Our collections contain some amazing stories but there are also many tales we’re yet to uncover. At times our collections documentation is very vague, containing little information about an object or why it was acquired. However, every now and again we discover something that can help us to solve these mysteries…
Several years ago we participated in the Public Catalogue Foundation’s Your Paintings project. Through this project we digitised oil paintings in our collection and these are still available for anyone to view via the Art UK website, which is a fantastic, free resource.
More recently Art UK launched Art Detective. Through Art Detective anyone with specialist knowledge can help public collections to learn more about their artworks. This forum has generated some interesting discussions and a recent conversation has been key to unlocking a mystery in our collection.
‘Boat Builders in Madras’ by E. Jackson
Last year we were contacted via Art UK for more information about an E. Jackson, artist of ‘Boat Builders in Madras’ (H/1/1977/65). It was suggested that the initial had been incorrectly recorded and that the work should instead be attributed to Stanley Jackson. Stanley Jackson worked in India in the 1930s. His painting ‘A Soldier in Battle Order, Madras Guards’ is in the collection of the National Army Museum and appeared to show a similar style to our painting of the boat builders.
We investigated a little further. Our accession register showed that the work was bought directly from the artist in 1970. The address given was local but to our frustration again only the initial and surname of the artist had been recorded – E. Jackson – and we didn’t hold any more information about the artist in our history files or collections database.
Behind the scenes in our art store.
It was time to visit the artwork in store for a closer examination. We took a careful look at the signature on the painting. Unfortunately the signature had been partly obscured by the frame, which we’re unable to remove without the help of a professional conservator. Nonetheless, it did appear that the initial was ‘E’ rather than ‘S’.
So who was E. Jackson? Was our identification of the artist as E. Jackson correct? Could the artwork have been bought from a relative whose initial had been mistakenly recorded as the artist’s? The artwork wasn’t formally accessioned until 1977, had some vital piece of information been lost in that time?
More recently we have been looking through the museum’s scrapbooks. These contain press cuttings relating to new acquisitions, events and exhibitions at the museum since the 1960s. We found the answer in our 1970s scrapbook.
Newspaper cuttings from 1970 reveal that our artist, E. Jackson, was Emily Jackson. Emily Jackson lived in Nuneaton and entered the Festival of Arts in 1970. She entered paintings into several sections of the Festival and was awarded three firsts (in figure composition, portraits and free choice), one second prize (still life) and a special trophy in the art section of the festival (The Warwickshire Miners’ Association Cup).
Mrs. Jackson is described by the Coventry Telegraph as “A Nuneaton housewife” and the Evening Tribune records how she “swept the board” at the Nuneaton Festival of Arts that year.
‘Boat Builders in Madras’ was purchased by the museum’s curator Francis Fawcett following public and expert consultation about which paintings should be acquired for the collection.
Crucial information about the artist was found in the museum’s scrapbook of press clippings.
It’s always satisfying to uncover more information about an object or artwork in our collection and this will be added to our records for future research and interpretation. We would still love to know more and would be grateful to hear from anyone with more information about Emily Jackson. Please contact Becky at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re able to help us.