercolours by William Hodges of the North Pacific and John Webber’s portraits of Maori chiefs will travel to the British Library accompanied by a conservator who will oversee the installation of these significant items in the landmark exhibition James Cook: The Voyages.
Caroline Lorentz, Manager, Collection Care
This article was first published in SL magazine Autumn 2018.