Many of you will already know the wonderful news that the Bodleian Library in Oxford has accepted our gift of the Helen Muspratt Archive. We were thrilled that our collection of over 2,000 original prints, 30 old biscuit tins of negatives covering almost 30,000 sittings from her Oxford Studio, and numerous documents and letters, had found a home in one of the most prestigious libraries in the world and in the very city where Helen lived and worked for most of her active life.
Since our first meeting with the Director, Richard Ovenden in January 2018, I have been making a draft catalogue of all the prints, papers and a few of the negatives and the archive is now safely installed at the Bodleian apart from some personal letters which have yet to be sorted.
Meanwhile, the Bodleian decided to celebrate the gift with an exhibition of my mother’s work in the newly refurbished Weston Library and appointed me as the curator (with a great deal of help from the staff and designers at the Bodleian). This was planned for October 2020 but the dreaded Covid cast its shadow and I feared it might be cancelled. However, I have continued to work closely with the exhibition’s organisers and the exhibition opened yesterday! Sadly, there was no opening event because of Covid but Robin and I were there all day yesterday and were very pleased with the result.
The exhibition will almost certainly continue up to Christmas and possibly beyond. The Communications Team are working on the publicity and the Publications Team are hoping to publish a special book of Helen’s photographs next year. The Education Department are also working with a local FE college for whom I am preparing an online lecture.
The exhibition will be part of the Photo Oxford Festival which will also take place this Autumn. I will be taking part in an online conference: “Let us now praise Famous Women: women’s labour to uncover the works of female photographers” on 24th October when I will give a talk on how I researched my book and assembled the Archive.
The Weston Building is open every day from 10am to 5pm; Sundays: 11am to 5pm. The exhibition is free and they are not operating a booking system.
Please check on the Bodleian website before travelling: https://visit.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/event/helen-muspratt-photographer.
So many thanks to all the people who helped this to happen over the past few years.
Helen would be amazed!
It has been some time since I was last in touch, but I thought you would like to know about couple of exciting developments relating to my book: Face: Shape and Angle: Helen Muspratt Photographer.
I am very pleased to tell you that the Bodleian Library in Oxford have indicated that they would like to receive the archive of her work, now residing in my attic, including over 500 original prints, surviving negatives and related documents. I have begun cataloging the prints and am beginning to realise what a huge task this is, but it will be an enormous relief to hand over the collection to an institution who will look after the work and make it available to scholars and researchers for future generations. I am extremely grateful to the Bodleian – Helen would be amazed that her work is to reside in one of the worlds most prestigious libraries and the fact that it is in Oxford where she lived and had her studio is an added bonus. It comes as a wonderful endorsement of Helen’s importance in the history of Twentieth Century photography.
There is a possibility that they will also hold an accompanying exhibition in their new exhibition space in the Western Library. I have always wanted to have exhibitions of her work in Oxford and Cambridge so this would be an enormous step towards achieving this.
You may also all be invited to an opening in Moscow!
I have been approached by the Multimedia Art Museum in Moscow who have expressed interest in putting on an exhibition of Helen’s work. Robin and I were in Moscow in May 2017 and went to this museum which is the equivalent of our Photographer’s Gallery. It is a lovely building and we would be thrilled if they decide to go ahead but it is early days. I have been concentrating on cataloging her images of the Soviet Union which she visited in 1936 and hope that this will help when and if things develop. Watch this space.
Durlston Castle, Swanage, hosted an exhibition of Helen Muspratt photographs from 20 June – 12 July 2017. The Fine Foundation Gallery on the cliffs was a lovely venue looking out over the sea. The exhibition concentrated on her early years in her Swanage Studio with some of her experimental work with Lettice Ramsey in Cambridge. It attracted summer visitors and many local people, some of whom remembered Helen and, particularly her sister Joan who took over the studio after Helen left for Cambridge.
Comments from the visitors book:
“Stunning Art Deco images of a bygone age – loved every portrait and study – the solarisation technique was very interesting”
“A beautiful exhibition of spectacular photographs”
“Full sun, azure sea and these haunting black and white photographs – thanks for introducing a wider audience to the work of an incredible woman”
“Just the most inspiring exhibition! Having visited Swanage since my childhood this gives me another sense of connection with the place – THANK YOU”
Bridport Town Hall: Tuesday 7th February 2017 7.30pm
Face: Shape and Angle, Helen Muspratt Photographer
Jessica gave a talk about her mothers work, explaining how much she owed to her mentor, Francis Newbery, formally head of the Glasgow School of Art, born in Bridport and centre of the artistic circle based round Corfe Castle in the Twenties. She also described the experimental work Helen produced in with her partner Lettice Ramsey in the Thirties in Cambridge, her documentary ventures in the Soviet Union,1936, and the Welsh Mining Valleys 1937, and her huge body of Portrait photography.
Cambridge University Library: Monday 20th March 2017 5.30pm
Ramsey & Muspratt, Experiments in Photography, Cambridge in the Thirties
As part of the Cambridge Science Festival Jessica described the work of Ramsey & Muspratt in the Thirties when, inspired by a photograph by Man Ray, and encouraged by scientist friends such as J D Bernal, she and her partner Lettice Ramsey experimented in the darkroom with techniques such as solarisation, rayographs and multiple exposures.
An exhibition of Helen Muspratt’s photographs was held at the Pallant House Gallery, Chichester from 9th March – 8th May 2016 in the De’Longhi Print Room. It was running at the same time as an exhibition in the main gallery: John Piper: Fabric of Modernism – a rather nice coincidence as Helen had an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford in 1979 alongside a John Piper retrospective.
The exhibition coincided with publication of the book: Face: Shape and Angle, Helen Muspratt Photographer by her daughter, Jessica Sutcliffe, on 1st March 2016, by Manchester University Press. Jessica Sutcliffe gave a talk about her mother and signed copies of the book at Pallant House on 24th March.
Last Tuesday, 3rd November, Robin and I went with the designer, Alan Ward to Graphius Printers in Ghent, Belgium to see the first copies of the book come off the press. The quality the reproduced photographs is astounding. Two weeks to cut and bind and then it will be with us, hopefully before Christmas.
Exhibitions of Helen Muspratt’s work are being planned for 2016 including a small show at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester and another at Durlston Castle, Swanage. Dates and details to follow.
Jessica Sutcliffe presented a lecture about her mother and her links with Purbeck at this years PAW (Purbeck Arts Weeks) Festival. She was accompanied by Cath Newman who read quotations from Helen’s words and letters, sitting on a small stage surrounded by artefacts and photographs connected to Helen including her camera and her unconventional wedding dress! The talk was well received and advance orders were taken for copies of the book.