The National Maritime Museum will shortly be opening a brand new exhibition which celebrates the magic of cruising. On display will be the delightful Waterline collection showing all the colour and style of cruise ship holidays from the mid 20th century.
To give you a sneak preview of what you can expect when the exhibition opens on Saturday 27 November here is a little teaser trailer.
I am currently in the 2nd year of a Collaborative Doctoral Award working with Roehampton University and the NMM on my doctoral research topic entitled ‘The Queen’s House at Greenwich: The Courts of Queen Anna of Denmark and Queen Henrietta Maria, 1603-1669′. The varied and fascinating history of the Queen’s House includes its uses as a keeper’s lodge, headmaster’s residence and school dormitory for the Greenwich Naval School. It is now home to part of the Museum’s vast art collection. My research focuses on its earliest history as a place for the display and expression of early modern English queenship.
The focus of my first year has been on the relationship between Queen Anna of Denmark (consort to King James VI and I) and Stuart Greenwich from 1603 until her death in 1619. Queen Anna commissioned the House to be built in 1616 but died well before the construction of the ground floor sections were completed. No record has been left detailing Anna’s intentions for the aesthetic characteristics of the exterior and interiors or the functionality of the space. What we do know of the original interiors, including the surviving grotesque ceiling in the Queen’s Bedchamber (first floor, north side) is from the 1630s decoration created under the auspices of Charles I and Henrietta Maria.
Unknown artist, Grotesque coved ceiling (detail), Queen’s Bedchamber, The Queen’s House.
One significant feature that does bridge the gap (excuse the pun) however between Anna and Henrietta Maria’s royal House’s was the road running beneath the central bridge room. The intention for a house of two separate sides to be built across the main public thoroughfare (running from Woolwich to London) was never deviated from in either the 1616-18 or the 1629-35 designs, and has thus produced one of the most debated questions regarding the building of the Queen’s House: why would the queen wish to have a house built across a main road? My research will hopefully provide more insight into this enigmatic feature.
The Queen’s House (east-west) showing the site of the old Woolwich-Deptford road
As well as my archival research I have been taking advantage of my access to the House by walking the routes around it and gaining a sense of the different visual perspectives towards both the hunting grounds to the south (Greenwich Park) and Greenwich Palace to the north (now Wren’s buildings), even venturing up onto the roof to witness the same (if not similar) view the queen and her courtly entourage would have observed from the specifically designed observation platform as seen in the painting below. This architectural detail suggests the exterior roof space was always intended to be utilised for the view that was otherwise obscured by the rambling buildings of the old Tudor Palace. Johannes Vorsterman, Greenwich and London from One Tree Hill, c.1680. (BHC1808)
My research into Anna of Denmark’s movements to and from Greenwich during her period as English queen consort have so far revealed patterns of personal, cultural and political use, including birthing rituals and diplomatic visits. As part of these ceremonial displays the construction of the Queen’s House did not constitute the start of a radical new building programme, but the culmination of an agenda that reinforced and regenerated the public image of the first royal female of the Stuart court.
I am an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award holder in my third year of my PhD at the University of Sussex and the National Maritime Museum’s Centre for Art and Travel. The award has allowed me to spend time researching the significant yet largely unknown NMM collection of photographic albums bought and compiled by naval officers in the 19th century.
Traditionally the museum has catalogued these albums by the ships’ portraits and topographic views included within them. However, these albums offer a fascinating insight into the social history of the Royal Navy as well as into each individual compiler’s beliefs, interests and collecting habits. They also provide a rich comparative archive of material from which to examine the construction of photographic albums as a new form of visualizing the world and as revealing the dominant visual strategies of the day.
My thesis examines these albums from an art historical perspective, looking at how and why early travel photographs were bought by naval officers and how the officers’ compilation of personal albums allow conclusions to be drawn as to how they perceived the world. Taken collectively these early photographic albums can reveal how naval officers were conditioned to see, how photographers overseas responded to their needs and how these men then ‘curated’ their own experiences from photographic fragments into modern narratives.
Paymaster Frederick North compiled three albums that are now in the Archive of Historic Photographs at the NMM [ALB0029, 30, 167]. The first of his albums, ALB0029, begins with photographic portraits of his friends and family before including views of people and places bought around the world. North had a strong aesthetic sensibility and he bought work by leading photographers who worked overseas, such as Felice Beato in Yokohama and John Thomson, who operated studios in Hong Kong and Singapore in the 1860s and 1870s.
North also enjoyed arranging the photographs he had bought overseas in unusual and artistic ways. He had bought his album at Reed the stationer’s on Oxford Street, London and most probably compiled it in England between postings overseas. He hand-decorated several pages of his album and pasted the photographs in himself. At times he employed fashionable collage techniques usually associated with women’s albums, such as this example of an anchor made from photographic portraits of people, a ship and a lighthouse:
He often centred his displays around things that were important to his life, such as the ship he was sailing on. Captain Tynte F. Hammill similarly centred some of his photographic displays around his ship, for example in this page from his large-format album that documented travels made throughout his career:
Hammill’s album includes 666 photographs from the 1860s to the 1890s. On this album page the H.M.S. Rodney can be seen at the centre of a display of eighteen photographs chiefly featuring Japanese views and people. Hammill sailed on the Rodney as an 18 year-old midshipman in 1869, and his album also includes officer portraits from this time, taken on board in Yokohama and Hong Kong.
From these few examples it is possible to glimpse the complex layers through which these albums can be read. I am hoping my thesis will examine both the construction of individual photographs seen in the albums as well as the selection processes by which officers such as North and Hammill acquired them and the further selections they made in their personal arrangement of images into travel narratives of their own. In this way I hope to reveal the contribution made by early travel photography and photographic albums to the visualization of the world in the 19th century.
A short film documenting the recent removal of Nelson’s Trafalgar coat from display in preparation for essential conservation work. Currently in its place on display is the uniform Nelson wore at the Battle of the Nile in 1798. Nelson’s Trafalgar uniform will return to display in Summer 2011.
The Royal George collection consists of 27 small printed books describing the sinking of HMS Royal George in Spithead in 1782. The wood of the sunken ship is thought to have been used for the boards of these books. This important and very popular collection is extensively used by Caird Library readers. Heavy past usage and handling as well as unsuitable housing have led to extensive damage and deterioration of the books making this collection a priority for conservation. The books needed to be stabilised for safe handling and given appropriate housing to protect the collection in the future.
On 29 August 1782 the HMS Royal George was anchored at Spithead (near Portsmouth harbour) to take on supplies. She was the flagship of Rear Admiral Kempenfeldt and under command of Captain Waghorn. That day was set aside for the crew to say their farewells to their families. Since desertion from the navy was a problem, shore leave was cancelled and wives and family were allowed to come onboard (about 400 extra people) which added an extra 70 tons to the ship’s weight.
To allow for minor maintenance work on the wash pump below the usual waterline, the HMS Royal George was being heeled over at an angle. Guns had been moved in the ship to allow the heeling of the ship, bringing the lowest gun ports close to the water surface. A supply vessel approached to load on more supplies which caused the ship to heel even further to such a degree that the sea washed in through the lower gun ports and the ship began to take in water into her hold. A sudden breeze on the raised side of the ship forced her even further over. She rolled onto her side and sank before any distress signal could be given, taking with her around 900 people, including up to 300 women and 60 children. Only about 230 people were saved.
The 27 books were kept in two very small (book-like) boxes providing very little individual support. Most of the wooden boards and leather spines were damaged, broken, detached or missing, and the books were mainly held together with archive tape. Most of the loose wooden boards and prints in front of the books were mixed up with each other. The paper was also very weak particularly at the front and back of the book block.
Previous storage boxes
The construction of the books is very complex. A variety of materials are used, ranging from thin curved wooden boards (most of them broken and with parts missing), paper blocks, leather spines and a silk ribbon used as a kind of ‘sewing thread’. This presented several challenges to me in deciding on the best conservation approach, which would also ensure that the books could be easily handled and opened without incurring further damage.
Example of broken book PBD2235
Example of broken book PBD2235
During my study and examination of the different structures and editions of the books, I was able to unite loose parts (boards and prints) with their original book block. It was essential to keep original elements of the binding in order to respect the integrity of the collection.
All wooden boards were preserved and conserved. I replaced missing parts with the same kind of material as the original, chiselling oak wood to the right infill size in the same thickness, staining the wood to a similar colour, ensuring the infill was still clearly distinguishable from the original. I used a strong, flexible and reversible glue to recreate and support original curves in the boards.
Wooden board infill
Conserved book with toned wooden infill
The degraded leather spines were dry cleaned and consolidated. In some cases I found it necessary to replace the spine with similar leather (in this case sheep skin). I replicated gold tooling in the same style and size compared to the other books in this collection.
The paper was carefully dry cleaned. I provided strength by repairing tears and replacing missing areas with a variety of conservation quality Japanese papers and hand-made western papers. The paper repairs were adhered using Wheat Starch Paste and Methylcellulose. Visually disfiguring and previously added paper repairs were removed and the damage was treated with more sympathetic and suitable paper materials.
The sewing structure of a small percentage of the books was very weak or broken. An intact binding is necessary for the book to function properly. In some cases, I needed to completely re-sew books where the sewing structure was beyond repair. I recorded the old, original binding construction prior re-sewing and used my notes as a template. New hemp cords were used as a sewing support.
The much degraded silk ribbon was replaced with a ribbon in similar texture, material and colour. I used a new silk ribbon which I dyed, using different dyes and chemicals, to match the colour of the original silk ribbon.
New protection was necessary to meet preservation standards and create a storage solution which is appropriate for the Caird Library readers. I had to consider four main points:
1. Security and safety of the books
3. Keeping all the units together
4. Weight and size of the storage box
I decided to create a bespoke housing system: two custom made boxes with two trays each now house all 27 items; the trays can easy be lifted out of the boxes. The books are individually supported and secured in the boxes. This housing system has made access to the collection much safer and easier.