Oxford University Gazette

Ashmolean Museum: Acting Director's Report 1997-8

Supplement (1) to Gazette No. 4494

Wednesday, 9 December 1998

Contents of the supplement:

To Gazette No. 4495 (10 December 1998)

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This Supplement, containing a general account of the year under review, reproduces part of the full Report of the Visitors for the Academic Year 1997–8, which will be published shortly by the Museum. In addition to the Acting Director's Report, printed here, the full Report will contain Departmental Reports, details of new acquisitions, and staff records. Members of Congregation wish-ing to obtain a copy should contact the Publications Officer, Ashmolean Museum.


On 24 June 1997, Mr Chris Smith, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media, and Sport, announced that the Ashmolean Museum was among the first twenty-six museums in England to be awarded Designation by the Museums and Galleries Commission. The Museum was designated on account of the `outstanding pre-eminent collections and the potential to meet the highest standards of collection care'. The Museum's citation read:

`Britain's oldest museum has a range of major holdings which merit designation, with particular strengths in antiquities, western and eastern art, coins, casts, with collecting continuity over a long period of time.'

At a ceremony in the Museum of the History of Science on Monday, 20 October, in the presence of the Vice-Chancellor, the Acting Director was presented with the Certificate of Designation by Mr Mark Fisher, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State to the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport. The Museum looks forward to playing a leading role in the development of this scheme.

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The Directorship

Dr George Goldner, Drue Heinz Chairman of the Department of Prints and Drawings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, who had been appointed in 1996 to succeed Professor Christopher White on his retirement in September 1997 withdrew from the appointment in April. Professor Christopher White's retirement at the end of September was marked by various functions in his honour. He reviewed the twelve years of his distinguished directorship in the Annual Report for 1996–7. The Visitors had appointed Dr P.R.S. Moorey, Keeper of Antiquities, in the meanwhile to be Acting Director from 1 October 1997 until 1 October 1998, or until a new Director took up the post, whichever might be the earlier. In the event, Dr Christopher Brown, formerly Chief Curator of the National Gallery in London, was appointed to the Directorship with effect from 1 June 1998. Functions were held in the first week of June to mark his arrival.

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The New Director

Dr Christopher Brown took up the Directorship of the Ashmolean on 1 June after twenty-six years at the National Gallery, where he was Chief Curator. He was educated at Merchant Taylors' School and at St Catherine's College, Oxford, graduating with a BA (Hons.) in Modern History in 1969, and achieving a diploma in the History of Art with distinction in 1971. He obtained his doctorate from the Courtauld Institute of Art at the University of London in 1986. In 1971, Christopher Brown was made Curator of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Dutch and Flemish paintings at the National Gallery, and appointed Chief Curator in 1989. He is a Trustee of the Dulwich Picture Gallery. He has published widely on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Northern Art, including Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Carel Fabritius, Rembrandt, and Van Dyck, as well as cataloguing the National Gallery's Dutch collection The Dutch School 1600–1900, which was published in 1991. Exhibitions he has organised include `Rembrandt: The Master and his Workshop', `The Drawings of Anthony van Dyck', `Art in the Making: Rembrandt', `Dutch Landscape: The Early Years', `Making and Meaning: Rubens' Landscapes', and `Masters of Light: Dutch Painting from Utrecht in the Golden Age'.

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Development of the Ashmolean site to the west and north

On the west side of the Museum, the building of the new Sackler Library began in July and is scheduled for completion by the autumn of 2000. The windows on the north end of the Western Art Department's offices have been sealed against noise from the adjacent building site. Half of the Paper Conservation Studio has been vacated to make way for the work and Miss Chantry has diverted much of her work into Miss Eustace's office. Miss Eustace will share Dr Whistler's office until she can return to her own room. The considerable movement of furniture and equipment, and the need to house displaced archives, is putting much pressure on the available space. The Department of Antiquities will lose all natural light in the Students' Room and one assistant keeper's room along the Egyptian Mezzanine corridor as a result of this project. The Students' Room will be fitted with improved electric lighting and continue, for the present, as a vital storage and study facility. The assistant keeper's room will be used in future for storage of archives and cuneiform tablets. The Library Project involves demolition of the present Griffith Institute building. The Institute is to be rehoused in a new building against the west wall of the Museum. The Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded a grant of £350,000 towards the cost of a gallery for the display of early twentieth-century works of art, immediately above the new Griffith Institute. The new gallery will be entered from the existing Landscape Room. The successful result of this application to the Lottery Fund is largely due to the considerable work put into its preparation by Miss Eustace and the Administrator. An excavation of the site by the Oxford Archaeological Unit prior to this development revealed evidence of occupation from the Bronze Age to major medieval stone foundations running under the Institute of Archaeology.

On the north side of the Museum, plans for the Ashmolean Research Centre for the Humanities (ARCH) are rapidly developing. Since October, the Acting Director (and from 1 June, the Director) has been a member of a task force, chaired by the Warden of Keble College, which is actively engaged in the planning. It is hoped that this project will provide appropriate accommodation for the Education Service with direct access to the Museum from St Giles' for parties arriving by coach. Other developments of interest to the Museum are still being actively pursued, not least the possibility of enlarging the Cast Gallery, and incorporating it more directly into the rest of the Museum.

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Gallery Refurbishment

At the beginning of the academic year, the refurbishment of the Petrie Room was completed with the installation of a redesigned display of the Egyptian Predynastic collections, including the Min statues (Annual Report 1996–7, 16). Now that the Metrological Relief has been moved to the refurbished Beazley Gallery upstairs, so no longer obstructing the view from one end of the Randolph Gallery to the other, a fine vista has been opened up.

With the opening of the new Bothmer Gallery at the end of last year to accommodate the Classical Greek Reserve Collections (Annual Report 1996–7, 23) it has been possible this year to refurbish the Beazley Gallery, once again using much of the late nineteenth-century furniture originally installed there. The displays have been designed with particular attention to the needs of visitors of all ages and backgrounds, not least the increasing number of visiting schoolchildren taught through the collection. The famous Metrological Relief is now mounted on the east wall of the Gallery, whilst the West wall accommodates a display of Greek epigraphy in which the inscriptions from the Pusey House Collection have been installed with a much appreciated grant from Luther College, Decora, Iowa, USA.

A generous grant of £40,000 from Daniel Katz Ltd., supplemented by a grant of £20,000 from the Association for Business Sponsorship of the Arts, has enabled the Department of Western Art to fund the refurbishment of the Weldon Gallery and undertake a number of much-needed environmental improvements in the Weldon Gallery and in the adjacent Dutch and Landscape galleries. This project was largely organised by Dr Whistler.

The new Gallery for Japanese Decorative Art was completed and formally opened on 30 September, by the Minister Plenipotentiary of Japan, Mr Sadaaki Numata. The fitting-out of this newly-built gallery was made possible by a generous anonymous benefaction. The renovation of the Indian, Tibetan, and South-East Asian Gallery, which was made possible by the generosity of another anonymous donor, has been brought to completion. A formal opening was held in May.

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Donations and grants

Once again the Museum has been the recipient of many generous gifts, which have not only enabled us to maintain and improve the standards of the day-to-day functioning, but in various ways have greatly added to what the Museum can offer to our public. Apart from the most generous and totally unexpected bequest of approximately £132,000 made by the late Miss Cynthia Mary Perrins (the Bodleian Library received a similar sum), the donations have all been directed towards specific projects, acknowledgement and details of which will be found in the various sections below.

A further grant to the Department of Eastern Art from the Leverhulme Trust was received in July 1997, to catalogue and research the Newberry collection of Islamic embroideries. The project is for three years. The applicant was Professor James Allan, and the researcher to be funded is Dr Ruth Barnes.

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The Department of Antiquities continues to use the Gordon Childe Room for a temporary exhibition of Egyptian funerary equipment until such time as funding is obtained to refurbish a new large alcove off the Griffith Gallery created by the Forecourt Project.

In the Department of Western Art, two exhibitions devoted to the works of architects, `Nicholas Hawksmoor and the Replanning of Oxford' and `L.N. Cottingham (1787–1847), Architect of the Gothic Revival' were made possible with sponsorship from the Architects Design Partnership for the first and from De Montfort University for the second. The `Claude Lorrain' exhibition could not have taken place without very generous assistance from the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum. This was the first occasion in which the two Print Rooms have collaborated on an exhibition of this nature; the size and scope of the exhibition was ideally suited for the Ashmolean and it is much to be hoped that this will be the first of a series of exhibitions of prints and drawings shared by the two museums.

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Bequests to the Collections

The National Art Collections Fund has presented to the Ashmolean a group of ancient Greek vases and terracottas from the bequest of Walter Ison (1908–97). Trained as an architect, Ison had a lifelong passion for classical architecture. He was the brother-in-law of the distinguished archaeologist Humphrey Payne (1902–36), who was perhaps Sir John Beazley's most famous student, so it is most appropriate for these objects to find a permanent home in Oxford.

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Acquisitions by gift or purchase

After more than six years during which their future was a matter of uncertainty, a superb pair of Late Anglo-Saxon solid silver strap-ends discovered on Ipsden Heath near Henley have found a permanent home in the Department of Antiquities. The Museum is much indebted to Mr Christopher Kennington, on whose land they were initially found with a metal detector in 1991, and to the Museums and Galleries Commission and the Victoria & Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund for assistance with the acquisition of these fine objects after they were declared not to be treasure trove in 1994.

The purchase by the Department of Western Art of the bronze Annoni–Visconti marriage bowl was made possible by grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the National Art Collections Fund, the MGC/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, and the Friends of the Ashmolean. The two other major acquisitions made by the Department of Western Art, Courbet's A Young Stonebreaker and Guy Franìois's The Entombment of Christ, both drawings, were purchased with equally generous and essential contributions from the National Art Collections Fund and the Friends of the Ashmolean; the MGC/V&A Purchase Grant Fund also awarded a grant towards the purchase of the Courbet drawing. The price paid for this drawing was lowered by taking advantage of the tax concessions by which museums are able to acquire works of art at less than the market price. The importance of these grant-giving agencies and concessions in enabling the Museum to continue to purchase works of art of quality can never be sufficiently emphasised and acknowledged.

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Miss K.A.T. Eustace, Assistant Keeper of the Department of Western Art, has been appointed a member of the Advisory Committee on the Design of Coins, Medals, Seals, and Decorations to the Royal Mint.

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Friends of the Ashmolean

The Council of the Friends hopes that their new subscription rates, which came into effect in January 1998, will make it possible for them to be more generous in their purchase grants to the Departments. During the academic year 1997–8, they made grants towards two acquisitions made by the Museum to commemorate Christopher White's Directorship, a painting by Franìois-Marius Granet, View of a Garden, seen through an Archway, and an early Ming blue and white moonflask (£10,000). They also contributed to the following purchases: a chalk drawing by Guy François, The Entombment of Christ (£2,500); a Milanese bronze marriage bowl of c.1580 (£5,000); a Courbet drawing in black crayon, A Young Stonebreaker (£2,000); a medieval Islamic tunic (£1,500); a late sixteenth-century Japanese inlaid lacquer cabinet (£2,500); an Indo-Persian watered-steel dagger with scabbard (£3,000); and a Persian watered-steel dagger with an agate handle (£3,500). The Friends also contributed £1,000 towards the fund for acquiring a portrait drawing in pencil by Ingres, of C. R. Cockerell, the architect of the Ashmolean, and £1,000 towards the cost of a drawing by Francesco Vanni, The Madonna of the Rosary with Saints. Both items will appear in the next Annual Report.

Numerous donations have been received in memory of Miss Gisela Herwig, a long-time member of the Friends, who died in December 1997. Besides the usual programme of activities (outings, lectures, private evenings in the Museum, recitals, and parties) arranged for the Friends, the new society of Young Friends has had its own lively programme of lectures, behind-the-scenes talks in the Museum, and parties, and their membership is growing healthily. The new group launched during the year and intended to attract a different age-range to the Friends, Family membership (which for a small extra subscription includes all children under eighteen in a family in their parent's membership), has made a much slower start, but it is hoped that this will increase when news spreads among young parents of the benefits available to their children through Family membership.

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The Gros Tournois: Proceedings of the Fourteenth Oxford Symposium on Coinage and Monetary History was published in conjunction with the Royal Numismatic Society (Special Publication No. 31) and the Société Française de Numismatique. A substantial volume of over 500 pages, edited by N.J. Mayhew, the Proceedings are the fruit of a collaborative effort by all the leading scholars in the field. The Gros Tournois was one of the most important coinages of thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Europe. The principal money of France, it was widely circulated and imitated across Europe.

An Atlas of Anglo-Saxon and Norman Coin Finds c.973–1086 by D.M. Metcalf, was also published jointly with the Royal Numismatic Society (Special Publication No. 32).

The major publication from the Department of Eastern Art was Oliver Impey's The Art of the Japanese Folding Screen. The author discusses the history and usage of the folding screen and illustrates in full colour, twenty-three superb examples dated from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. The screens illustrated are all from the collections of the Ashmolean or the Victoria & Albert Museum (on long-term loan to the Ashmolean). The book was published jointly, in North America, with Weatherhill Inc. of New York and Tokyo.

Two new titles were published in the continuing series of Ashmolean Handbooks—Miniatures, by Richard Walker, illustrating over 100 examples from the Museum's collections, and Samuel Palmer, by Colin Harrison with sponsorship from D.S. Lavender (Antiques) Ltd., and Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox, respectively. Ruskin's Drawings, the first title in the series, was reprinted. Ancient Greek Pottery will be published in autumn 1998 as will the reprint of Dinah Reynolds's Worcester Porcelain, making a total of twelve titles currently in print.

Western Art exhibition catalogues included Portrait Prints from the Hope Collection, by Richard Sharp—the culmination of his two years of research as Sackler Fellow—and Nicholas Hawksmoor and the Replanning of Oxford, by Roger White (published in association with the British Architectural Library Drawings Collections with financial assistance from the Marc Fitch Fund). Retrospective Adventures: Forrest Reid: Author and Collector, edited by Paul Goldman and Brian Taylor, was published jointly with Scolar Press to coincide with the first public exhibition of Reid's collection of Victorian book illustrations. The catalogue was jointly sponsored by the Paul Mellon Centre, the British Academy and the Esme Mitchell Trust, Belfast.

Catalogues are also available from the Museum for the two loan exhibitions, L.N. Cottingham (1787–1847) Architect of the Gothic Revival, by Janet Myles and Claude Lorrain: Drawings from the Collections of the British Museum and the Ashmolean Museum, by Jon Whiteley.

The second of Arthur MacGregor's Summary Catalogues—Continental Archaeological Collections: Roman Iron Age, Migration Period, Early Medieval was published for the Museum as British Archaeological Reports, International Series 674. (The Anglo-Saxon Collections: Non-Ferrous Metals was published as BAR, British Series 230 in 1993.) Both volumes were published with generous funding assistance from the Marc Fitch Fund.

During the course of the year the Department of Antiquities launched a new series based upon the later archaeological collections and intended for the general reader. The first title to appear was Medieval England, written jointly by Moira Hook and Arthur MacGregor, closely followed by Pots and People—that have shaped the heritage of Medieval and later England, by local archaeologist and ceramics expert, Maureen Mellor.

Two popular titles, ABC of Egyptian Hieroglyphs and Ark to Ashmolean were reprinted.

Gallery brochures were published for the new gallery of Japanese Decorative Art and the Gallery Plans were revised to show the gallery and the new gallery for Greek Antiquities. A brochure was also published for the newly refurbished Weldon Gallery and two posters were designed by Simon Blake to mark the reopening of the Gallery. A matching Address Book and `Book of Days' or perpetual diary, illustrated from European landscapes and seascapes have recently been produced, together with a 1999 Appointments Calendar, following the same themes. The complete listing of Museum Publications was updated for the London International Book Fair in spring 1998 and a small mail-order gift catalogue is currently at press.

Finally, the Museum is acting as distributor for I am Well, Who are You?, sub-titled `Writings of a Japanese Prisoner of War', by the late Sir David Piper, first Director of the Museum, from 1973–85.

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