Skip to main content

Degas from the Burrell: Behind the scenes

Julien Domercq, Vivmar Curatorial Fellow and Co-Curator of 'Drawn in Colour: Degas from the Burrell', explains what it took to bring Degas's remarkable pastels to London

Behind the scenes of every exhibition is a huge amount of hard work, planning, and organisation. Major exhibitions can take years to plan, but we also have to be flexible in order to take advantage of rare and exceptional opportunities that we can develop into special exhibitions and displays at short notice.

The current refurbishment of the Burrell Collection in Glasgow is one such example. As the Burrell is temporarily closed to the public until 2020, the refurbishment provided the Gallery with the perfect opportunity to borrow almost all of the remarkable works on paper by Degas from the Burrell, many of which have never been displayed outside of Glasgow. The result is Drawn in Colour: Degas from the Burrell.

All exhibitions come with challenges, and this one had some additional technical ones. Pastels are extremely fragile, and need to be handled with the utmost care and attention. 

To bring the pastels safely to the Gallery, we worked closely with the Burrell Collection and the international pastel expert Harriet Stratis, Senior Research Curator at the Art Institute of Chicago. Harriet, along with conservators from both the Gallery and the Burrell, assessed the works in Glasgow to see which ones could be considered safe to travel. The team was then tasked with designing a bespoke transport method. The works were carried in sophisticated cases which minimised vibration and, therefore, risks to the artworks.

Once the works had been safely transported, unpacked, and their condition checked in our exhibition galleries, we faced further challenges: Normally we would hang works one by one, seeing how each work looks on the wall before we hang the next, but with pastels the process has to be slightly different. Any drilling that takes place while a pastel is on the wall could cause damage to the work from vibrations, so all the works needed to be hung at once. We therefore had to conceptualise the hang in advance and support this with virtual hangs and a very precise paper hang.

We always plan and monitor the light levels in exhibitions very carefully, but this show posed a particular challenge as works on paper are more sensitive to light than oils. The conservation of the works is paramount to us, so our Scientific Department made very precise calculations of the amount of light the works can be safely exposed to, whilst also ensuring that the display can be seen and enjoyed by our visitors.

We need your support to make exhibitions like this possible

Staging an exhibition is a significant undertaking for the Gallery and its partners. We are passionate about maintaining free access to the collection and to special exhibitions and displays, but to do this, we need your help.

Please make a donation today and help us bring free and inspiring exhibitions to more visitors. Gifts of all sizes make an impact.