To collect or not to collect?

What should the museum collect? This blog post seeks your advice on a very unusual potential acquisition…

Image courtesy of Capes Dunn & Co. A 19th Century white marble sculpture of the left hand of the novelist George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans 1819 - 1880) depicted resting on a cushion and entwined by a trailing and flowering plant, incised with the words 'George Eliot'.

Image courtesy of Capes Dunn & Co.

This sculpture of George Eliot’s left hand has been recently brought to our attention. We think this striking white marble sculpture was created as a memorial to George Eliot, who was married in 1880, the same year she died.  It shows her hand resting on a cushion and entwined with a trailing and flowering plant. The sculpture is due to be auctioned in May and we would like your opinion on whether the museum should bid to purchase it.

A dress which belonged to George Eliot, mid 1800s.

A dress which belonged to George Eliot, mid 1800s.

It’s quite an interesting piece because it gives the viewer an idea of what Eliot looked like. Women in the mid to late 1800s wore dresses with high necklines and full length sleeves and skirts (see photograph). Their hands would have been one of the few parts of their body visible to other people. Hands are also very symbolic of the craft of an author.

The sculpture is also interesting from a social history perspective. It links to the Victorian phenomenon of memorialising the dead through objects including death masks, jewellery containing locks of hair and photographs of the deceased. Objects such as these can provoke a strong emotional response and are a powerful way to learn more about beliefs and customs in the 1800s.

But does it belong in the collection at Nuneaton Museum & Art Gallery?

‘Should we collect this?’ is a question we discuss regularly at the museum. We meet to talk about every object we are offered and think very carefully before we collect. We want to make sure we can display our collection for visitors to enjoy. With limited storage space and resources we have to consider whether we can keep and care for items properly. We don’t collect duplicates of artefacts already in the collection. We only collect objects that help us to tell the story of the Borough. We also take care that we are making good use of public funds and donations. The sculpture is estimated to sell for between £300-£500, plus buyer’s commission and VAT.

We would like your opinion.

  • Do you think this object is important?
  • How does it make you feel?
  • Will it help us to tell the story of George Eliot?
  • Is it a good use of resources or should we focus our attention elsewhere?

Comment below to let us know!

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3 Responses to To collect or not to collect?

  1. Kathleen McGale says:

    As long as the bidding doesn’t get ridiculous, I think this would be an interesting addition to the George Eliot collection.

  2. My only thought is these kind of sculptures of the deceased hands were fairly popular with the affluent Victorians who could afford them to be commissioned.
    How do you know it’s definitely George Elliot’s hand has it any provenance?
    Hands are always emotionally provocative. But if it’s not hers.
    I believe it will go for a much higher bid too.

  3. Pingback: Unveiling our new George Eliot acquisition | Behind the Scenes at Nuneaton Museum

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