Our October Object of the Month is a watercolour of unknown origin found within the London Borough of Sutton’s art collection. Little is known about the work other than a few notes that have been hastily written on the back of the mount on which it rests. Looking just below the painting you can see the remnants of a label that once shared more information and can faintly make out some of the lettering that gives us the title ‘The Park Gates, Carshalton,’ but little else.
With the muted tones of this scene evoking the beauty of the season and the bare limbs of trees reaching out to lend an eeriness that often accompanies the increasingly long nights this time of year, it is easy to see why this object stood out as the ideal choice to lead us into the Autumn. The selection of this particular image goes beyond this though, beyond the shadowy figure seen atop the park gates, to a new source of intrigue. Although an ‘untraced find’ the painting and the card it is mounted offer clues into the components of its origins and the necessities for its future. The painting then offers not just a chilly glimpse of autumn, but a view into the important work of museum professionals and the value of the collections they keep.
The painting selected here demonstrates several of the challenges faced by museum professionals across the board, from Local Authority museum’s such as ours right up to the National museums. The first is how to learn about an object which we seemingly know nothing about. The answer here usually comes from, or at least begins, with what the object itself will tell us. Here for example there is a note written on the back of the image stating ‘Park Gates from inside Park.’ We can also see, as mentioned above, that there was at some point a label affixed the front and we can faintly make out the title of the image, though unfortunately not the artist, but it’s a start! These clues allow us to identify the scene as Carshalton Park and by comparing it to images can find the location from which it is presented.
From looking at the card on which the watercolour is mounted we can learn a little bit more. While the painting itself is in quite good condition, the card on which it is mounted has become a bit more worn. The holes visible in all four corners and along the sides, for example, might indicate that it has been hung for display at some point while the creases may show that it was not always kept in ideal conditions. This not only tells us about the object, but how to care for it. The care and conservation of objects is a complex process ranging from active conservation to preventative. In some cases active conservation could be used to remount the image on a fresh card while in others preventative conservation is used to maintain the good condition of the artwork itself and prevent any further damage.
The time and effort needed to care for and learn about our collection is immense and made possible through the generous donations of our visitors as well our fantastic Friends groups. Current and past projects, such as the one which this blog is about, funded in part by the Council and in part by the Heritage Lottery Fund also help to further our work. The Council’s commitment to these efforts is also demonstrated in our upcoming appointment of a Collections Project Officer to further explore the needs and possibilities of our diverse collections.
The ‘Park Gates, Carshalton,’ is currently on display in Whitehall’s free Object of the Month exhibition on at Cheam Library (Church Rd, Sutton SM3 8QH) during regular library opening hours to the end of the month.