A fair amount of groundwork goes into cataloguing an artwork. Conversations take place, there is paperwork to compile, questions of access and fragility to consider and acquisition details to confirm. By the time I see an object, I usually have a fair idea of what I’m in for. Occasionally however I open a box and find myself completely bowled over by the object that lies within.
In 2008 a work called Toy elephant was required for the touring exhibition Gallery Ark. Our record for the work was incomplete at the time, so, one afternoon I took myself off to storage with my trusty tape measure and camera along with a worksheet and pencil to take down particulars.
I was expecting no more than a business as usual experience, however, the cleverly balanced manufacture and overwhelming charm of this piece left me smiling for hours.
Toy elephant was written into the National Gallery of Victoria’s stockbook in July 1980. At the time of its acquisition little was known about it beyond the inscribed patent year and that it was ‘probably American’. Fortunately, serendipity was onside (and internet explorer online) when Toy elephant was re-catalogued twenty-eight years later.
A few moments of searching produced an identical piece offered for sale on a popular auction site. The vendor had owned their elephant since 1978 and the advertisement included a detailed description and several photographs. The inscription on their elephant matched our example and so it seemed likely that the two pieces were by the same maker. Further research confirmed that the Connecticut manufacturer Ives and Blakeslee were well known for their cast iron toys, including animals with moving parts. With a bit more sleuthing we were able to track down the company’s history and bring our record for this work up to date. Meanwhile the elephant offered for sale was sold and while its new owner is unknown, it’s nice to know that our splay footed, wobbly legged Toy elephant, with its dinky string tail and swivelling trunk, has at least one sibling out there somewhere.
You can see Toy elephant on display 31 March 2012 – 3 February 2013 in the Kids Space on the ground floor of NGV International as part of An Excellent Adventure; a dedicated kids exhibition designed to complement the themes of our more grown up Winter Masterpieces exhibition Napoleon: Revolution to Empire.
Exhibition: Napoleon: Revolution to Empire 2 June – 7 October 2012