Russell-Cotes Museum: Reinterpretation Project

Author: Carlos Finlay

Copyright: Russell Cotes Museum

“Ever since the museum opened to the people of Bournemouth in 1922, the Russell-Cotes has continued to enthral the public with its eclectic display of Victorian art and furnishings.

Contact with foreign cultures around the world introduced objects to East Cliff Hall which are now a staple of the museum’s renowned collections, and as of 2020 these objects will be revealed in a new light.

Generous funding from Arts Council England and the DCMS/Wolfson Museums and Galleries Improvement Fund, amongst other sources, has allowed the museum to carry out an expansive refurbishment project for three of its rooms: the Yellow Roomthe Red Room, and the Mikado’s Room. Located on the first floor of the historic house, these rooms hold the Russell-Cotes’ Japanese and ethnographic collections from their widespread travels throughout the world.

The project will showcase the most fascinating stories from Sir Merton and Lady Annie’s travels abroad, choosing objects which are both visually impactful and historically significant. These will be presented in new, Victorian-style cases with modern lighting allowing visitors to better engage with the visual and bygone narratives told by each artefact. As accompaniment, video material will contribute additional context to the relationship between these objects and the Russell-Cotes. The historic paintwork of each room will be conserved to its original splendour, and new flooring and blinds will be fitted to refurbish the look of the house.

The Mikado’s Room will continue to display the museum’s late-nineteenth-century Japanese collection, but the removal of the room’s glass barrier will allow visitors to get closer than ever to each object, alongside admiring the oriental painted frieze which adorns the room’s ceiling. Next door, the Red Room’s most popular asset is its breath-taking, uninterrupted view of the ocean; visitors will be able to better enjoy this through added seating, reading opportunities, and the display of additional objects from our collections.

The Russell-Cotes’ fascination for world cultures is expressed in the extensive objects brought back from their travels throughout the eastern hemisphere; the museum’s ethnographic collection will be exhibited in the Yellow Room with display cases more sympathetic to their Victorian surroundings.

The redisplay is only one part of the museum’s initiative; essential to enhancing our visitors’ experience is how we interpret the objects on show.

Earlier this summer, Greg Irvine, Senior Curator of the V&A’s Asian Department, spent time at the museum researching our Asian collection, and we are currently working with ethnography specialist Len Pole. By working with specialist curators and community groups we can better ensure our objects are displayed in a way which is both culturally sensitive and relevant for the museum’s standing in the modern world.

The redisplay is expected to be completed in March 2020. Conservation is currently underway on the fantastic Mikado’s Room ceiling, a project which will take approximately 5 weeks.”

Reinterpretation volunteer Carlos Finlay, currently studying MA History of Art, University of Edinburgh.