Creating a National Collection #1 – Introducing Jemma

7 Apr 2021

My name is Jemma and I am a Curatorial Trainee for the National Gallery and Southampton City Art Gallery for 2019–21 as part of a scheme supported by Art Fund with the assistance of the Vivmar Foundation. Last week, it was wonderful to announce the exhibition ‘Creating a National Collection’ which is due to open on 28 May 2021 (subject to lifting of restrictions.)

After moving to Southampton to do my Master’s degree at the University of Southampton in 2013, I enjoyed working in a wonderful team of people as a Museum and Gallery Assistant for Southampton City Art Gallery, SeaCity Museum, and Tudor House and Garden between 2015 and 2019. I love living and working here and it was a dream to be able to return to Southampton for my traineeship project after my initial 6-month placement at the National Gallery.

In London, there were plenty of exciting learning opportunities including introductions to many National Gallery teams including the Scientific and Conservation departments, Learning, as well as working alongside my talented colleague, Corinna Henderson, the other Curatorial Trainee with a placement in Sheffield.

A lot of my project research in London was based in the Research Centre looking at archival material. During these sessions I found fascinating historic connections between Southampton and the National Gallery. It was great reading about the kinds of works Southampton began acquiring, and the development of its art collection even prior to a gallery existing in Southampton. My traineeship project is also about the ongoing relationship and I was lucky to meet colleagues from both institutions to discuss instances of shared expertise including works from Southampton being sent to the National Gallery for x-ray and conservation over the years.

A significant day of celebration and study back in Southampton was the Gallery 80: Birthday Symposium (11 October 2019). Having worked at Southampton City Art Gallery since 2015, I am fortunate to have a good knowledge of the collection. Even so, this day was an excellent opportunity to learn from the current and former curators while considering changes in curatorial practice over the last 80 years. After receiving National Gallery courier training, I was even lucky to squeeze in a courier trip to County Durham in January 2020 which involved condition checking and overseeing the transport of a work back to London.

After steadily preparing to continue my project with Southampton City Art Gallery from March 2020, within days of my intended move back to Southampton, the unimaginable happened and a national lockdown began to unfold. Institutions across the country, and the world, closed their doors. I found myself working from home, between roles and locations as both the National Gallery and Southampton City Art Gallery worked to adapt to the changes, for example producing a lot more digital content. I was lucky to work on a short talk on Southampton City Art Gallery’s history which was fun, although it took me a number of times to record a good take!

I remained in London until restrictions were relaxed in the summer of 2020, however, even after my move, I was only able to go into the gallery a number of times until the end of year. Although the original opening date of the exhibition was delayed, I was able to begin working with teams in Southampton in preparation for the upcoming exhibition and on producing gallery content over the lockdown.

Between April and December 2020, I was fortunately able to focus on producing a publication with my wonderful mentor, Susanna Avery-Quash, Senior Research Curator at the National Gallery. This book was written to accompany the upcoming Southampton exhibition, and with my English university background, it is a dream come true to be able to celebrate Southampton and share some of the research I was able to uncover as part of my traineeship.


The National Gallery London

Art Fund

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