Transforming Bristol’s Fine Art displays

Posted on by Fay Curtis.

Dr Jenny Gaschke, Curator of Fine Art pre-1900

The challenge continues! We’re transforming Bristol’s Fine Art displays – the Old Masters gallery at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery is now closed for refurbishment, reopening in May 2016.

If you visited the museum over Christmas, you may have included a seasonal excursion to the Old Masters gallery on the second floor – maybe you wanted to see how the Christmas story, the Nativity, has been captured by painters through the centuries. You may have smiled at the bulging, perplexed eyes of the cattle in Jacob Jordaens’ stable, which has joined the shepherds in their adoration of the Christ child (painted in about 1653). Or you may have noticed the gentle calmness in the eyes of the Virgin in Antonio da Solario’s Withypool Altarpiece, which dates from 1514. But you’re unlikely to have had much time for the setting of these fantastic paintings – the faded beauty of the red damask on the walls, or the stained and tired appearance of the wooden gallery floor.

Well, now with the New Year barely under way the gallery looks rather different!

Photo of the closed gallery 3 at Bristol Museum

We’ve closed the display for refurbishment and already moved most of the collection into our stores. But as you can see, one large depiction of Noah’s Ark by the artist Jan Griffier (about 1710) stubbornly refuses to magically shrink, so we’re carefully wrapping it.

Why are we doing this?

Over the last three years we’ve been refurbishing the museum’s picture galleries one by one, so that you can enjoy Bristol’s collection of Western art to its full advantage. With the financial help of the Friends of Bristol Art Gallery and individual donors we’ve been able to sand floors, strip and reclad walls, install new lighting – all the things that make it possible to actually see and enjoy the art on the walls properly. And all in a welcoming space you’ll hopefully want to spend some time in and enjoy, reflect or learn something new.

Every time this has given us the opportunity to look at the art collection with ‘fresh eyes’ – and actually surprise ourselves with the quality of what’s here: a collection of French Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, a stunning set of Victorian and Edwardian paintings, and much more. In our Enlightenment Gallery we have been able to re-display pictures from the 18th and early 19th centuries, the age of the Grand Tour, including some by Joshua Reynolds, Bernardo Bellotto and members of the Bristol School. Modern British and contemporary highlights of the collection such as William Scott’s Black, Grey and Blue can shine in our Space is a Place display. For each of the galleries, alongside old favourites, paintings that had long lingered in store have been conserved for display. New interpretation has been provided for all.

Rembrandt’s Self Portrait at the Age of 63 © National Gallery

Rembrandt’s Self Portrait at the Age of 63 © National Gallery

For this redisplay of the Old Masters – in Bristol’s case that is Italian, Flemish, Dutch, German and English pictures painted between early 15th and late 17th centuries – we’re also very grateful to the Headley Trust for granting us support. We’re busy discussing colours, cabinets, lighting and labels as well as an online offer, and – most importantly – where and how we will hang the wide variety of pictures (which includes religious art, scenes from history, portraits, landscapes and still life) when the gallery is refurbished. That’s an exciting task and your needs, as our visitors, are key to these questions.

What we know is that on 21 May we will reopen, with a very special temporary loan from the National Gallery, London to celebrate: Rembrandt’s Self Portrait at the Age of 63 will come to Bristol as part of the National Gallery’s Masterpiece Tour 2016.

We’ll make sure to keep you updated on what’s happening while the gallery’s closed – check back on the blog or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Your donation will help us conserve more works of art and bring them back on display in our newly transformed galleries. Follow the button to donate and find out more about how you can support us.


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