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Caroline, Conservator, Australian National Maritime Museum

Hello, my name is Caroline, I’m the conservator worker with the Charles Darwin exhibition, and this paintbox that we’re putting on display here has a very interesting history.

This paintbox belonged to John Lort Stokes who was a gentleman traveller who went on the Beagle expedition.

So within this little box here, simple as it looks, it just meant that we’re seeing a whole change in the revolution of art and painting and the ability for artists to work quickly out in the field.

Prior to the 19th century painters has to prepare their own paints by mixing them and grinding them from the actual raw materials, or their apprentices would. They had to fill up pigs’ bladders to the size of sausages and carry these things around as the manner in which they would access their paints out in the field, so, when the Industrial Revolution came along it meant that manufacturers could actually press the pigments and the gum arabic that make up the water colour paint into little blocks and put them in a box like this. And that meant that the gentleman traveller who could afford to buy such a thing as this which was averagely priced, it meant that he could travel in the field, on ships and record the images that he was seeing in his travels.

They had the option of just drawing with pencils or with pen and ink which was possibly going to be very messy when they’re on the high seas and they might be wanting to paint a landscape of the South American continent for example, whereas, if they had this little box just sitting on their lap they could have a little bit of water in the tray, that wasn’t going to make a big mess and the paintbrushes are in here, and it meant that everything was very compact and accessible, and using watercolor paints rather than ink or even oil paints which were the more traditional form up to this time, it just mean you can get a very quick wash and a sense like taking a quick snapshot.

Well, in this case, we borrowed this from the National Maritime Museum in London and it’s in beautiful condition, it’s as new and I haven’t really needed to do anything with it at all, which is very good. We don’t like to do a lot of intervention with any of our objects, because even if they’re in a poor condition that basically reflects the history of the object. So what I would do is to try and stabilise an object, very minimally and invisibly rather than retouch or basically restore the object, we don’t like to do that. Every object has its own story.