Tuesday 12 April 2011

When paintings get itchy feet

Have you ever wondered how works of art get moved around from place to place? It’s not as simple as wrapping them up and popping them in the post! Exhibitions Project Coordinator Judith Cooke experienced the whole process last month when she accompanied a historic painting from the Gallery’s collection on its journey to Melbourne. Read her tale below:

Eugène von Guérard's Lake Wakatipu with Mount Earnslaw, Middle Island, New Zealand, 1877-79, goes to Melbourne

Recently I accompanied the Gallery's von Guérard painting Lake Wakatipu with Mount Earnslaw to Melbourne where it will be shown with its pair Milford Sound (on loan from the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney). Von Guérard visited the South Island in January 1876, visiting Milford Sound and Lake Wakatipu. On his return to Melbourne he worked the two grand paintings. Lake Wakatipu and Milford Sound were exhibited in 1877 at the Victorian Academy of Arts and then at International expositions in Paris (1878), Sydney (1879), Melbourne (1880) and London's Colonial and Indian Exhibition (1886). In London, the paintings were sold into private hands and eventually returned to Australasia when they were purchased by the Mackelvie Trust in 1971 (for permanent loan to the Auckland Art Gallery) and the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

These two large canvasses will hang side by side as the finale works of the NGV's exhibition Eugene von Guérard: Nature Revealed. Opening on 16 April, this is the first major exhibition of von Guérard's work since 1980 and will travel to Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane and the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. The catalogue includes Auckland Art Gallery curator Jane Davidson-Ladd’s recent research on the source of the waka. The curators and NGV are thrilled that the Gallery has made the work available for loan and tour.

Registrar Anne Harlow and I met on Sunday morning at our off-site store where the crated painting was picked up. Waving goodbye to Anne, I stuck to our crate like glue as it was trucked to the airport for palletisation onto a dedicated pallet.

After a few hours of waiting around in the bond store keeping the crate well in view, it was eventually loaded into the freighter (Boeing 747) as ‘last on and first off’ (see pic of its location in the plane below). No race horses on this flight fortunately!

In Melbourne the crate and I were met by Global Specialised Services and an NGV registrar. After a smooth and quite speedy clearance I travelled in the truck with the crate to NGV Australia in Federation Square where we were met by members of the exhibitions and registration team. Here the crate was carefully unloaded, receipted and left to acclimatise in the gallery for 24 hours.

Unpacking the crate

Checking the painting's condition

Installation was delayed thanks to a small hold up with some display case construction. On Wednesday morning the crate was opened, the painting unpacked, condition reported (no change) and installed. Once it was safe on the wall, my job was done. Thanks to everyone who contributed to the safe transit of Lake Wakatipu to Melbourne.

- Judith Cooke

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