Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Time of Sitting one Minute

Artists have used mechanical means to ease the difficulties of accurate drawing long before the invention of photography. Eleven miniature silhouettes are just about to go on display at Temple Newsam, all painted by John Miers (1758-1821), one the most famous profilists of the 18th century. They are painted in watercolour on plaster and each one has a pasted advert on the back which reads:
Perfect Likenesses in miniature Profile taken by J.Miers LEEDS and reduced on a plan entirely new which preserves the most exact Symetry and animated expression of the Features much Superior to any other method. Time of sitting one Minute. NB He keeps the original Shades, and can supply those he has once taken with any number of Copies. Those who have shades by them may have them reduced to any size and dressed in the present Taste.
Orders at any Time addressed to him at Leeds in Yorkshire will be punctually dispatched.
Miers must have used some type of a camera obscura, which is basically a room sized pinhole camera: The sitter would sit in front of a strong light, the image projecting through a lens into a darkened room where the artist could trace the profile probably on paper against a movable screen of ground glass. This drawing would then be transferred to the plaster support. Under the microscope an indented line can actually be seen around each miniature profile head.
It would be great fun to try and reproduce his method, build a camera obscura and get people to have a go: Any volunteers ? Time of sitting only one minute!

Friday, 25 September 2009

The beast with five fingers

Dummy boards were painted images meant to be propped up in a room to make the occupants feel they were not alone. This one is probably of a female servant and came to us with the Roger Warner bequest. At some time before she was acquired for Temple Newsam she had lost a hand and it was replaced with this hideous attempt. We all know hands are tricky to draw, but you would have thought whoever did it might have made a bit more effort. The fingernails were very crudely drawn in pencil. Options for treatment were discussed with curatorial staff – it was felt that the sheer ugliness of the old retouching was obtrusive and should be removed and re-done. It is rare that this amount of anatomical reconstruction is required in the treatment of an oil painting – most inpainting is carried out on very tiny losses. I had been attending a evening class in life drawing which honed some skills in observational drawing which proved very useful. After careful cleaning, a more anatomically correct hand was painted in acrylic, and varnished. She is now on display in the House in one of the new refurbished rooms.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Sketch of Mok the gorilla

Inspired by Kitty's pencil drawing I've decided to post the one and only pencil sketch I know of in the natural science collection. This is an illustration of Mok - a gorilla who lived at London Zoo in the 1930s. His skeleton is in store at Leeds Museum Discovery Centre and his skin (mounted by a taxidermist) is on display at Leeds City Museum.

I like the connection this sketch gives us to Mok while he was alive: it's unusual to have an image of a living specimen from the collection. This particular drawing makes me wonder about his life in the zoo - is he bored, dreaming of Africa or just watching the world go by?

This was sketched by Stuart Tresilian, a regular visitor to London Zoo. He used its inhabitants as references for his drawings illustrating Rudyard Kipling's 'Animal Stories' and 'All the Mowgli Stories'.


Monday, 14 September 2009

Bonfire night special

Well, someone has to start this off! While researching for Abbey House Museum's next exhibition ("Park Life" - opening January 2010), I came across the following wonderful drawing from our collection of advertising designs from Dickinson Display Ltd., Leeds. Dating from 1954 and advertising Youngman's Fish Restaurant, the image it shows of a boy lighting a firework behind a park bench would not be allowed by modern advertising standards! No regard for health and safety!!