Today’s post is written by Jarkko Tanninen and Candice Walker, former students at University of Glasgow.
For two weeks in June this year, we took part in the Récréations postales project to create a digital exhibition out of manuscripts by Stéphane Mallarmé that are held in Special Collections at Glasgow University Library. (See a previous post about this.) Our job was to write biographies of the artists and writers to whom Mallarmé sent his quatrain poems. And one of our tasks was also to gather relevant visual material related to the project that could be included in the final exhibition.
To do this we made use of the Kelvin Hall, the Hunterian Museum and Gallery, and Glasgow University Library’s impressive Special Collections to assemble various materials. As a part of the placement, we were given an amazing chance to visit the Kelvin Hall collections and see what happens behind the scenes. This also provided us with an opportunity to see in person several original works by artists from Mallarmé’s circle that we hope to include in the exhibition.
The historic building of Kelvin Hall used to be the venue of the Transport Museum. It reopened in 2016 as one of the biggest museum and research centres in the UK. We were taken on a private tour of the store, which holds around 400,000 items not currently on display. Our lovely guide, Collections Management Assistant, Nicola Scott introduced us to the history of the collection and talked about her experience of physically moving it to the Kelvin Hall from previous stores. We were also given a glimpse into the every-day management of such a big storage space from the layout to the possible room temperature requirements.
From the beginning of our project, it was clear to us that we wanted to take advantage of the great collections in Glasgow to provide us with visual material that was relevant to Mallarmé and his circle of friends. Kelvin Hall holds a large number of works by Impressionist and Symbolist artists who were familiar with Mallarmé, including Berthe Morisot and Odilon Redon. In the online catalogue of the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery’s collections we found reference to a lithograph made by the American artist James McNeill Whistler that depicts Mallarmé himself. During our research we found out that this was created at the same address that Mallarmé mentions in the quatrain poem he dedicates to Whistler.
When we visited the stores at Kelvin Hall, Nicola showed us several sketches and smaller paintings made by Whistler. To our delight, this included the lithograph of Mallarmé that we had been reading about. (You can see full size image of Whistler’s portrait below.) As students engaged with the visual arts, we truly appreciated the opportunity to see these beautiful but less well-known works by such great artists. It was fantastic to see the range of visual material that Kelvin Hall holds, making it possible for us to use local sources as an integral part of the exhibition.