Friday, 6 September 2013

Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Li Ling (2)

Note: Diary of an NUS Museum Intern is a series of blog posts written by our interns about their experiences during the course of their internships. Besides working hard and fast in their cubicles, our interns have travelled to Bandung and Malacca, organised symposiums, waded through tons of historical research and pitched in during exhibition installations. If you would like to become our next intern, visit our internship page for more information!

We have a special treat for readers of this series! We invited some of our summer interns to give an update to their original post - what else did they work on during their internship, what's happening to them now, how did the internship benefit them?

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Li Ling is a third year NUS History major, currently on exchange in Amsterdam. She writes about her recent visit to the Van Gogh Museum. To read her original post, please click here.

Though my internship ended weeks ago, a recent visit to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam reminded me of the valuable educational opportunities that I was exposed to during my days as an NUS Museum intern.

One of the paintings on the third level of the Van Gogh Museum has an interesting story to it – its authenticity was only confirmed in 2012 after a long process of detective work and speculation. The authenticity of the painting Still Life with Meadow Flowers and Roses was in question because many of its properties were considered neither characteristic of Van Gogh’s style nor its time. The confirmation only came last year when a detailed X-ray image of the original piece was produced and it led art scholars to conclude that the painting was indeed by Van Gogh. 

Van Gogh’s painting “Still Life with Meadow Flowers and Roses.” (Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam) 

The X-ray image shows that the painting originally depicts two wrestlers and Van Gogh repaints the flowers and roses over the original one. (Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam)

When I got to know the story behind this painting, I was immediately reminded of the conservation workshop that we had in NUS Museum, conducted by Lawrence Chin, the museum conservator. I remembered that Lawrence shared about the role played by different sources of light, be it X-ray, infrared or ultraviolet, in art conservation and related fields. Standing in front of Van Gogh’s painting, I felt really happy as I drew the connection between what I learnt during the internship and what I was witnessing at the moment.

As I toured the Van Gogh Museum, I was again reminded of the things I learnt during my internship. Another work of Van Gogh, Daubigny’s Garden was not painted on canvas, but on a piece of tea towel. The artist then was painting one piece each day and he ran out of canvas within a short period of time. Tea towels and papers therefore replaced canvas as his painting materials. By studying the materials that he used, the circumstances in which Van Gogh was in became much clearer to us. Again, I remember that during the internship, my supervisor Siang once shared with me the relationship between the period of the Nanyang artists and the thickness of the paint that they used. Initially, some of them were very frugal with the amount of paint, as these young artists had to pay for their own painting materials and could not afford to use too much. As a result, we can observe that a thin layer of paint, barely enough to cover the canvas on each painting. Later on when many of the artists started teaching at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), they became lavish with paints as the materials were sponsored by the school. The result was visible - a much thicker layer of paint and heavier strokes on paintings. Realizing that materials tell us more of the stories behind Van Gogh’s and the Nanyang artists’ works, I became more aware that materials, the often overlooked aspect of a painting or sculpture, could be useful in understanding the background and history of an art piece.

The connections I drew between my internship experience and the visit to Van Gogh Museum may seem insignificant to others, but they were moments of excitement for me. Maybe it is because of my training as a history student, I am always thrilled to see such connections, be it in my personal encounter or in other people’s experience. Furthermore, it was great realizing again that what I was exposed to as a museum intern continues to enrich my museum-going experience today.  And for that, I am grateful that the Museum has provided me with such invaluable learning opportunities

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