For the last five or six weeks I've had a little project on the boil. It revolves around a painting (or more likely a print) that I saw in a Bournemouth gallery exhibition twenty-two years ago. It would be very satisfying to track down the artist, and the process of doing so may, who knows, take me to Ireland. The entire story is contained in an email that I have today sent to the Lewis Glucksman Gallery at University College, Cork, in the Republic of Ireland. This is it:
Mary Rose O'Neill was one of the contributors to your exhibition 'Living/Loss - the experience of Illness in Art' which ran from 22 November 2012 to 10 March 2013. My enquiry concerns not her work in that exhibition, but some much earlier work of hers that I saw in 1991 at the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum in Bournemouth, UK. Recently I visited the Russell-Cotes Gallery again, and was given the email address of Mr Duncan Walker, who is in charge of their collection. This was my request to him on 11 October:
Dear Mr Walker
I hope you can help. I was given your name when I visited the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum on 28 September last. I was advised that you would be very busy in connection with setting up their latest exhibition, but afterwards might be able to assist me.
I live in [I gave the name of my village near Brighton], but I get down to Bournemouth at least twice a year, and have visited the R-C several times over the last two or three decades.
When I was there on 25 March 1991 (twenty-two year ago) the exhibitions included a female artist whose paintings depicted scenes in muted colours of human figures and animalistic shapes. I can remember that the figures seemed to wear Ancient-Egyptian-style headdresses. I very much liked her paintings, and bought a postcard from the gallery shop of the one I liked most. It was titled At Last a Fish, and showed a wall carving or painting of a fish emerging from shadow in front of one of these figures, as if in a tomb or labrynth.
The fact that a postcard was available suggests to me now that if the exhibition archives go back to 1991, it may be possible to identify who this artist was, which is what I wish to find out. I did not know before that it was possible to contact a member of staff who could research this for me.
I have of course already performed some Internet searches without success. But if I have a name and some basic details about the artist, I can find out more about her and her work. I do hope you can track her down from the gallery records, and point me in the right direction.
With best wishes, Lucy Melford
Mr Walker was very kind and undertook some research into the Gallery records, which included consulting a retired colleague. His latest information on 6 November was this:
I have been in touch with a member of staff who was here at the time and he suggests that you might be thinking of the Irish artist Mary Rose O’Neill who provided work for the exhibition marking the opening of our modern wing that year. Does this help?
Duncan Walker - Collections Officer (Information) MA, AMA
Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum
Bournemouth BH1 3AA
Tourism & Corporate Communications
Bournemouth Borough Council
Clearly my next step is to confirm the artist, and then seek more information from her about the work in question. It seemed to me that you must have up-to-date contact details for her. May I please therefore ask you to provide me with her email address, or alternatively a postal address to which I can write.
I realise that there may be a security issue here, but I am sure that Mr Walker would be happy to confirm that my interest is genuine. His official email address is: Duncan.Walker@bournemouth.gov.uk. And naturally I'd have no problems with your consulting the artist before putting me in touch.
I look forward to hearing from you. I must say that your own Gallery looks very good on the Internet, and I'd love an excuse for visiting Cork!
With best wishes, Lucy Melford
I should get an acknowledgement, but as you might expect they are not likely to release an email address without some prior checking. But just possibly they will be instrumental in putting me in touch with the artist. Then I can ask about this work that was so memorable.
I'm hoping there will be a reason or excuse for flying off to Ireland for a weekend! Why not? I've never been there. It would be another experience.