Caroline Villers Research Fellowship - The Courtauld Institute of Art

Caroline Villers Research Fellowship

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Caroline Villers Research Fellowship

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Caroline Villers Research Fellowship

clare shepherdThe Courtauld, together with the Trustees of the Caroline Villers Research Fellowship, have established a Research Fellowship in memory of Caroline Villers.  The purpose of the Fellowship is to promote research in the interdisciplinary field of Technical Art History: the application of technical, scientific and/or historical methods, together with close observation, to the study of the physical nature of the work of art in relation to issues of making, change, conservation and/or display.

The Fellowship is advertised annually, in the spring, and interviews take place in early July. Research proposals for the Fellowship are welcomed from researchers and practitioners from diverse disciplines relating to the study and conservation of works of art. The Fellowship is also open to applicants in permanent employment wishing to take leave of absence to work on a project. The maximum period of tenure is 9 months, but requests for shorter projects are also considered. The Fellow is based at The Courtauld Institute of Art although collaborations with other institutions are encouraged.

Current 2015-6 Caroline Villers fellow: Clare Shepherd

Claire Shepherd holds a Postgraduate Diploma in the Conservation of Easel Paintings from the Courtauld Institute of Art. From 2014-15 she was a Postgraduate Research Associate in the paintings conservation department at the Yale Center for British Art, where she carried out conservation treatments and research into the Pritzker Bequest of twentieth-century British paintings, by artists including Walter Sickert, Prunella Clough, Keith Vaughan, LS Lowry and Vanessa Bell, prior to the exhibition Modernism and Memory: Rhoda Pritzker and the Art of Collecting.

As the Caroline Villers Research Fellow for 2015-16, Claire is investigating the diverse and inventive painting techniques used by the post-war British artist Prunella Clough (1919-1999). Clough’s paintings of the urban environment – increasingly abstract, but always rooted in memories of seen shapes, colours and textures – reflect her interest in the unnoticed surroundings of the everyday. She explored industrial plants, factories, and litter-strewn motorway embankments, gathering both visual and physical material from which her works emerged. Paintings could remain in her studio for years or even decades, sporadically undergoing transformations as the artist reworked, obliterated or erased areas of a painting. The partial removal of paint using sandpaper, paint stripper or wire wool was as much a part of her technique as the application of paint to canvas.

The thesis of the project is that Clough’s methods of applying her materials – whether scraped, sprayed or eroded – hold significance for the interpretation of her paintings. The project combines technical examination of paintings with archive research, and theories about the methods used by Clough to achieve certain techniques are being tested by making mock-ups. Paintings from the Courtauld Gallery and Arts Council Collection are undergoing technical examination in the Courtauld’s conservation studio with methods including microscopy, infrared reflectography, XRF spectrometry and EDX analysis. This is supported by research into the extensive archive of Clough’s papers held at Tate Archive. By comparing Clough’s written output with her known works, it has been possible to link her notes on the gestation and execution of ideas with the specific paintings to which they refer. In addition, Clough often took photographs of ‘unfinished’ works; these photographs, alongside close examination of the paintings in question, help to trace the metamorphosis of specific works over time.

Travel to see paintings in other collections across the UK is assisted by a Research Support Grant from the Paul Mellon Centre.

Public Outcomes

As part of the Fellowship, Claire is giving two lectures at the Courtauld. The first, ‘Surface tensions: the painting techniques of Prunella Clough,’ took place in October 2015 and introduced the project. The second lecture, in May 2016, is ‘Wire and Demolition: the making of Prunella Clough’s urban landscape,’ which will present some of the findings. During the Fellowship, Claire also presented a paper on Clough’s friend and contemporary Keith Vaughan at the Association of Art Historians conference ‘New Voices 2015: Art and Materiality’. She hopes to present and publish research on Clough in the near future.

“What mattered most to Caroline was the exploration of the ways in which works of art were made, the processes of artistic creation. What fascinated her was the notion of artistic intention made tangible in the physical reality of the work of art. In her lectures, she conjured up the unique, essential combination of hand and eye, intellect and circumstance, resulting in a seminal work of art.”

David Bomford,

Caroline Villers was Director of the Department of Conservation and Technology at the Courtauld Institute of Art, 1999-2004.

Caroline Villers had been associated with the Courtauld since 1970 when, following a degree in Modern History at Oxford, she came to take the two-year MA course, specialising in the Renaissance.  In 1974-76, after working as Assistant Curator of  Prints and Drawings at the London Museum, she returned to the Courtauld to study for the Diploma in the Conservation of Easel Paintings. Her subsequent employment was all in the Department of Conservation and Technology: as Technical Assistant (1976-80); Lecturer (1980-98); Senior Lecturer (1998 onwards); and Director of the Department (1999-2004).  In addition to her deep commitment to teaching within the Department, greatly valued by successive generations of students, and her activities as a supervisor of doctoral research, Caroline was involved in teaching many students enrolled in the Courtauld’s History of Art courses, and in initiating collaborative research projects that involved colleagues from different parts of the Institute.  Numerous people who encountered her, even if only briefly, were influenced by the subtlety and clarity of her thought.  Caroline’s fierce loyalty to the Department of Conservation and Technology, and to the Institute as a whole, was manifested through her involvement in many committees and project groups.  In recent years she played a key role in a succession of committees before, during and after the Courtauld’s establishment as an independent college: the Vice Chancellor’s Advisory Committee (elected staff representative); participant in the strategy and planning exercises debating the future form of the Institute; elected staff member of the Governing Board of the Courtauld from its inception; elected staff representative on the Nominations Committee for the appointment of the Director, 2003.  Caroline’s colleagues placed a great deal of trust in her probity and in her determination in advancing a case.

Caroline Villers’ involvement in the wider world of conservation-restoration, and its intersection with art history and museums, was also vigorous.  She held posts on several professional bodies, including, recently: Vice-Chair of the Conservation Committee of the International Council of Museums (ICOM-CC):  Member of the ICOM-CC working groups ‘Paintings I’ and ‘History and Theory of Conservation-Restoration’; Member of the Academic Advisory Board of the AHRB Research Centre for Textile Conservation and Textile Studies; Fellow, and Delegated Member for the council of the International Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (IIC).  She served as editor of The Conservator (1992-96), and Studies in Conservation (1999 onwards) and was a member of the preprints committee for the ICOM-CC meetings in Dublin (1997-98), Lyon (1998-99) and Rio de Janeiro (2001-02).  She was also active in organising conferences.  Besides involvement in professional meetings such as those organised by the International Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (IIC), she instigated events that drew together those working in the fields of conservation-restoration, the technical examination and scientific investigation of works of art, art history, and economic history.  Chief among these were Technology and the Art Historian (1985) and Paintings on Textile Supports in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries: Technique, Function, Display(1998), both held at the Courtauld Institute.  Most recently she planned, with Jo Kirby of the National Gallery, and Susie Nash of the Courtauld Institute, a conference on the European Trade in Painters’ Materials to 1700, to be held in February 2005.  ‘Technical’ Art History is an interdisciplinary field of enquiry that has generated increasing excitement in recent years.  Caroline’s activities, through teaching, publication, and the promotion of research projects through a wide network of personal contacts, constituted a very significant and distinctive contribution to scholarship.

Caroline Villers was passionately concerned with the care, display and better understanding of the Courtauld Gallery paintings.  During the 1980s she organised a series of exhibitions within the Gallery, focusing on individual works.  Her longer-term aim, towards which (together with colleagues in the Courtauld) she had taken initial steps, was the production of a complete catalogue of the Gallery paintings.  She published on a number of paintings that belonged to the Courtauld or had come to the Conservation Department for treatment.  She often collaborated in her publications, either with colleagues, or with students whose projects she had supervised, and she was generous, as an editor, in bringing to fruition the work of other scholars.  She published a series of articles on canvas supports and linings, the majority written jointly with Gerry Hedley (reprinted in Measured Opinions, 1993) and, recently, with Paul Ackroyd and Alan Phenix.  She wrote both for her colleagues in conservation-restoration and for a wider audience of those involved in art history and in the museum world.

Principal publications of Caroline Villers
  • ‘Impressions of Change’ (with G. Hedley and R. Bruce-Gardner) in the exhibition catalogue Impressions of Change.  Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Masterpieces: The Courtauld Collection, London 1987, pp. 21-34
  • ‘Evaluations of Colour Change:  Intention, Interpretation and Lighting’, in Measured Opinions: Collected Papers on the conservation of Paintings by Gerry Hedley, ed. C. Villers, London, 1993, pp. 145-48
  • ‘Painting on Canvas in Fourteenth-Century Italy, Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, 58, 1995, pp. 333-59; ‘The Entombment Triptych in the Courtauld Institute Galleries’, in Robert Campin: New Directions in Scholarship, ed. S. Foister and S. Nash, London, 1996, pp. 27-35 (with R. Bruce-Gardner)
  • ‘A Fourteenth-Century German Triptych in the Courtauld Gallery’, Burlington Magazine, 139, 1997, pp. 667-75 (with C. Reynolds and G. van Heemstra)
  • ‘Simone dei Crocefissi’s Dream of the Virgin’, Burlington Magazine, 142, 2000, pp. 481-86 (with R. Gibbs, R. Hellen, A. King)
  • ‘Four Scenes of the Passion Painted in Florence around 1400’, in The Fabric of Images: European Paintings on Textile Supports in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries, ed. C. Villers, London, 2000, pp. 1-10
  • ‘Observations on the Coronation of the Virgin attributed to Guido da Siena in the Courtauld Institute Gallery, London’, Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, 65, 2002, pp. 289-302 (with A. Lehner)
  • Lining Paintings, ed. C. Villers, London 2003;  ‘La Madonna botticelliana del visconte Lee di Fareham’, in the exhibition catalogue Falsi d’autore: Icilio Federico Joni e la cultura del Falso tra Otto e Novecento, ed. G. Mazzoni, Siena, 2004, pp. 47-58.
List of fellowship trustees

David Bomford
Sir Robert Bruce-Gardner
Dr. Aviva Burnstock
Dr. Joanna Cannon
Dr. Hero Lotti
Maro McNab
Robert McNab
Dr. Susie Nash
Professor Patricia Rubin
Edwina Sassoon

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