Summer & Fall 2015: Michael C. Carlos Museum
This project began in June 2015 during an internship with the Michael C. Carlos Museum the summer before my final year as an undergraduate student at Emory University. I spent two months cataloguing the museum’s collection of Rops’s prints and drawings, using catalogues raisonnés—systematic, annotated lists of all known works by an artist—on loan from the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, and I researched Rops’s biography and artistic career using a range of secondary sources. Little has been published about Rops outside of France and Belgium—he exhibited in no individual shows during his lifetime and devoted scant energy to self-promotion1—so many of these texts are in French.
I soon realized I could use my summer research to develop an online exhibition over the course of the academic year. The project immediately posed several challenges, however, due in part to the unreliable or conflicting nature of some of the available information on Rops and his body of work at Emory and online. Early in my research I discovered many discrepancies between catalogue entries, which often offer contradictory plate and print measurements, media classifications, or descriptions of state. Some of these differences may stem from Rops’s experimental approach to printmaking, in which the artist would reproduce an etching or a drawing in a photochemical process such as heliogravure and then retouch the plate with drypoint, etching, or aquatint before reprinting. This practice could account for some differences in recorded measurements and media, given that plate size, inked surface area, and technique might vary from one reproduction to another.
January 2016: Research Travel Grant to France and Belgium
Hoping to resolve or at least further investigate some of the questions raised by Rops’s prints and artistic techniques, I applied for an Independent Research Grant through the Scholarly Inquiry and Research at Emory Program, or SIRE, to support a trip to France and Belgium in early January 2016. Accompanied by Andi McKenzie—a PhD candidate in Emory’s Art History Department, the Carlos Museum’s assistant curator of works on paper, and my project supervisor—I flew into Paris to see an exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay called Splendour and Misery: Pictures of Prostitution, 1850-1910, the first major show on nineteenth-century depictions of prostitution, which included numerous pieces by Rops.
Andi and I then traveled to Brussels, where we spent two days in the works on paper archives and reading room at the Royal Library of Belgium. In addition to housing hundreds of Rops’s prints in multiple states, the Royal Library’s enormous collection of the artist’s materials also includes original copper and zinc plates.
After our sojourn in Brussels, Andi and I traveled to Namur, Belgium, the capital of the country’s French-speaking region of Wallonia and Rops’s hometown. There we met with Véronique Carpiaux, the curator of the Musée Félicien Rops, who gave us a tour of the museum and provided the most comprehensive overview of Rops’s life and career I had yet to encounter in my research. After the tour Véronique invited us into her office for coffee; looked through our photographs of the Carlos’s collection, which I had digitized last semester thanks to a grant from Emory’s Center for Digital Scholarship; and offered her opinions regarding the state and legitimacy of the works. She complimented the quality of our collection and was enthusiastic about our project. I then conducted a video interview with her in French in which she discusses her research interests, the goals of the Rops Museum, and various themes in the artist’s work. Overall, this trip was invaluable in advancing my research.
Spring 2016: Curating the Exhibition
Back at Emory, I resumed my training in the open-source web-publishing platform Omeka that I had begun in the fall semester.
Omeka functions similarly to more widely popular platforms like WordPress, offering website templates to help users organize and coherently present their material online. Omeka allows me to both store the Carlos’s digitized Rops images in a publicly accessible, itemized archive and arrange those items into a thematically structured exhibition.
The online exhibition format means that I, as well as new generations of students, can continue to update and reorganize content as part of routine website maintenance. Future students interested in museology and Rops’s body of work in particular can contribute their own research to this preexisting database, and as the first undergraduate to undertake such an online curatorial project at Emory, I hope not only to encourage a continuation of student work on Rops but also to offer an example of one kind of project possible to bring to fruition through engaging the digital humanities.
I am grateful to the Carlos Museum, the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship and in particular Sara Palmer, the SIRE Program, and the Bill and Carol Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry for the resources, opportunities, and intellectual support they have provided for me and my project. Their generosity enabled me to build this exhibition, gain first-hand archival research experience, and pursue various avenues of scholarship, which together have offered me insights into Rops’s artistic processes and techniques, contextualizing him as an artist and deepening my understanding of the Carlos’s collection of prints and its possibilities for online exhibition.
Hannah Rose Blakeley, Exhibition Curator