2015-2016 The Impressionist Gallery, Ashmolean Museum of Art & Archeology, Oxford

Heritage Lottery Fund

After an eight month campaign in 2012, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford saved Manet’s "Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus", 1868, for the public. With lead support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and gifts from The Art Fund and hundreds of individual donors, the painting is now on permanent public display and provided a series of events; the final being to provide a competitive selection for a ‘Digital Artists in Residence’ position for a year.  brook & black were selected and made a work in response to Manet's painting of Fanny Claus, for The Impressionist Gallery.

During this residency brook & black  explored the themes of the life of Fanny Claus (1846–77) who was the closest friend of Manet's wife Suzanne Leenhoff. A concert violinist and member of the first all-women string quartet, Fanny was one of Manet's inner circle of friends . She married the artist Pierre Prins (1838–1913) in 1869 and Manet was a witness at their wedding; but she died of tuberculosis just eight years later at the age of 30, leaving behind her husband and her young son, Lucien Emile Pierre Prins (1870–1945). 

Through the period of  research into the painting brook & black  discovered that Sophie Prins-Gapinski, the great-great granddaughter of Fanny Claus, was living and working as an artist in Paris today.  They arranged to meet with her, to discuss the painting and her family connections to the work. This moving and extraordinary link to the past provided a turning point for the artistss visitors to a contemporary Paris, they were also struck by  the difference between the Paris that would have been viewed from behind Fanny Claus’s balcony and the artists view of contemporary Paris, so troubled at the time of their  visit which took place shortly after the terrorist bomb attack of November 2015.   For the final video work, Sophie was filmed from behind a sheet of glass that she was painting and cleaning to reveal herself alongside scenes of contemporary Paris.  The video screen was framed as a replica of the original painting, and hung in the same gallery.  In addition Sophie became the narrator of her own family history in the sound work, as she reads a true account written by her great-grandfather of the visit he made to Manet's studio with his grief-stricken father shortly after Fanny’s death. It recounts the conversation they had with Manet as they looked at his mother’s portrait.

As in other brook & black works, here they made  a moving sculptural form (the umbrella, acknowledging the belle epoque and Pierre Prins’s family business) to work with the sound and video, to create an installation where looking from one element of the work to another both past and present are evoked, and the audience’s imagination is engaged with the painting, and beyond.

This work was opened as part of White Nights celebratory late night with over 2,000 attendees to the museum.  

In 2017 this work was included as part of Oxford’s Curiosity Carnival which joined 100’s of other European cities in celebrating European Researchers’ Night.

As part of this project brook & black also worked with community groups from MIND and Young Dementia UK.

Link to engagment work

Acknowledgments: The artists would like to thank Dr Xa Sturgis, Director of the Asmolean, Colin Harrison, Tim Payne of Payne Engineering, Senior Curator of European Art, Helen Ward, Education Officer, Nicola Bird and Sarah Mossop,  all who helped us in this residency.