Art in the archives

As well as looking after the archives for Essex, the ERO also looks after Essex County Council’s art collection.  Besides commissioning portraits of its chairmen ECC has never actively collected art, but has received a number of donations and bequests over the decades. Some of this art is displayed in ECC buildings, while other pieces are in storage at ERO.

Many pieces are viewable on the Art UK website, and if there is something in storage that you would like to see you can make a request for it to be made available – please contact us on ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk

The responsibility to care for ECC’s art is a relatively new one for us, and much work has been done over the last few years to organise and properly store these paintings. Now that this work is mostly complete, we can start to do more with the collection to make it available for all to use and enjoy.

Behind-the-scenes it has been a busy few months for the art collection. Staff have been trained to properly store and hang paintings, and to carry out condition checks. We have undertaken a project to digitise many of the paintings, which means we can now make images of even more of them available online. We are also in the process of hanging more paintings in public spaces in the ERO, and will shortly be launching a new page on our website as a hub for information about the collection.

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Performing a condition inspection of an oil painting

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Digitising a portrait of Barbara Villiers from the studio of Sir Peter Lely. Barbara was a mistress of Charles II – more on this painting in a future blog post

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Digitising a portrait of Barbara Villiers

We have been fortunate in this work to have the assistance of Marta Jimenez, an Art History graduate from the University of Essex who has been with us on an internship supported by the University as part of their Essex Interns scheme. As part of her work here Marta has been researching the stories behind some of the paintings, examining their subject matter and visual and artistic interpretation, and putting them into their historical context. As part of her work she has uploaded images of several paintings to our Flickr page and we will be publishing the results of some of her work here on the blog over the coming months.

More paintings have been hung in public spaces in ERO, with more to follow. Each year we offer public tours of the art collection, and groups can also book tours – just contact us on ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk

We have previously shared one of the highlights of our collection – a family portrait by Pompeo Batoni, here – and we will continue to share more highlights from the collection here on the ERO blog, so do check back in the future.

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Paintings recently hung on the ground floor of ERO, including the portrait of Barbara Villiers shown above in our Digitisation Studio

Art in the archives: portrait of the Barrett-Lennard family by Pompeo Batoni

As well as looking after the archives for Essex, the ERO is also the Corporate Custodian of Art for Essex County Council (ECC). Besides commissioning portraits of its chairmen ECC has never actively collected art, but has received a number of donations and bequests over the decades. Some of this art is displayed in ECC buildings, while other pieces are in storage at ERO.

Many pieces are viewable on the BBC Your Paintings website, and if there is something in storage that a member of the public would like to see you can make a request for it to be made available – please contact us on ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk

The largest single collection of artwork was donated by the Barrett-Lennard family. It includes this family portrait by the Italian artist Pompeo Batoni painted in Rome in 1749/50.

Batoni portrait of Barrett-Lennard family

Portrait of Thomas and Anna Marie Barrett-Lennard with their daughter Barbara Anne by Pompeo Batoni, 1749/50

The painting has a very sad story behind it. It shows Thomas and Anna Marie Barrett-Lennard with their daughter, Barbara Anne, who had died of tuberculosis the previous year. The artist painted her likeness from a miniature by Thomas Hudson which the couple brought with them on their travels.

Barbara Anne was the couple’s only child, although Thomas had two illegitimate children with a mistress who were brought up by the couple as their own. The eldest, Thomas Fitzthomas, inherited the estate, and in 1786 he was granted the right to adopt his father’s surname and titles, becoming Thomas Barrett-Lennard (more on that here). A portrait of Thomas Jr by John Opie hangs in the ERO Searchroom.

The Barrett-Lennard family lived at the mansion of Belhus in Aveley, which they built up into one of the largest estates in Essex. During Thomas’s tenure, he remodelled the house in the gothic style and employed Capability Brown to landscape the park and gardens.

The painting was loaned for The Family in British Art, a touring exhibition that visited Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery, the Millennium Gallery in Sheffield, and the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle in 2011-12. The tour was part of the Great British Art Debate partnered with Tate Britain. It is currently stored at ERO, and is brought out for special occasions for public view. A high quality digital image is available, and anyone wishing to view the original can request for it to be brought out of storage.

New team member: Rachael Smith

Name: Rachael Smith

Role: Archive Assistant

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Why did you want to work at ERO?

I have always had an interest in history and my previous job with Essex Libraries gave me lots of skills that transfer well to ERO. I was first introduced to archive services whilst I was studying architecture at university; the vast resources available on historical buildings aided my studies immensely which gave me a real appreciation for archives.

 

Describe an average day at ERO for you:

I’m only just starting to experience what an average day is like as I started working at ERO during the annual stocktake, during which I met the rest of the ERO team and was introduced to the various tasks that are required to keep the Searchroom and the repositories in running order. I helped with jobs such as the creation of a photographic catalogue of the ECC art collection, and checking the physical contents of each shelf location against the digital record we have on Seax. My favourite day was when I spent time in conservation helping to clean the Fred Chancellor plans.

 

What do you do when you’re not at ERO?

I am a keen long distance runner, regularly running cross country. My passion is architecture and I love travelling to study buildings. I am from a family of artists so you’ll mostly find me drawing or painting, but I do also enjoy technical 2D and 3D drawing on various CAD programs. What most people don’t know about me is that I am on a darts team!

 

Can you tell us about an interesting document you have come across while at ERO?

This would have to be the Arbitrator’s Award map of Epping Forest (Q/RDe 1) that is due to be included in an outreach event in 2015. This is the largest map that I have ever seen at 30’6” by 12’9”. It was created in 1882 following the Epping Forest Act of 1880. It is fascinating to think about how long it must have taken to draw this map by hand.