Drawn to the Coast : Turner, Constable, Cotman
Time and Tide Museum, Great Yarmouth
26 May to 9 September
Time and Tide’s latest exhibition explores the identity of Great Yarmouth and its surrounding landscape through the art work it has inspired. The show, designed and curated with assistance from the Community Curators and volunteers, explores an area that continues to inspire artists to this day.
Highlights of the show include two loaned works by J.M.W Turner from Tate – a watercolour of Great Yarmouth, and, on display in the county for the first time, his Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex sketchbook.
The coastline around Great Yarmouth has been and continues to be a popular subject for artists; the big skies, windswept vistas and bustling boat-based industries offer a rich mine of colour, characters and composition for those with the skills to exploit them.
Some of Britain’s greatest landscape artists such as JMW Turner, John Constable and John Sell Cotman have all left us striking visual legacies of the inspiration they drew from the area. This show will explore a fascinating selection of their work displayed alongside works by other well-known names, particularly from the Norwich School of painters, such as Joseph Stannard and John Crome. The works on show include a diverse range of media from oil on canvas and watercolours to pencil sketches and etchings.
Together these works highlight Great Yarmouth’s importance as a unique and beautiful place which played a significant role in the development of British landscape painting. Through recording their impressions of the town and its surroundings, it has helped place this small coastal community within the national consciousness: Drawn to the Coast: Turner, Constable, Cotman celebrates these connections and offers visitors the opportunity to see the town through their eyes.
The striking selection of works, many drawn from Norfolk Museums Service’s own collection, have been enriched with important loans from Tate, The Fitzwilliam Museum, Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service, the East Anglian Traditional Art Centre, as well as private lenders.
The exhibition also features objects that complement scenes depicting daily life on the shoreline and in the town, so vividly portrayed within the artworks. Highlights include a bronze Manby mortar – a breakthrough invention for saving shipwrecked souls – and a wooden model of a wherry, the sailing boat so synonymous with Norfolk.
The exhibition is the culmination of a larger project called Sea History Differently which has been funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund. The project, which has been running for 18 months, aims to transform engagement with maritime collections. This objective has been central to the creation of Drawn to the Coast, with staff from Time and Tide Museum recruiting a cohort of around 20 Community Curators to co-curate the exhibition. Members of the local community, from various backgrounds and of all ages signed up as a result of the open call put out by the museum in the local press.
The participants have been involved in every aspect of the exhibition process from choosing works and writing text to developing the gallery lay-out. The Community Curators were offered regular practical training sessions, such as honing their skills alongside gallery design experts and exploring the requirements for professional quality still-life photography.
Johanna O'Donoghue, Curator at Time and Tide Museum said:
‘This exhibition has been a brilliant opportunity to draw together some of the finest works of art by nationally recognised artists including Turner, Constable and Cotman that show what a beautiful place Great Yarmouth was and continues to be. It has allowed us to use these major works of art as a starting point for our outreach and to show local people that these great artists regarded Yarmouth as truly something special. We are celebrating that visitors can see these works of art back in the town that they were created over two hundred years ago’.
One of the Community Curators involved with the development of the exhibition commented:
“From the first meeting, it felt as though being a Community Curator could provide us with an opportunity to learn new things whilst bringing our own ideas and suggestions to the exhibition… I now have a better understanding of the painting and sketches that are going into this exhibition…and it’s been a privilege to see behind the scenes and works in store”
The mutually beneficial partnership between the museum and the Community Curators will continue into the future with several of the participants expressing their desire to continue volunteering their time working with the collection beyond the run of the show.
A key aim throughout the museum’s engagement with their local community, which has been so integral to the formation of this show, was to broaden entry to, and engagement with fine art. Cllr. John Ward, Chairman of Norfolk County Councillor and Chair of the Norfolk Joint Museums Committee said:
“It is wonderful to see how this exhibition – and the Sea History Differently project as a whole – has engaged local people in new ways with Great Yarmouth’s fascinating maritime history. It is so important that people connect with our collections in ways which have meaning for them. The Community Curators, supported by Time and Tide staff, have done a wonderful job in creating an exhibition which celebrates the town’s artistic legacy in a way which is accessible to everyone and reminds us of how special the Great Yarmouth coastline is.”
The project team have also been working with community groups in the local area to deliver workshops and sessions inspired by the artworks in the exhibition. Taking a selection of key objects from their collection of over 33,000 objects to a diverse range of local venues such as shopping centres, banks, supermarkets, schools and youth groups has enabled Time & Tide Museum to engage with more than 2,000 people, whose views, ideas and responses will be explored within the exhibition galleries. These events and sessions have provided an opportunity for the local community to vote for their favourite painting in the show – the ‘people’s choice’ will be announced on Friday 25th May.
Sarah Briggs, Collections Development Officer at the Museums Association said:
“The Museums Association is proud to have supported the Sea History Differently project through the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund. Time and Tide Museum have provided a great example of how museums can change lives with this project enabling young people to unlock the true potential of Norfolk’s amazing collections for this exhibition.”
Turner, Constable and Cotman and Yarmouth:
Throughout the 19th century Great Yarmouth attracted artists to its shores. Its prosperity as a port meant that wealthy merchants collected and commissioned artworks. Some became patrons to artists and helped them to establish national reputations. This was also a time when the town’s popularity as a leisure resort was growing and the wealthier tourists provided additional sources of income for artists. These circumstances helped to support the development of a thriving artistic scene in Great Yarmouth.
Artists drawn to this coast include three of the UK’s most important landscape artists. Turner (1775-1851) is thought to have visited the East Coast during the first half of the 1820s. The numerous sketches he made during his visit survive in his Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex sketchbook, which is on show in the exhibition. His studies include the iconic landmarks of Yarmouth; the medieval town, St Nicholas’ church, the jetty, port and Nelson’s Monument, as well as further afield to Caister Castle. Many of the final Turner images of Yarmouth were engraved for publication ensuring these images were seen by the wider general public.
In contrast to Turner, John Constable (1776-1837) never left England, focusing instead on rural scenes closer to home as his inspiration. There has previously been speculation about whether Constable ever visited Yarmouth, however an anonymous manuscript of his life mentions a sketching tour in the 1790s, and the watercolour Yarmouth Church, included in the exhibition, suggest otherwise. Like Turner, many of Constable’s works were engraved for publication.
Like Turner and Constable, John Sell Cotman (1782-1842) sketched prolifically, joining drawing tours with Thomas Girtin, a friend and rival of Turner, across Wales and Surrey. His sketches are technically astonishing in their clarity and detail changing little in his final images. Cotman had the particular advantage of living in Yarmouth between 1812 and 1823 and was able to spend time mastering his study of maritime shipping and wave structure in particular.
Drawn to the Coast:
Turner, Constable, Cotman
Time and Tide Museum of Great Yarmouth Life, Blackfriars Road, Great Yarmouth, NR30 3BX
Monday – Sunday 10am – 4.30pm
Exhibition included with museum admission
Young person £5
Family + 2 adults £20.95
Family + 1 adult £15.70
Twilight ticket (one hour before closing) £2
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