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What would you save - Curator grab lists

Directors and curators of art collections have an essential role in the guardianship of our culture and heritage and a key part of that role is to ensure that should disaster strike, such as a devastating fire, plans are in place to mitigate potential loss.

So what would they save? Our Fine Art & Heritage Director, Clare Pardy spoke with some of the curators we work with and posed the question:

‘If a fire struck and you could only save one item, what would it be?’ 

  • Castle Howard’s Curator Dr Christopher Ridgeway

     
    Castle Howard Curator  

    Known to many from two television productions of ‘Brideshead Revisited’, the core of Castle Howard’s collection includes furniture, bronzes, family portraits, key paintings and porcelain.


    Christopher’s choice


    “There are two ways to answer the question of what one item to choose should a fire strike our collection again:  head or heart. In this case it is heart which dictates the choice of the View of the Campo San Stefano by Bernardo Bellotto. It is a valuable painting, but that is not the reason for my choice.  In this case it is heart as this happens to be a personal favourite of mine.”

  • Compton Verney’s Director Dr Steven Parissien

     
    Compton Verney  

    Compton Verney is a wholly independent, nationally-accredited registered charitable trust housed in a Grade I listed mansion in Warwickshire. Six permanent collections, including one of Europe’s most important collections of Chinese bronzes and the UK’s largest collection of British Folk Art are housed within its buildings.


    Steven’s choice


    “My choice is Samuel Cooper’s miniature of Oliver Cromwell – because I love it!  This portrait has been called ‘one of the most penetrating studies of a public figure every produced’ and is, believed to have resulted from Cromwell’s celebrated comment urging the artist to paint him ‘pimples, warts and everything as you see me’.  It’s also highly portable!”

  • Director of Gainsborough’s House Mark Bills

     
    Gainsborough house curator  

    Home of painter Thomas Gainsborough, the Museum boasts a fine study collection of drawings, along with memorabilia and examples of Gainsborough DuPont.


    Mark’s choice


    “From the cabinet of Gainsborough mementoes I would fill my pockets with a lock of his hair, his pocket watch (which sent two men to the gallows) and his paint scraper and hold on to his swordstick.


    These are unique items to Gainsborough and cannot be found anywhere else. I also think that they reveal a lot about Gainsborough the man. They are not the most valuable things in the collection, but are priceless in the sense that they are irreplaceable. A direct link to the great artist – gone!”

  • Royal West of England Academy Director Alison Bevan

     
    RWA curator  

    The RWA in Bristol showcases national and international visual art as well as being home to a permanent fine art collection. This collection consists of over 1700 artworks with particular strength in 20th Century British art, including Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Mary Fedden, Ann Redpath, Gillian Ayres, Dod Procter and Gilbert Spencer.


    Alison’s choice


    “My snatch list choice, therefore, would be a portrait of Ellen Sharples by her daughter, Rolinda. Although there are many more ‘important’ and valuable works in our collection, the RWA would not exist had it not been for the determination of Ellen Sharples, who persuaded benefactors from Prince Albert to Isambard Kingdom Brunel to support the building of Bristol’s first Art Gallery and England’s only regional Royal Academy of Art.”

What can you do

Taking a positive approach and having a sound disaster control plan, that is reviewed and rehearsed at least annually, is one of the most positive steps a property manager can take to reduce the threat to his or her building.

Should the worst-case scenario occur, that property will have a well-trained staff team who know how to respond,  which items to save and what equipment they need to do their job. For more information visit the disaster recover section of our website.

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