How to look at art with Jenny Lund, Curator of Fine Art

I felt very lucky to meet the RP&M Curator of Fine Art Jenny Lund for a private art master class.

Jenny Lund, Curator of Fine Art
Jenny Lund, Curator of Fine Art

As I confessed in a previous blog, I’m not very confident about my knowledge around art and how to view it. As my time as Blogger in Residence is short, I knew I ought to grab my chance for some one-on-one art tuition.

As curator of Fine Art, Jenny Lund is in charge of all the paintings and works on paper which belong to the Royal Pavilion and Museums. Every picture you see in the galleries has been passed via Jenny and she is responsible for their upkeep and restoration. In addition, her role involves lending the paintings to other institutions for their shows and borrowing from them for temporary shows.

Born in Denmark, a combination of work and love has bought Jenny to Brighton. Her History of Art pedigree is daunting. She’s studied at Copenhagen and Columbia Universities and the Camberwell college of Fine Art. She worked at ARKEN Museum of Modern Art in Copenhagen before taking up the Brighton post in 2009.

She comes from a family with a good eye for art and design which she describes as an ‘aesthetic sensibility’ as her father is an architect and her mother is a production designer in films. But she also says that children in Denmark are taught about art and how to analyse a painting or piece of art in way which sounds quite different from my experience in English schools when I was young and now for many children.

Jenny came into post just after the important digitisation of circa 1500 oil paintings which belong to the RP&M which are now online for everyone to see as well as published in a book costing £35.

“The Public Catalogue Foundation is an ambitious project,” says Jenny. “it now means anyone can see all the oil paintings we hold in our collections. We rotate the works we do have so people can see them but this means every oil painting is accessible to view.

“We’ve not found it deters people from coming to the galleries as they can see them online. In fact, it seems to be the opposite. We are getting even more enquiries from scholars and people who are passionate about art.”

There are a further 20,000 watercolours and prints many of which still needs to be put online. Jenny says that is an even bigger project that is ongoing. The topographical prints have just been digitised.

Some of the most popular images belonging to RP&M are by Turner and Constable. These watercolours are fragile and so they are not on display all the time to preseve them. Jenny says that one of Brighton’s most popular and asked-for paintings is Alice in Wonderland by George Dunlop Leslie.

Alice in Wonderland by George Dunlop Leslie
Alice in Wonderland by George Dunlop Leslie

As we walk around the galleries, we talked about individual paintings and it is clear how well Jenny knows so many of the works. She is also keen to stress that art experts or just those interested will find something of interest in the galleries.

“People are free to walk in and can experience a sense of peace. Whether they go to the café or look at a painting, I think that’s OK. I think art gives people a sense of history and the subjects depicted can concern people in all kinds of ways. Everyday life is there, how people used to live and live now. I think it’s very important that art can be found in people’s locality and that they don’t need to travel to see it. “

IMG_1867Jenny points out a large beigey canvas called Open Option by Jules Olitski (1971). To me, it looks impenetrable. Why would anyone simple cover a large space with just one colour? Jenny however explains why she loves it: “It is layer upon layer of colour, sprayed on as if it is floating on the canvas. It gives a sense of space. The colour is diffused along the edges which show how many layers have gone into it. By using spray, the artist is distancing himself from the actual act of painting. I think it’s beautiful, the way the colours are golden.”

I look again at the work with a different eye. I’ve yet to find the beauty there but I can at least understand why someone else can and a little into the mind of the artist.

After my conversation with Jenny I have written 10 tips for looking at art:

  1. Try to look at the picture first and then read the text. Don’t feel controlled by the text box.
  2. Remember the title, particularly for older paintings may not been the one given by the artist, so don’t read too much into it. More modern artists are likely to use the title to get their message across. The title of a historical picture may help to identify a mythological subject which is no longer well-known to a modern viewer.
  3. Some works of art are easier to understand than others. If a picture does not make any sense to you, think about why not.
  4. ‘Ask yourself, “What is this painting doing?” rather than “What does this painting mean“‘
  5. Some pictures are very tactile with lots of paint on them. They may look good to touch but don’t. You’ll damage it with the oils and dirt on your hands.
  6. You might not find the answer to what the painting is about. There may be many meanings but not one answer. That’s OK.
  7. Take time to contemplate a painting.
  8. If a picture is an abstract, try to work out what the patterns could mean, how has it been composed, is anything being repeated?
  9. Think how the painting can make you feel, not just in relation to the subject matter but to your physical relationship to it. Some modern art plays with this perception such as a very large canvas which will have the effect of making the viewer feel small or the way a pattern can make your eyes feel odd. These effects are often deliberate.
  10. Think about how the painting has been placed in the space where you see it, what works are next to it or at what height it hangs – this may affect your perception of it
  11. It is OK to visit a gallery for many reasons; it doesn’t have to be about the art. Maybe it’s because the space can make you feel relaxed or peaceful.






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