‘Hidden Nature’ at Warrington Museum and Art Gallery
By Hannah White
This year’s theme for Heritage Open Days is Hidden Nature, a topic which could not be more poignant, given our reliance upon the ‘great outdoors’ as spaces for exercise and solace, over the last few months during the COVID-19 lockdown.
I am doing some exhibition work at the museum today which is quiet and have a few moments to spare, so I decided to have a bit of fun and go on my own little ‘hidden nature’ hunt. To my delightful surprise, I saw beautiful things that I had never seen before! There are plenty of examples of paintings in the museum’s collection where artists have captured natural forms including flowers, fruit, animals, and landscapes. As we will see later in this blog, they are in many guises and not always immediately visible!
One of the first pieces of ‘hidden nature’ that caught my attention for my Heritage Open Days blog were the delicately painted flies sitting on fruit within the painting ‘Flowers and Fruit’ by artist Jan van Os (1744-1808). I wondered why the artist had decided to include flies on the fruit, when they are so often associated with being vermin and carriers of dirt. Was it perhaps that by including a fly, the fruit and flowers were turned into living entities, rather than flat colourful forms on a canvas? What ever the reason, the delicacy and attention that these simple and perhaps not particularly interesting insects have been given, is simply remarkable.
One of my favourite paintings in our collections, and one which often gets overlooked is ‘Yosemite Valley, California, USA’ by Thomas Hill (1829-1908). Because this oil painting is so large and heavy, it must hang on our back stairs and would be extremely difficult and expensive to move anywhere else. People are usually watching their feet rather than looking at the picture in front of them!
The painting captures the vast 8-mile canyon which attracts 4 million tourists a year. The tall flat mountain on the left is El Capitan and it is 3,000 feet high and 1.5 miles wide. It is part of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. On the right of the painting is ‘Bridal veil Falls’ which is a 189-metre-high waterfall.
There are of course some aspects of ‘hidden nature’ that we must try and prevent at the museum because they cause damage to the collections and building, they are museum pests! One of the main aspects of caring for museum collections is ensuring that the environment within which the collections are being displayed and stored, is not going to cause them unnecessary harm. Museum pests if they take hold, can easily destroy entire collections. Sometimes they feed on objects from the inside out, so you do not know that an object has been munched on until you pick it up and the whole thing disintegrates in your hands! We use pest traps with sticky surfaces designed to trap these harmful minibeasts and these are dotted around the museum display cases-you might even spot some if you look carefully!
Many of our Asian Collections on display, show depictions of different aspects of nature as this is an especially important aspect of Chinese and Japanese symbolism. For example, in some of our Japanese and Chinese ceramics, you can see butterflies, frogs, flowers and cranes.
In our painting ‘Fair, Quiet and Sweet Rest’ by Luke Fildes (1843-1927), we see in the foreground of the painting, some delicately painted lily pads. These were a favourite subject for the artist Claude Monet featuring in many of his paintings including water.
We can even see depictions of nature within the structure of the museum building. In our recently painted botany mural and in the ornate decoration within the balcony to our Botany gallery.
We now also have our own little ‘Outdoor Gallery’ which forms part of the museum’s education offer. We hope that there will be lots of beautiful species of birds, insects and mammals visiting our garden over the coming months!
Why not pay us a visit sometime and see what ‘hidden nature’ you can find in our galleries?
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