An Internship Journey into French and Australian Art
Elli Curotta, MA (Museum and Heritage Studies) student
Rebecca George, MA (Art Curating) student
The Chau Chak Wing Museum (CCWM) at the University of Sydney recently received a generous bequest from Emeritus Professor Virginia Spate, which was the focus of our internships with our supervisors, Katrina Liberiou, Assistant Curator, and Ann Stephen, Senior Curator of the University Art Collection.
Virginia Spate was the University of Sydney’s Power Professor of Fine Art from 1978 until 2004, after which she became a Professor Emerita. Throughout her career, she wrote extensively on Australian and international art, publishing widely on artists such as John Olsen, Tom Roberts, Claude Monet, and Edgar Degas. The recent bequest of 50 objects on which we worked throughout our placement comprised a series of works that Professor Spate collected over many years as an art historian. Professor Spate’s diverse interests are reflected in this contribution to the CCWM’s collection, which includes works ranging from nineteenth-century European prints to paintings of the Australian landscape.
I was assigned to the Australian works, as I had previously encountered Australian art in my employment as an auction assistant. It was interesting to see this professional experience come in handy during my placement, particularly as I faced the challenging stages of provenance research.
My independent research and project management skills developed as a result of my major responsibility during the internship, which was to conduct research and documentation on Australian artworks. Throughout the placement, I acquired valuable experience working with the CCWM’s collection database system and various other museum practices, with many opportunities for hands-on engagement with artworks that proved excellent to develop my skills of object handling and physical investigation.
In the research process, I also learned a lot about the history of artistic production in Sydney and Australia, and it was fascinating to discover the historical ties between the Australian artists, Sydney, and the University, where the objects will be held. As I reflected on the various obstacles and questions that arose throughout the project, this practice-based internship allowed me to put theoretical knowledge into use, as well as think critically and reflexively about my studies and future as a GLAM practitioner.
My focus was the French prints in Virginia’s bequest. I am currently learning basic French, and Katrina anticipated that this skill would be useful. It turned out to be especially useful when looking at the original documents and catalogues in which the prints were published, although I confess that Google Translate also came in handy for some of the longer paragraphs!
This internship was highly illuminating, both in terms of the subject matter – I had previously known the ‘broad strokes’ of French history and printmaking, but few details – and in terms of research methods. Learning the practicalities of life in a museum, like how to use the collection database and how to professionally handle artworks, has also been very beneficial. I enjoyed accumulating insights into the background context of the French Revolution and turbulent 19th century, and how that interacted with the attitudes towards prints at the time, as well as how the artists' lives were interconnected. The process felt like slowly weaving together a tapestry out of individual threads, as I researched each print in turn.
With the completion of this internship, we leave behind a series of collection records in EMu which will become part of an upcoming acquisition process at the CCWM. The records on which we worked together will be used by staff and, eventually, a wider audience, while the works themselves are now in a greater state of readiness for their eventual display. We both feel that getting to see and interact with these works in person in the CCWM’s storage was a highlight of the internship, and one that won’t be forgotten soon.
We now feel more fully ready for work in the sector, and thank our supervisors Katrina and Ann for the wonderful opportunity to work on this donation from Emeritus Professor Virginia Spate!