After five hours of driving and a wet walk through the rainy capital, I was definitely ready to admire some Eastlake treasures at the National Gallery!
Just as the sun started to shine, Dr Susanna Avery-Quash (Research Curator in the History of Collecting and Curator of the Sir Charles Eastlake exhibition) greeted me inside the staff entrance. In her office I was met with an entire notice board covered with photographs of the Plymouth University ‘Young Explainers’. It was a lovely surprise that can be seen in the background of the photograph of me and Susanna.
We then moved on to the National Gallery’s Library where I was whisked off to meet the Librarian and Archivist.
Pending my arrival, they and Susanna had got together some Eastlake treasures to show me. It was fascinating to be able to see and touch Eastlake’s little burgundy coloured passport with his name in modest gold lettering, and then to open it up and get an insight into his many travels around Europe from the array of consular stamps that he accumulated on his travels round Italy, France, Germany and the Netherlands. I also had the privilege of seeing some significant books from Eastlake’s own private art history library that bore the Eastlake stamp of ownership (a capital letter ‘E’ in a circle) on their title pages, including a first edition of Vasari and one of his incunabulae. Susanna and I then admired a selection of photographs, showing the contemplative face of Sir Charles Eastlake and that of his feisty wife Elizabeth. After a delicious light lunch, we were refuelled and ready to venture into the gallery. Susanna led me to some early Italian paintings that were acquired by Eastlake during his time as Director of the National Gallery as well as some portraits by Reynolds, including one of General Orme that Eastlake bought for the Gallery in 1862.
Furthermore, I was very interested to learn that in 1867, in the memory of her late husband (Eastlake died on Christmas Eve, 1865), the widowed Lady Eastlake gave the National Gallery Pisanello’s image of the Virgin and Child with Saints. This gift was followed by another one, just three years later: in 1870 she donated a painting by Giovanni Bellini of The Assassination of St Peter Martyr, to show her gratitude that the Trustees of the National Gallery had decided to buy the Eastlake Library for the nation.
The visit was a lovely way to culminate five months of research, the enormously successful Eastlake exhibition at the Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery and Susanna’s trip with me to Plympton (Eastlake’s childhood town). I feel that I can speak for all of the Young Explainers when I say that the entire experience has been a thoroughly rewarding and interesting pursuit, if at times an exhausting one. It has not only enriched my art historical and archival knowledge but has also enabled me to work alongside some lovely people with whom I hope to keep in contact well beyond my time at university.
Lead Researcher and Research Co-ordinator for Young Explainers.