Art Beyond the Lecture Theatre: Internships and Opportunities in the Art World

By Nina Foster, BA History of Art Graduate 2016

Studying History of Art at Oxford gave me a fascinating insight into the incredible influence museums and collections have on public interaction with art. Although working in the arts is highly competitive and funded opportunities are rare, Oxford provides the perfect support system for finding exciting internships in all manner of art institutions. I cannot speak highly enough of the wonderful opportunities OUIP (Oxford University Internship Programme) offers for arts and humanities students. Each year OUIP has hundreds of internships around the world and in the UK, all of which are funded or paid. I have been fortunate to complete two OUIP internships and I strongly recommend anyone with an interest in working in the art world to take a look at what they have to offer. The History of Art department also offers the fantastic opportunity of an internship award at Waddesdon Manor; open to any humanities student with a research focus on art.

I hope that this post offers some inspiration and guidance for any current students or graduates hoping to take the first steps towards a career in the arts.

Working Abroad at the State Hermitage Museum

In the summer following my second year at Oxford I undertook a fully funded internship at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg with a fellow undergraduate art historian. The internship was part of OUIP and included a grant from the Higher Education Funding Council for England to support a six week period in Russia. The application process involved filling out a form and writing a 600 word personal statement. My internship at the Hermitage mainly involved the organisation of the European Day of Languages Festival 2015, which was produced in collaboration with the EU Delegation in Russia. A typical day would involve heading to the office at around 11am (Russian working hours are quite different to the UK!) to work with the rest of the team to devise marketing ideas and strategies for the festival.


Experimenting with marketing ideas: a collage of the grand staircase at the Hermitage

This experience gave me so much insight into all the other kind of work that goes on at a major museum beyond curation. I also had the opportunity to take weekly Russian language classes which really improved my confidence to speak in Russian. Also working at the Hermitage gives you free entrance to loads of arts and cultural institutions in St. Petersburg so it’s a great opportunity to explore Russia on a student budget. The team at the Hermitage was made up of inspiring like-minded young people from all around the world – many of which have become lasting friends. Living and working abroad while still at university is such an amazing opportunity and one that employers always ask me about in interviews. It demonstrates adventurousness, curiosity and adaptability so if you think that sounds like you definitely look at the international opportunities OUIP offers!


Exploring Moscow: Nina and Fania visiting the Narkomfin building

Revitalising Underused Spaces with Ugly Duck

Throughout my third year of studies I became increasingly interested in the use of art to bring communities together and put forward new ideas in public spaces. Not only did this become the focus of my thesis, but I also began looking for opportunities to work in this field. Again I found a brilliant opportunity through OUIP – the chance to do a paid internship with a registered charity called Ugly Duck in London. Ugly Duck’s mission is an unusual but exciting idea – to revitalise underused spaces in overcrowded London. Ugly Duck repurposes empty buildings by opening them up for commercial venue hire for instance for photoshoots or filming. The spaces are also used by emerging artists, directors, activists or dancers through their biannual creative season. As with my Hermitage application I had to fill out a form and write a personal statement, I was also invited for an interview in London. I found this interview quite challenging as the team at Ugly Duck really wanted to know if I had done my research on the position, the organisation and whether I had any bright ideas for their work.


The Ugly Duck Warehouse: one of my colleagues chatting to a potential client

My internship at Ugly Duck ran from July to September and was honestly an eye-opening experience. My role as City Hunt Coordinator focused on the development of Ugly Duck’s public spaces project. City Hunt is a hyper-local heritage game that operates on digital and analogue platforms. My work involved data analysis, securing new business partnerships and sourcing public funding by writing funding applications. Additionally, as Ugly Duck is run by a small team of only three staff I assisted in the day-to-day running of the business by taking bookings, managing the venue and liaising with artists. The breadth and variety of exciting responsibilities Ugly Duck offered me has given me such valuable experience for future employment and has inspired me to focus on a career that uses art for social impact.

Curating and Cataloguing at Waddesdon Manor

Each year there is a remarkable opportunity for an Oxford humanities student (BA, MA, PhD) to undertake a funded internship at Waddesdon Manor – a Rothschild chateau in Buckinghamshire now owned by the National Trust. Waddesdon is a truly unique place and the internship offers a very rare opportunity to assist in curation at an entry-level position. The position includes accommodation in a beautiful cottage in Waddesdon village as well as a bursary. The application process involved writing a statement about why I was interested in the role. I am particularly interested in the contemporary art at Waddesdon so that was the focus of my application. Also you have to submit written references from two tutors which I left until the very last minute so I would definitely recommend getting organised and giving them at least a week to do this! After submitting my application I had an interview in the History of Art department which was actually a really enjoyable experience.


Not a bad office! The very grand approach to Waddesdon Manor

I started the Waddesdon internship in September 2016 and have so far found the experience very rewarding. I mainly work with the wonderful and inspiring senior curator Dr. Juliet Carey on the preparation of exhibition proposals and research projects. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with contemporary artists to help them explore the collection and produce work inspired by it. I have also gained experience of working with the collection management database which is a really essential skill for working in museums. I’ve met so many different people here who all share the same passion for Waddesdon and I have to say I now also share that passion!


The incredible collections at Waddesdon include 18th century French decorative arts of the highest quality

My work experience seems only to have scratched the surface of the complexity and diversity of opportunities within the art world. The great thing about working in the arts is that there is no graduate scheme system, rather you have to find opportunities and devise your own career path. This is honestly really exciting and has led me to places I could never have imagined working. So, if I can offer any advice it’s to think broadly and look at opportunities that take you out of your comfort zone – you’ll probably find them through Oxford’s career network!

Nina completed her BA History of Art at the Department in 2016. She is currently  undertaking the Waddesdon Internship organised in collaboration with the History of Art Department.


Student Placements: Working in the Ashmolean Museum’s Prints and Drawings Department

By Ella Letort, Second Year BA History of Art Undergraduate

One of the Oxford History of Art Department’s great strengths is the extent to which it makes use of the city’s world-class collections. From the start of our degrees, students are familiarised with the art and objects offered by local museums and galleries. Oxford’s collections remain at the core of the undergraduate programme’s layout, with tutorials frequently held in the University’s Ashmolean Museum, as well as a first year extended essay requiring independent research on an object held within the city. Second year collections placements, organised through the Department, aim to build upon this by offering us the opportunity to see Oxford’s museums and galleries in fresh light through a placement within one of the many available departments.


Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, called Guercino (1591-1666), St Francis kneeling, c. 1615. Charcoal crayon, heightened with white, on buff paper. Reproduced with permission. © Ashmolean Museum Prints and Drawings Department

My placement alongside the Ashmolean Museum’s Prints and Drawings Department, taking place one afternoon per week throughout Hilary and Trinity terms, has fitted comfortably around academic work while being substantial enough to accommodate individual projects. Thus far, my work has largely involved digitally cataloguing etchings and engravings from the School of Fontainebleau – a period in which I had, and have, little expertise. One of the reasons for my application to the Print Room was the appeal of close encounters with works of art; mounted prints and drawings can be handled with gloves, and this encourages up-close observation. My lack of specialist knowledge certainly necessitated careful examination of the prints and written sources at hand. Far from being monotonous, this method of cataloguing has been, for me, an exercise in observation and has given me the chance to work closely with objects I would not have otherwise encountered. Each print presented its own challenges; often the work of art would require further research or, at times, the identification of the artist or subject matter. This enabled me to feel that, although my role within the Print Room was relatively small, I was nonetheless able to make a contribution to the Department.

From the very start of my time working alongside them, the staff have been exceptionally welcoming and helpful. As well as cataloguing, I was given numerous opportunities to view works of art relating to current courses of mine, which reflects the Department’s commitment to fostering greater interest in the arts with as many people as possible. For example, I was able to study John Ruskin’s watercolours – which are part of his Teaching Collections, and are housed in the Ashmolean’s Print Room – alongside the second year ‘Victorian Intellect and Culture’ module. Besides the support it provides to History of Art students, the Print Room’s diverse collection caters to the varied interests of University academics as well as members of the public, both of whom could frequently be found viewing the prints and drawings on offer during my working hours.

The collections placement has deepened my knowledge of how large museums and galleries like the Ashmolean work; in particular how they strengthen the academic and public understanding of art across Oxford. The cataloguing and research skills I’ve taken away from my time in the Prints and Drawings Department have put me in good stead during interviews for summer internships and have lead to future opportunities. The History of Art collections placements not only help undergraduates to engage further with the collections they frequently use, but also offer us a foot up in a competitive career sector with a growing demand for prior experience.

The Ashmolean Museum’s Print Room is home to one of Britain’s finest collections of European graphic arts. Find more information on their holdings, opening hours, and contact details here

John Ruskin’s Teaching Collections have been digitised by the Ashmolean and made available online here.

Curating Bloomsbury: Collections Management at The Charleston Trust

By Alice Purkiss

Charleston Today. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

Charleston Today. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

In 1916, the artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant moved to Charleston, a remote 17th century farmhouse nestled beneath the Sussex Downs. Accompanied by Duncan’s lover; David (Bunny) Garnett, Vanessa’s children with her husband Clive Bell; Julian and Quentin, and Henry the dog, the artists established an unusual home that would become a centre for Bloomsbury visual and literary experimentation and expression. Many of the group’s members regularly visited the house, including Clive Bell, Roger Fry, Virginia and Leonard Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, Lytton Strachey and E.M. Forster, and were often joined by friends such as Vita Sackville West, Dora Carrington, James Joyce, T.S. Eliot and Benjamin Britten.

Charleston residents and visitors c. 1925. From left to right: Francis Partridge, Quentin and Julian Bell, Duncan Grant, Clive Bell and Beatrice Mayor. Roger Fry seated with Raymond Mortimer in front. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

Charleston residents and visitors c. 1925. From left to right: Francis Partridge, Quentin and Julian Bell, Duncan Grant, Clive Bell and Beatrice Mayor. Roger Fry seated with Raymond Mortimer in front. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

As soon as they arrived, Bell and Grant set to work painting and decorating the interior of the house and its contents in their expressive and colourful style; from table tops and bed headboards, to walls, doors and baths. The artists had been important contributors to Roger Fry’s Omega Workshops, a business established in 1913 to create furniture and household goods designed by contemporary artists and craftsmen. Charleston was therefore furnished throughout with Omega products, including furniture, fabrics and crockery. Also housing a collection of works by important modernist such as Picasso, Sickert and Derain, Charleston became a unique and progressive environment whose inhabitants challenged contemporary social norms. The creativity felt inside the house also spilled out into the garden, where an oasis of dramatic colour, scent and texture was planted which offered artistic props and inspiration, in addition to spaces for theatrical performances and quiet contemplation. Bell and Grant lived and worked at Charleston until they died; Vanessa in 1961 and Duncan in 1978.

Following Grant’s death, the piles of sketches, sketchbooks and canvasses that had filled his studio at Charleston were transferred to London to be sold by Grant’s dealer, Anthony D’Offay. Later returned to Bell and Grant’s daughter, Angelica Garnett, on D’Offay’s retirement, the remaining collection of over 9000 works was gifted by Garnett to The Charleston Trust in 2008.  I have been a Curatorial Trainee at Charleston since October of last year, working to photograph, catalogue, conserve and research this incredible resource, much of which has never been seen before. The role is part of a three-year project which will enable twelve early career art historians to receive comprehensive collections management training while enabling in depth academic research on the artists and their work.

The fireplace in Duncan Grant’s studio. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

The fireplace in Duncan Grant’s studio. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

The Gift contains an eclectic assortment of items which offer a fascinating insight into artistic practice at Charleston; the drive to create and record was not hindered by the materials available at hand. Instead, anything that would make or take a mark was employed and included in a house brimming with line, shape and colour. All manner of materials were used and are contained within the Gift: from studies on cartridge paper, canvas and in sketchbooks, to designs and notes made hastily on the backs on envelopes, household appliance instruction booklets, hotel letter paper, invoices, personal correspondence and graph paper. Included in one box of loose papers alone are a 1910 letter to JM Keynes confirming his booking for First Class ferry tickets, an invoice for a new radio from 1936, the agenda for an Arts Council of Great Britain meeting held in 1946, a letter from the headmaster of a school in Reading regarding a case of German Measles from 1926, a 1950 Christmas greeting, and a solicitor’s letter regarding a will from 1949.

All of these documents boast a sketch or annotation of some form; from abstract doodles and pattern designs to careful line drawings of classical nudes, farm animals and landscape scenes. While dates are recorded on each item in a postmark or heading thereby giving a suggestion of provenance, we can only speculate as to whether the sketches themselves made on these papers were created at the same time or at a later date. As so little was disposed of at the house, it is likely that such scraps would have cropped up years after they were first received and used as new paper for sketching or note-taking.

Duncan Grant’s Studio in the 1970s. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

Duncan Grant’s Studio in the 1970s. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

Not only does this variety of items demonstrate the drive for creative expression without privilege given to one material over another, these unusual items also offer glimpses into the artists’ private lives through personal correspondence and appointments. With the addition of the occasional coffee ring, dusting of cigarette ash and child’s doodle, the objects in the Gift offer an exciting visual biography of the two artists and the life they lived at Charleston.

Conservation underway in Charleston’s kitchen. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

Conservation underway in Charleston’s kitchen. Photograph © The Charleston Trust

I have been a Curatorial Trainee at Charleston since October of last year, working to photograph, catalogue, conserve and research this incredible resource, much of which has never been seen before. I developed an interest in pursuing a career in collections management during my masters degree at Oxford, where I had the opportunity to curate an exhibition of contemporary artworks in the city. In addition to the practical skills acquired during this voluntary role, the department’s course provided an excellent grounding in modern art history and critical theory which has been invaluable to subsequent roles in the museum industry, and to my current traineeship at Charleston. The position is part of a three-year project which will enable twelve early career art historians to receive comprehensive collections management training while enabling in depth academic research on the artists and their work, and therefore offers a rare opportunity to gain valuable experience in a highly competitive sector.

Items in the Angelica Garnett Gift before photographing and cataloguing. Photographs © The Charleston Trust

Items in the Angelica Garnett Gift before photographing and cataloguing. Photographs © The Charleston Trust

The project to catalogue the Angelica Garnett Gift is one year in, and only a relatively small number of items have been photographed and catalogued so far. As such a rich academic resource full of intriguing objects, the project promises to unearth a wealth of material to inspire and enrich new research into the life and work of Bell and Grant, and the wider Bloomsbury circle. You can read more about the work and research undertaken by the Curatorial Trainees on The Charleston Attic blog, and keep up to date with upcoming opportunities to participate in the project on The Charleston Trust’s website.

Alice Purkiss graduated with a MSt in History of Art and Visual Studies from the department in 2012. Following roles at The British Library and Tate, she has most recently undertaken a curatorial traineeship at the Charleston Trust.