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Behind the Scenes at the National Gallery: National Gallery Conservation Studio, and Library and Archive Tour

Venue: External, National Gallery, London (Meet at the West Staff Entrance on Trafalgar Square)

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This site visit is aimed to introduce some key individuals and episodes in early decades of the National Gallery’s history around its foundation in 1824 and around its reconstitution in 1855. Our tour will start with a visit to the Conservation Studio to meet Larry Keith, Head of Conservation, who will talk about the changing attitudes to picture cleaning and conservation during the nineteenth century. We will then move to the Library where Nicholas Smith, the Archivist, and I will talk through a select group of important historical documents related to the work of the first director Sir Charles Eastlake to professionalise the management of the gallery, including in relation to cataloguing the pictures. The third and final leg of the tour will take place in the main floor galleries where we will look at the very different kinds of paintings that entered the national collection at two key moments in its history: firstly, the foundation collection of John Julius Angerstein which was purchased in 1824 and secondly, Eastlake’s pioneering purchases of early Italian pictures after his appointment as first Director in 1855.

Contact name:

  • Dr Susanna Avery-Quash, National Gallery, London -

    Dr Susanna Avery-Quash is Senior Research Curator in the History of Collecting at the National Gallery. She is in charge of the pre-1900 objects in the Gallery’s History Collection and is responsible for activities associated with the Gallery’s research strand ‘Buying, Collecting and Display’. Her research and publications focus on important private and public art collections, especially the National Gallery; trends in artistic taste, especially for the Old Masters; and the historical art market. She is a trustee of The Society for the History of Collecting; The International Art Market Studies Association (TIAMSA); and the Francis Haskell Memorial Fund; a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries; and is a Specialist Volunteer for the National Trust. She is an Honorary Research Fellow at Birkbeck, University of London, and at the University of Buckingham’s Humanities Research Institute.

  • Larry Keith, Head of Conservation, National Gallery, London -

    Larry Keith studied painting conservation at the Hamilton Kerr Institute, University of Cambridge. He then held internship positions at the studio of Herbert Lank and at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, where he studied with John Brealey. He joined the National Gallery Conservation Department in 1991, and has headed the Conservation department since 2010. He has published extensively on painting conservation and technique in the Gallery’s Technical Bulletin and elsewhere, and has made major contributions to the catalogues of the Gallery’s exhibitions on Velazquez, Leonardo, and Artemisia. He is an external examiner for the post-graduate painting conservation courses at the Courtauld Institute.

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