Treasure Palaces

Treasure Palaces: Great Writers Visit Great Museums is the title of a book I bought at a discount Book Grocer shop in Melbourne recently (edited by Maggie Fergusson). I had seen it at the Te Papa store and thought it looked interesting. The book came about from a series of commissioned short essays for the English magazine Intelligent Life (a “sister magazine” of The Economist.) A distinguished writer – not an art critic – was asked to write about a museum that had played some part in their life and what they liked or didn’t like about it, “weaving in a thread of memoir”. From the eventual 38 essays, 24 have been chosen for this book. One of the ones I particularly enjoyed was Allison Pearson on the Rodin Museum in Paris. I had never heard of her, but one of the things I enjoy with a book of good essays is ‘discovering’ some new author.

Of the 24, I have visited the following six. The photos are mine, when I can find some! I will follow this with my own comments on two museum visits I made on a 2006 art history tour.  Continue reading


Dark Imaginings in Melbourne

Recently in Melbourne, I visited the University of Melbourne campus. There are a number of galleries and museums spread around the campus, but I went to only two: the Ian Potter Museum of Art and the Noel Shaw gallery in the library. The name Ian Potter  is ubiquitous in Melbourne – he was a businessman and philanthropist with at least two art galleries named after him and a new part of the State Library will be named after him.

References to Greek and Roman Classical statuary were also rather prominent on this visit. The Ian Potter (at Melbourne Uni) has some trying to escape out the front wall and at the NGV International (National Art Gallery of Victoria) was a large Xu Zhen work with the long title of: Eternity-Buddha in Nirvana, the Dying Gaul, Farnese Hercules, Night, Day, Sartyr and Bacchante, Funerary Genius, Achilles, Persian Soldier Fighting, Dancing Faun, Crouching Aphrodite, Narcisse Couché, Othryades the Spartan Dying, the Fall of Icarus, A River, Milo of Croton. There was also a smaller version (for sale – price on application![1]) in the museum shop. Continue reading

Giorgio Morandi, Bologna artist

Morandi book “One can travel this world and see nothing. To achieve understanding it is necessary not to see many things, but to look hard at what you do see.” Giorgio Morandi. [1]

Giorgio Morandi (1890–1964) is one of my favourite artists. I was pleased to read that the artists he listed as his influences are also in my pantheon (Giotto, Piero della Francesca, Chardin, Cezanne and Seurat).[2] Trying to come up with something that encapsulates the work of all these artists, I thought of solidity and stillness (generalisations, of course). When we were in Bologna last September we saw many of Morandi’s works. Since late 2012 the Morandi collection that used to be in a separate museum has been temporarily located at MAMbo (the Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna or Modern Art Museum of Bologna). Continue reading

Visiting artists’ studios

DSC02102Following World War Two, Alexander Liberman (an artist, but also art director of Vogue) photographed many artists’ studios in France. The book blurb says he “feared that many traces of a heroic epoch might vanish”. He was fascinated by the relationship between the artists’ surroundings and their work… and said: “I have tried to show the creative process itself”. I have a copy of Liberman’s book (revised in 1988) and despite the title of “The artist in his studio” he includes at least two women – Sonia Delaunay and Natalia Gontcharova.

Nearly two years ago I wrote this post on Art and Literature ‘pilgrimages’ and briefly mentioned my visits to Cezanne’s studio at the edge of Aix-en-Provence and Monet’s studio, house and garden at Giverny north of Paris. I have also visited Delacroix’s and Moreau’s studios in Paris and Renoir’s in the south of France. These are all museums now, of course, as the artists are long dead. Continue reading

Hogarth’s ‘Marriage a la mode’

In my part-time job at Te Papa I sometimes get to spend hours with some of the national art collection. The visitor host art floor supervisor asked some of us to write a paragraph for a joint blog post about which art work currently on display we would like for Christmas (if we could have one, which of course we can’t!)

There is so much to choose from it was difficult, but this is my contribution. You can read the full post here.

“All I want for Christmas is William Hogarth’s Marriage a la mode print series, because it would give hours of pleasure deciphering all the details. Continue reading

Chief from Santa Christina

Recently I had to prepare a short talk on an object in Te Papa Tongarewa (Museum of New Zealand’s) collections. I chose two prints currently on display on level 5. These both relate to the second voyage of James Cook to the Pacific – this article on the Te Papa website is also about that voyage if you’d like more information.

“We might think armchair travel is relatively new, but it isn’t – it was also popular in the 18th century. If you couldn’t travel you could hopefully at least read about it and look at the pictures. All the images in this area relate to the voyages of James Cook – he made three voyages to the Pacific in the late 18th century, and was killed in Hawai’i on the third voyage. ‘The Chief at Santa Christina’ comes from his second voyage – the voyage artist was William Hodges, but this print was made back in England a few years later from a Hodges drawing or watercolour. Continue reading

The piano at Te Papa

Parekowhai piano use

He Korero Purakau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu: The Story of a New Zealand River (2011) by Michael Parekowhai. Photograph: Te Papa Tongarewa / Museum of New Zealand.

‘There is no object I could make … that could fill a room like sound can.’ Michael Parekowhai, 2011[1]

This week I heard two performances on this Steinway grand piano-turned-into-an-artwork. The name of the carved piano is: He Korero Purakau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu: Story of a New Zealand river – ‘Story of a New Zealand River’ is the title of a 1920 novel by Jane Mander. The piano was carved by Maori New Zealand artist Michael Parekowhai and “took more than 10 years to create”.[2] It is in the Te Papa collection. Continue reading