As the opening of the new Gallery for The Portland Collection gets closer, the curatorial team are busy planning and preparing the displays. Assistant Curator Natalie Patel tells us about her work…

From the fringes of The Harley Courtyard, the view from my office window has transformed over this last year. It feels strange to come face to face with the new gallery and its soaring skyline, when so recently, it was all mud and scaffolding. The gallery opens its doors in spring 2016, which means the curatorial department needs to get hustling so that the exhibitions are ready on time.

Our preparations for displays of The Portland Collection are now moving from ideas on paper to practical considerations. This includes checking how the objects we want to show in the new gallery will fit into the gallery cases we’ve designed, and trying out displays. This month we’ve experimented with different set-ups of royal gifts and artworks collected by the 6th Duke of Portland.

Our painting conservation programme for 2016 is now well underway. We’ve recently had a delivery of paintings that have been treated by a specialist conservator, and the difference is remarkable. A painting of the 1st Earl of Portland has been cleaned, so that the red and blue pigments glow as brightly as they did some 300 years ago.

Last month I went down to London to visit The Harley’s showcase and exhibition designers. They’d painstakingly created a full-size mock-up of the display cases for exhibitions of the miniature portrait collection which includes jewel-like pieces from the 1500s to the 1930s. The showcases have been carefully designed so that their internal humidity level and temperature do not fluctuate and damage the artworks we want to display. We used print-outs of miniatures glued onto yogurt pots and cartons, (to represent the real artworks’ frames and glazing), to experiment with the lighting system.

A mock up display space for The Portland Miniatures

Most recently, we’ve been inviting focus groups to look at the work in progress and explore the new gallery. Their ideas have been invaluable to our development of new gallery text and labels. Now I’m working on book and manuscript displays and we’re hoping to invite a new focus group in soon to share their ideas.

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