In 2017, one of the major art treasures from the collections of Vivacity’s Peterborough Museum and Art Gallery went on a little trip... After nearly eight months of preparation, Peterborough Cathedral from the North by one of Britain’s greatest artists, J M W Turner, travelled half way around the way to take part in a landmark exhibition of the artist’s work in Japan. Touring to four cities and involving works from 26 UK-based lenders – including the National Galleries of Scotland, Salisbury Museum and Southampton City Gallery – it is the Museum’s first time lending to an international exhibition – and Vivacity’s Glenys Wass, the work’s official courier, was with it all the way. We talked to her about the loan and how it is helping put Peterborough Museum on the map.
How important is the Japanese exhibition, and how did Peterborough Museum become involved?
It’s the largest exhibition of Turners ever in Japan, bringing together over 70 works from 26 different organisations. It’s being organised in conjunction with lead partner the National Galleries of Scotland, whose director is an expert on Turner, and who has been working for the last four years with the company in Japan to get the exhibition together. We were approached by the National Galleries of Scotland, who were aware what we had in our collection and the importance of it. Not only does that show the significance of our piece, it also means that it’s raising the profile of Peterborough Museum internationally and with all our fellow lending organisations, placing us amongst other very significant organisations.
Many people may not know the Museum owns a painting by Turner. What can you tell us about it?
We actually have two watercolours by Turner, both of which were done quite early in his career. They’re both of Peterborough Cathedral and were painted around 1795, just after he had completed a tour of the Midlands and made a series of watercolour paintings from that. Because they’re early, they’re not the type of Turner painting that we’re used to seeing with the bold colours; they’re much more traditional, with just a hint of his later style. But that’s exactly why it was chosen – the exhibition is bringing together Turners from across the whole of his career to show how his art developed.
How significant is this loan for the Museum?
It shows that national museums are recognising the importance of what we have. You don’t have to go down to London to see something of national or international significance; we hold them here in our collections! It’s great to work with other organisations and look at how we can develop more opportunities in the future, because there are lots of other good things in our collections. And it raises the profile of Peterborough itself – its history and its Cathedral, which is depicted in the painting. Being able to demonstrate that we can handle an international loan also helps us when we want to borrow items from major organisations. It shows them we have professional people who can deal with things at the required level – and that stands us in good stead for the Treasures exhibition in the summer.
What can we expect to see in the Treasures exhibition?
They are all things that have either been found in Peterborough or are significant within Peterborough’s history, so it relates directly to the Peterborough 900 celebrations. There’s a lot of groundwork to do, because we’re looking at several loans from a variety of organisations, but it’s all very positive at the moment, and all those organisations are keen to work with us. We’ve shown we can do things on an international scale. Now we want to take that further, to celebrate the collections we have – which feature nationally important pieces, such as the Turners – and also bring exciting things to the city for the people of Peterborough, so they can be really proud of their Museum and their city.
The Turner loan was authorised by Peterborough City Council as Trustee of Peterborough Museum’s Collections.
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