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27 September 2016

Experts to share findings from unique collection at Duff House

Dolphins, Tulips and Napoleon: The Dunimarle Collection explores the furniture, objects and books which fill Georgian mansion

A general view of the splendid facade at Duff House.

Six experts from across the UK will gather in Banff this October to share their discoveries following a unique research project into some of the 3,000 objects - books, sculpture, ceramics, furniture and paintings - which form The Dunimarle Collection.

Dolphins, Tulips and Napoleon: The Dunimarle Collection takes place over two specially planned Study Days at Duff House on Wednesday 12th and repeated on Thursday 13th October.

A panel of specialist speakers will share their findings and offer new insights into some of the diverse objects which make up The Dunimarle Collection, on long-term loan to the National Galleries of Scotland from The Mrs Magdalene Sharpe Erskine Trust and on public display at Duff House since 1995.

Inspiration for the Study Days event came from a unique hand-written 368 page catalogue – dating back to 1914 and featuring more than 1,000 watercolours – which records the collection in its entirety when it was at the Erskine family seat, Dunimarle Castle, in Fife. Visitors will now have an opportunity to learn more about this fascinating collection through some of its objects and their history.

In a series of short talks, the experts will explore different groups of objects, and you will see among them the key pieces which gave Study Day its title: Dolphins, Tulips and Napoleon. Furniture from the Napoleon Room at Dunimarle Castle, gilt lamp standards, tables, a clock, and sofas, chairs and stools which belonged to Napoleon himself are just some of the objects which are now on display to the public at Duff House.

This event will also shed new light on the collection of books on the Duff House library shelves. Research discovered that 11 editions within the collection are thought to be the only recorded copies in the world – six of which were published in Edinburgh. As well as being rare texts, the books provide a glimpse of the social history of the time and evidence of what readers left behind between the pages, including a flyer to a flea circus act in Edinburgh from 1834 and a patient admission form to a French hospital during the Napoleonic Wars.

Historic Environment Scotland’s Regional Collections Manager for Duff House, Rona Walker, said:

In an exciting first for Duff House, this event will bring together experts working across a number of different fields, and their research findings, into a truly special and significant collection of fine ceramics, sculpture, paintings and furniture.

“Whilst the collections of the Fife family are no longer held at Duff House, when we look at the original inventories for the House we can draw great similarities between this and the objects now displayed throughout the building from The Dunimarle Collection. This event is a fantastic opportunity for visitors to hear from our panel of speakers and discover more about some of the objects and their history. It promises to make for an exciting event.”

Research on the original Dunimarle catalogue has revealed what one of the great paintings, now on the walls at Duff House, cost when it was purchased in Paris 200 years ago. One expert has identified a piece of porcelain which features an unusual extra layer of hidden paint work. Another has pointed out that all the different craftsmen involved must have kept in touch with each other on every tiny detail when they were commissioned to design a table fit for a French king.

The original Duff House collection and library were dispersed when the family left in 1906. Today, the majority of objects on display at the House come from the Erskine family’s collection, which was assembled over many years by Magdalene Sharpe Erskine, her three brothers and their father, Sir William Erskine of Torrie. Magdalene’s will of 1872 stated that the collection should be made accessible to public for their enjoyment.

This event at Duff House is sponsored by Historic Environment Scotland, with The Trustees of the Mrs Magdalene Sharpe Erskine Bequest: The Dunimarle Collection and The Friends of Duff House and is supported by the National Galleries of Scotland.

Anne Buddle, Collections Advisor at the National Galleries of Scotland, organised the Study Days and will be one of the panel speakers at the event. She said:Canon Harper’s catalogue has been a ‘behind the scenes’ resource for over twenty years, used in planning installations at Duff House in 1995, and then for identification and audit. However, we had only a black and white photo-copy of the original to work from. In support of the Canon Harper Catalogue project, the Trustees located a colour photo copy of the original catalogue, and made a research copy for me. This has brought the whole collection to life – seeing all the objects in colour on the page, as well as at Duff House. I also enjoy the humour between the lines, including ‘Wanted: more storage’ drawings, and someone carrying a wobbling pile of far too many plates.

The catalogue is full of fascinating detail about objects, people, places, prices and collecting two hundred years ago, and the Study Day is an exciting first step in sharing both the catalogue and The Dunimarle Collection with as many people as possible.”

Dolphins, Tulips and Napoleon: The Dunimarle Collection will take place at Duff House. Wednesday 12th has now sold out, but tickets are available for Thursday 13th October from 10.15am-5pm. Tickets for the full-day event are priced at £10 per person and include admission to the House, lunch and refreshments. Study Day visitors will have the special opportunity of entering the House by the double stair and the front door, as William Adam intended.

For further event information, to view the full programme or to book tickets, please visit our website.

Dolphins, Tulips and Napoleon: The Dunimarle Collection at Duff House Speaker Panel:

Sandra Cumming

Former Library Manager at the Royal Society in London, Sandra moved to Banff in 1990 and guided the team of volunteers who organised and catalogued the Dunimarle Library. She later used her professional experience to register the Library on the British Library and another international database. She continues to research  the Dunimarle Library and the Erskine family, and is also working on other Aberdeenshire collections.

Dr Tico Seifert

Senior Curator of Northern European Art at the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh. Tico is the National Gallery of Scotland’s Managing Curator for Duff House, and has curated a number of showings at the Georgian mansion including works by Dürer, McTaggart, Constable, and most recently, Rembrandt.

Jeremy Gow

Jeremy has been researching and restoring antique furniture for over 25 years, including working on a number of pieces belonging to the Dunimarle Collection. He is keen to preserve the many skills involved in an 18th-century workshop, and continues to work with a master furniture restorer in France, as well as teaching courses himself in Scotland.

Dr Howard Coutts

A specialist in ceramics and ceramic design, Howard is Keeper of Ceramics at The Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle, County Durham, which has many similarities with the Dunimarle Collection. Howard has a special interest in European ceramics and in the art of dining in the 18th-century, and is the author of ‘The Art of Ceramics:European Ceramic Design 1500-1830.’

Dr Katharine Eustace

A graduate of the University of St Andrews, Kate’s specialism is in British sculpture.

She worked in museums in Bristol, Warwick, Oxford and at the National Portrait Gallery, London, with responsibility for 20th- century collections as well as sculpture. She was Editor of the Sculpture Journal from 2004-2014, and sits on the Sculpture Advisory Panel of ArtUK. She is currently researching a book on the work of Hew Lorimer, the Sculptor Laird of Kellie Castle

Anne Buddle

Anne began work at the Victoria and Albert Museum London, and has now worked over 20 years with the National Galleries of Scotland, including planning and managing the installation of the Dunimarle Collection at Duff House in 1995. Her special interests in the Canon Harper Catalogue and India laid the foundations for the Study Day.

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