The Conclusion of the Saga of Seal and Polar Bear
Greetings, fellow adventurers! At last, we’ve come to the end of our journey.
Last time we met, I had told you that there are at least three versions of this painting. As much as I wanted to pursue this story further, however, I needed to focus on getting our own Seal and Polar Bear ready for exhibition.
I first talked with our conservator, Nancie Ravenel. She ascertained that the painting was structurally stable, but dirty. We then consulted a paintings conservator, Suki Fredericks, who gave the painting a gentle but thorough cleaning. Thanks to her expertise, the sky appeared more colorful, and details such as the texture of the bear’s fur became more visible.
While the painting was being cleaned, I worked on the exhibition’s layout.
I went through many copies of the Webb Gallery floorplan as I figured out the layout.
I admittedly haven't said much about the show itself since the first chapter of this adventure, so let's take a moment to revisit it.
How Extraordinary! Travel, Novelty, and Time in the Permanent Collection explores the pursuit of novelty in 18th and 19th-century Europe and America, and is split into three sections.
The first part considers geographic travel. Some of the artists I feature here never visited the places they depicted, while others traveled extensively, but they all shared an interest in showing new places to their audiences.
Martin Johnson Heade, Brazilian Hummingbirds: Two Sungems and a Crimson Topaz, 1866
The second section introduces some of the ways in which nineteenth-century Americans and Europeans incorporated novel elements into daily life, from exotic fashions to trompe l’oeil paintings.
Le Moniteur de la Mode Series: Coiffures etc., ca. 1860
The final area considers novelty through the idea of time travel, and features four paintings depicting the story of Rip van Winkle.
Albertus del Orient Browere, Rip Van Winkle Asleep, 1879-1880
Okay, now let's get back to our story.
Seal and Polar Bear best fit into the first section of the show. Raleigh never traveled to the Arctic himself, but he was clearly interested in showing his viewers this region.
Now I needed to determine the painting’s exact placement. I wanted to showcase Seal and Polar Bear, since it had never been exhibited at Shelburne Museum before, so I gave the painting its own wall, making it the first work you see when you walk down to the exhibition. That’ll get your attention!
Once the layout had been figured out, it was time to write and revise the labels. I also had the gallery walls repainted a dark red, a dramatic color that works well with older paintings.
After the labels were finished, our fabulous preparators hung the show and adjusted the lighting.
After months of research, writing, and contemplating, my show was finished, and I couldn’t have been more pleased.
At last, a delightfully weird Shelburne Museum gem is getting its moment in the limelight. Huzzah!