Library, Art and Archives blog
Welcome to Kew's Library Art and Archives blog. Here you will find information about Kew's collections, services and fascinating work which is taking place within the section and also meet the Library, Art and Archive staff who will provide regular updates with news from projects they are involved in, treasures they have discovered and exciting new developments planned for the future. Donate now - Help Kew look after its art and heritage
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Kew's paper conservators Emma Le Cornu and Eleanor Hasler had to think big when treating a linocut of the Pagoda by Edward Bawden. Here they explain how this damaged artwork was returned to its former glory in the conservation studio.
The pagoda print
Accustomed to conserving and re-housing smaller items on paper, Emma and I were pleased to work on something large scale when Edward Bawden’s 'The Pagoda, Kew Gardens' was brought to the studio for treatment. The print is a large colour linocut and is one of a series of fifty that Bawden produced in 1963.
The print of the Pagoda before treatment
Edward Bawden (1903-1989) created numerous striking illustrations, designs and paintings throughout his career, many of which were reproduced in posters, prints and book covers. He had a strong interest in both gardening and architecture and, consequently, an affiliation with Kew developed, with Bawden often using the Gardens for subject matter. In 1936 he was commissioned to design a London Underground poster for Kew Gardens. He used the relief printing technique of linocut to create the image.
'Kew Gardens' by Edward Bawden 1936 (Credit: the Estate of Edward Bawden)
Why the print had deteriorated
It is his large scale linocuts that Bawden is most famous for, especially his later prints, including 'The Pagoda, Kew Gardens'. By applying very thick layers of printing ink, he could create bold, opaque blocks of colour to create striking and inventive images.
It was these thick areas of printing ink, however, that caused problems for the Pagoda print here in the Library, Art and Archives. Previously housed in a lightweight wooden frame, the unmounted print was attached to the top edge of the backing board. When the inappropriate hinging tape finally gave way, the print sagged and was pressed up against the Perspex. Due to the very slow-drying nature of the oils in printing inks, the media on the print was still tacky and so adhered to the Perspex, causing ink and paper loss in the image area.
Conserving the print
Prior to the print being brought into the studio, some of the ink had been removed from the Perspex using liquid nitrogen. This chilled the ink enough to remove it from the Perspex and then it was re-adhered to the print. When Emma and I received the print, large losses in the media were still evident and the paper was still distorted and damaged from being crumpled in the frame. The paper was also discoloured, mainly at the edges, which indicated the support was acidic and would benefit from having the overall pH raised.
As we are usually able to wash artworks in the sink in the conservation studio, we had to adapt our techniques for this large print. In order to remove the soluble acidity in the paper we humidified and then washed the print, using blotting paper to draw the water through the paper. By adding an alkali to the wash water we raised the pH of the paper and also removed a surprising amount of discolouration. The print immediately looked brighter, with a greater degree of contrast between the ink and paper.
The distorted thick ink layers meant that the print would not lie flat so we decided to line the back of it with a thinner Japanese paper which would serve two purposes:
- the damaged paper would benefit from the added support of an overall lining
- the print would be gently pulled flat as the lining dried
The print dried slowly in a chamber so that tensions remained even
Using a karibari board
The humidified print, with lining paper adhered onto the back, was smoothed out onto a board and then the edges of the lining paper were pasted down at the edges so that as the print dried, tensions were kept even and the artwork was remained flat.
This method of flattening and drying artworks is traditionally used for the lining of Japanese scrolls, the drying board itself is called a karibari board. Where there were losses in the media, we decided to in-paint so that the image would be continuous. We tested a number of different options for in-painting as we not only had to match the colour of the missing ink but also characteristics such as opacity and sheen as well.
Colour matching and in-painting the areas of loss.
The Inspiring Kew exhibition
The print is now mounted onto conservation grade board and is ready to be framed and displayed in the upcoming exhibition ‘Inspiring Kew’ at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art in 2014. It will be displayed along with another of Bawden’s prints, ‘Kew Palace’, also in the Illustrations Collection, to show how Bawden was enthused by his much loved visits to the Gardens.
Make your own lino print
Transport for London have created a microsite where you can find out more about Edward Bawden, about the technique of linoprinting, and design your own Kew Gardens Poster!
- Emma and Eleanor -
- Explore the view from the top of the Pagoda
- Take a look at Kew’s latest video, celebrating National Tree Week 2013, featuring the Pagoda.
- Learn more about Eward Bawden on the Tate website
- Current exhbitions at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art
- Explore the Illustrations Collection in the Library, Art & Archives
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The idea behind the reindeer
In 1907 a medical missionary to Newfoundland and Labrador, Wilfred Grenfell, introduced 300 Lapland reindeer and three herder families to the north coast of Canada. Until then, the people of Labrador were reliant on harp seals for food and savage dogs for draught animals. The rapid extermination of harp seals had left little food available and the draught dogs were so savage they had been known to kill Inuits and whole flocks of sheep.
Grenfell wanted to help the people of Labrador and believed by importing reindeer, a sustainable source of meat, milk, clothes and bedding could be provided. The reindeer could also be used as draught animals, meaning people no longer had to rely on the vicious dogs.
Woman in formal dress sitting near a reindeer herd [1909?] (The Rooms Provincial Archives Division, VA 118-40.4, International Grenfell Association photograph collection)
Sir William MacGregor
After meeting Grenfell, the Governor of Newfoundland, Sir William MacGregor, became very interested in this idea and started his own botanical research into the availability of lichens and mosses in the area as a basis for reindeer food. He went on several collecting trips around Labrador (mainly to Anse Sablon and the Chidley peninsula) as well as receiving various collections from members of Grenfell's mission.
Having been friends with Kew's third director, Sir William Thiselton-Dyer, he decided to send these collections on to Sir David Prain, Thiselton-Dyer's successor. Kew Gardens was heavily involved in the determination of these specimens and concluded that at least four species found in Labrador would serve as a food supply for reindeer. As these lichens were common in the area, it was estimated that there was enough food to support over 3 million reindeer.
There are several letters in the Directors' Correspondence from MacGregor, referring to these specimens and to Kew's involvement in the Reindeer experiment. MacGregor also sent a press cutting from Newfoundland's Evening Herald, regarding the lichen and moss specimens which had been sent to Kew. Kew Gardens was, and still is, considered the highest authority for botanical matters.
"What I most desire to know is the value of the mosses & lichens in that district as food for the Reindeer. It would be of vast advantage to Labrador to have that animal introduced & bred there" (Archive ref: DC 201 f.67); Press cutting (Archive ref: DC 201 f.68).
At first, the experiment appeared to be successful and was widely pubilcised, for example in this article in the New York Times. However, the Lapp herders were finding the climate too cold and one family left after just the first year. The others soon followed and the herding was left to locally trained men. By the fourth year, the herd had increased to 1,000 reindeer but had begun to face increased poaching and abandonment by the locally trained herders.
Ten years into the experiment, the herd was drastically reduced and the remaining reindeer were shipped away to Millertown. Grenfell still regarded the experiment as a success but, unknown to him, the reindeer carried a parasite. Although there is no direct evidence that the reindeers passed this parasite on, it affects caribou in Newfoundland up until this day and this is the only place in the world where caribou are known to carry the parasite.
Reindeer swimming in a lake (From the International Greenfell Association Lantern Slides Collection, credit: the Maritime History Archive)
There are so many interesting stories and insights into the past to be found in Kew's archive of letters. By digitising them they can be accessed by people all over the world. See what you can find among the Directors' Correspondence by searching under 'Free Text' on the JSTOR Global Plants website.
- Jess -
- Browse the Directors' Correspondence online at JSTOR Global Plants
- For advice on using the JSTOR Global Plants website, see the blog post Celebrating the launch of JSTOR Global Plants
- Find out more about the Directors' Correspondence Digitisation Project
- For the latest news from the DC project follow us on twitter @KewDC
- More about Wilfred Grenfell on Wikipedia
- More about Sir William MacGregor on Wikipedia
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Explore your archive
This week sees the launch of the nationwide Explore Your Archive campaign, complete with colourful poster!
Poster for the Explore Your Archive campaign
John Smith’s list of gardeners at Kew
Across the country many archive services are hosting special events and talks to promote the treasures they hold and encourage the public to discover their past. I am going to take this opportunity to write about one of my favourite items in our Archive collections – John Smith’s List of Gardeners at Kew.
This small, unassuming volume was created by John Smith, Curator of the Gardens from 1841 to 1864, to record the hiring (and firing) of gardening staff. He includes details about the particular skills, knowledge and character of the men under his employment, and often notes where they moved on to after leaving Kew. These added details mean that we can gain real insight into the men who worked at Kew as well as the way John Smith liked to manage his gardeners.
John Smith, curator of Kew Gardens, 1841-1864
Sometimes the notes Smith has made are quite intriguing. Here he writes of the gardener George Bond that he is ‘a good and industrious workman but wants sence [sic], does very sily [sic] actions as regards his private affairs. He I fear will not succeed as a Gardener'.
John Smith's notes about George Bond
Smith seems to value the men who aim to ‘improve’ themselves while at Kew, and even offered prizes for the gardeners with the best private collections of plants. Charles Baxter received one of these prizes ‘having collected and named about 400 species’. Unfortunately, we know the ultimate fate of Baxter, as Smith recorded that he died during an expedition up the Niger river.
John Smith's notes about Charles Baxter
Researching family history
We regularly receive enquiries from people researching their family history who discover that their ancestor was a gardener at Kew. As this is the only record we have of the gardeners at this early period, I always keep my fingers crossed that I will find their name in John Smith’s list, and be able to tell their great-grandchildren a bit more about them. Although sometimes they might be quite shocked by what they discover!
Swedish gardener Knut Forsberg worked at Kew for only a year before being discharged for ‘improper conduct viz stopping away from his duty and insulting the Foreman and Curator’. Of course, we only hear the curator’s side of the story, but it would appear the two men did not end on the best of terms. Smith adds that Forsberg ‘threatened voilence [sic] on me’ and signs his name against it for good measure.
John Smith's notes about Knut Forsberg
There are thousands of archive services across the UK and Ireland and each one is unique. Whatever you are interested in; there will be an archive that contains untold stories to inspire you.
- Lorna -
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Hi, I’m Miriam, the new Archives Graduate Trainee at Kew. Before starting here, I completed an undergraduate degree in History & Anthropology at Goldsmiths College. I also worked and volunteered at a few different archives alongside my studies in order to gain experience in the sector.
These included doing a university work placement at the London Metropolitan Archives, completing a cataloguing project at the British Red Cross archive, working on a digitisation project at the Women’s Library, and sorting materials at the Lesbian and Gay News Media Archive. I’m really enjoying my new role so far, and I love learning all about the history of Kew.
Photo of me in the Archive Store
During my recent Kew induction tour I was intrigued to find out that in 1913 suffragettes attacked the orchid house at Kew, and then, twelve days later, burnt down the tea pavilion. I was keen to learn more about these events and so I delved into the archives to find some answers.
Damage to Orchid House 'slight'
On the 8 February 1913, a night stoker on his usual round of checks at 4am discovered that some panes of glass in the Orchid House had been smashed, and some of the plants destroyed. The perpetrators were never discovered, but ‘Votes for Women’ leaflets had been left at the scene. Interestingly, in a report of the damage, Kew's Director, Sir David Prain, confesses that:
“The damage done is trifling compared with what it might have been, but I trust that this fact may be carefully concealed from the public and especially from the newspapers lest its publications provoke another attempt.” ( RGBK Metropolitan Police Correspondence 1845-1920, ff.150-151)
As a result, newspapers reporting the attacks seem to overstate the extent of the damage:
RGBK Metropolitan Police Correspondence 1845-1920, ff.157-161
Some individuals also wrote to Kew's Director, having read of the attacks in the newspapers, and 'helpfully' provided suggestions on how to deal with the suffragettes. For example, Mr John C. Willis of Jardim Botanico, Rio de Janeiro, suggests bringing back the ducking stool!
DC217 folio 150
While Mr W. Popplewell-Bloxam of Kensington asks, “Is there not a blood-sucking orchid which after attracting its victims renders them [insensible] by an exhalation + then fastens its tentacles on their blood vessels!!”
DC 159 folio 6
Suffragettes defiant over Tea Pavilion arson
Twelve days after the Orchid House attack, the Tea Pavilion at Kew was burnt down.
This time, two women were caught fleeing the scene. At trial, Olive Wharry and Lillian Lenton were found guilty of the arson and sentenced to eighteen months in prison. Kew holds no records about the women themselves, or their reasons for targeting Kew, but hints to their motive can be found in the Old Bailey court proceedings, during which Wharry said that she believed the pavilion belonged to the government.
While in court, Wharry also stated that morally she was not guilty, and would not submit to punishment. Once behind bars, the pair immediately went on hunger strike and Wharry's prison scrapbook - held at the British Library - reveals that she went 32 days without eating before being released.
During my time at Kew I look forward to discovering many other stories about the history of the organisation. If you would like to find out more, why not visit the Library, Art and Archives Reading Room?
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An Iconic Image
When I started on the Directors' Correspondence (DC) digitisation project, I was given an A4 sheet containing the names, dates and pictures of the first five Directors of Kew. The tiny black and white thumbnail image of Kew's first Director, Sir William Jackson Hooker, above my desk is a facsimile of a portrait by the artist Spiridione Gambardella. The original oil painting hangs in the meeting room of the Linnean Society of London. It is a congenial image of the great man and one that I have become very familiar with over the years.
Sir William Jackson Hooker: Oil on Canvas painted by Spiridione Gambardella. Digital image reproduced with kind permission of The Linnean Society of London.
Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I came across a number of letters in the DC collection discussing the artist Gambardella and his painting of this very portrait. The references were uncovered in the letters of Francis Boott, an American physician and botanist who lived and worked in London. We have digitised around 200 letters from Boott, a man who was well-connected socially and who took the aspiring young artist, Gambardella, under his wing. The first mention of Gambardella is in a letter from Boott to Sir William, dated 3 Nov 1842:
"My friend Gambardella has promised me to paint your Portrait at Kew. I wish to save you all possible trouble. Will you admit him to your house & tell me what hours would suit you best?...I am much interested in him - He has noble aspirations - If you will tell me what your wishes are as to time I will at once make arrangements with him - sooner the better." [Archive ref: DC 63 f.42]
Sir William was obviously keen to accept the offer: only four days later Boott wrote again, thanking Hooker for his kind permission to receive Gambardella [Archive ref: DC 63 f.39]. The artist visited Hooker the following day, Boott informing Hooker – in a letter of introduction – that Gambardella "will prefer the morning light, & perhaps daily visits". [Archive ref: DC 63 f.38].
It took Gambardella 8 months to finish the portrait: he left London for Liverpool around 16 July 1843, begging Boott to send the copy of his portrait to Hooker with his love. Boott placed the original in the Linnean Society.
Extract of a letter from Francis Boott informing Hooker that Gambardella sent him a copy of the portrait for Hooker [Archive ref: DC 63 f.55]
Meeting Sir William face-to-face
I contacted Julia Buckley from our Illustrations team at Kew to ask about Hooker's copy of the painting. Julia very kindly suggested I go along and take a look at it: it was much smaller than I'd imagined, less than half the size of the Linnean portrait. Nonetheless, it was fascinating to be able to see the portrait that had been discussed in the letters.
I had the pleasure of seeing Sir William's copy of Gambardella's oil painting of Sir William in Kew's collection
On the back of the small Kew painting is a hand-written label which states: "From this portrait, the likeness in the Linnean Society was made". Looking at digital images of the two portraits side by side it is clear that this is the case: the Linnean Society portrait has a much 'finer' finish, with the artist adding detail to the background and to Sir William's clothes. Sir William's face in the Linnean portrait also has a more 'air-brushed' quality to it.
Comparing digital images of the Kew 'copy' (left) and the Linnean image (right) of Sir William by Gambardella.
A Short Biography of Gambardella
In addition to providing a glimpse into how the artist worked, Boott's correspondence contains a short biography of Gambardella. By way of a 'reference', Boott informed Hooker that the artist was a native of Corfu, born of Neapolitan parents, who was brought up and educated at Naples, where he studied drawing. However, according to Boott, his "free mind could not submit to the despotism of State & church there". Gambardella accepted a post on an American ship, eventually reaching the US, where he became naturalised. Gambardella's paintings there were so superior that he was advised to go to London, where an Italian friend introduced him to Boott. Boott describes the artist as having "the keenest sensibilities - is of the friendliest[?] disposition - & almost painfully sensitive to esteem."
Extract of a letter from Boott describing Gambardella's personality [Archive ref: DC 63 f.39]
Unfortunately, there does not appear to be any correspondence from Gambardella himself held at Kew. However, the letters from Boott illustrate – once again – what interesting nuggets of historical information lie buried within Kew's Directors' Correspondence collection. The digitisation process, which involves the painstaking work of reading through all of the letters, has been so important in uncovering such gems and in serving to illustrate just how diverse and historically interesting the collection is!
- Helen -
- Summaries of Francis Boott's letters referring to Gambardella can be found on the JSTOR Global Plants website
- Browse the Directors' Correspondence online at JSTOR Global Plants
- See Kat's blog for links and details on using the JSTOR Global Plants website
- Find out more about the Directors' Correspondence Digitisation project
- For the latest new from the DC project follow us on twitter @KewDC
- Contact the DC team at firstname.lastname@example.org
1 comment on 'History of art in the Directors' Correspondence: the painting of an iconic Kew image'
Keep up to date with events and news from Kew
Kew's Library, Art and Archives contains many millions of items within its collections. Find out about the diverse teams who look after these collections and make them accessible.
- Archives team
- Directors' Correspondence Digitisation team
- Exhibitions & Galleries team
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Suffragettes at Kew: Fascinating stuff. Love the old headlines. . by: Neil
History of art in the Directors' Correspondence: the painting of an iconic Kew image: Hooker is my favourite Fellow, He was a lab bench man and it is fitting that he should also be celeb ... by: Brian S. Hartley FRS
Letters from India: some extracts from Joseph Hooker's historic correspondence.: Hi Judy, thanks for your lovely comment supporting the work of the project. Your great grandfather w ... by: Virginia, RBG Kew archive
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