Sunday, 16 May 2010

Gallery Visit - Unit 7 - 9th May

The instructions for this visit were to study 2 or 3 paintings closely and to look at the way the space of the gallery worked as a whole.

I had thought about looking at a gallery I had never been to before and went to look at some exhibitions at the Assembly Rooms in Norwich, however I found these to be very quiet and manned by the artists and chickened out as I didn't like the pictures or the way they had been hung much and so didn't fancy getting involved in conversation if I started looking at them in depth and writing about them!  So instead I chose to go to my local and most easily accessible gallery at Norwich Castle Museum.  However rather than use one of the rooms that I visit often I chose the Cotman Gallery as I haven't spent a lot of time in here before. 

One really good thing about this course is the fact that I am finding out so much more about what is here in my local area.  Not so good that it is very costly to get to London so haven't had a chance yet to look at a lot of the works I would like to - I am going to have a huge list and pity anybody who accompanies me!

The museum is housed in the castle and attached prison building which were converted to be used as art galleries and museum space in the 1880s.  The Cotman gallery is in the area which would have been part of the prison rather that the original castle building.  I didn't measure the room but would estimate it to be approximately 12 x 6 meters.  I only looked at the main room - a long curved corridor goes off the room housing a number of Cotman watercolours whilst this main room displays oil paintings and also gives information about Cotman's life. 

The room appears to be decorated in a style matching that of the time when it would have been renovated which suits the style of the paintings within. The floor is a light wood parquet and there is wood paneling on the lower walls and a simple wooden architrave which extends around the room from the top of the doorways.  The ends of the room are very slightly angled and this can be seen by observing the joints in the panels.  One end of the room is significantly more curved than the other and this end is separated slightly from the rest of the room by two small walls jutting into the room.  The walls are painted cream with a paler cream on the decorated (yet simple) coving.  The ceiling blends smoothly from the coving as it curves slightly up to ceiling of frosted glass panels.  This ceiling and the lighting are the only contemporary aspects of the room.  I am not sure why the ceiling is made of frosted glass as it seemed to have further building above it and certainly wasn't letting in daylight.  The room as a whole was very pleasing apart from the slight oddity of the ceiling.

My sketch of the main room
The lighting in the room is entirely artificial and from spotlights hung from the ceiling on a track around the room.  The spotlights are angled at the painting and work well as a light source. 

 The pictures in the gallery are all fairly small - I would say none larger than a meter wide.  I felt that they seemed to be hung quite low when I was stood back and observing the space.  However, when I was looking at them they felt just right (but I am a shorty!)  I think they seemed to be lower that they were due to the way the walls are broken up with wooden panels at the bottom. 

On entering the gallery and turning left to walk around clockwise the first thing you see is an informative poster about Cotman - he was born in the area and spent much of his life in Norwich so there is a large local connection.  The pictures then appear in a mainly chronological order.  I don't know if Cotman moved between themes as the years progressed or if the curator chose pictures that linked to each other but there is a progression in subject matter shown as you walk around the room. 
  • Information sheet about Cotman's links to Norwich.
  • 3 portraits
  • 2 featuring builidngs
  • 2 rough seas
  • seaside building
  • calm boat scenes
  • Information sheet - early years
  • Doorway to rest of gallery
  • Information sheet - middle years
  • 5 landscapes with trees
  • Alcoved area with pictures by John Joseph and Miles Edmond - Cotman's sons
  • 3 small landscapes
  • 1 large landscape
  • Information sheet about later years
I found that the way the pictures were hung was restful and it was pleasant to walk around reading the information on the way.  There is a sense of symmetry to the way the pictures have been hung and the positioning of the information which makes the visit restful.  There isn't really anything challenging or thought provoking about this gallery which I would see as a negative and is probably why I have never really spent much time in it before.

I then moved on to look more closely at 2 of the pictures in the room - I chose them as something about each of them 'jumped out at me'  I tried to teach this exercise like doing an annotation but with the picture in front of me.

Boy at Marbles - John Sell Cotman 1808
Oil, Approx 60cm x 80cm.
Cotman Gallery, Norwich Castle Museum

Silver Birches - John Sell Cotman c 1824-8
Oil, Approx 60cm x 90cm
Cotman Gallery, Norwich Castle Museum


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