As part of my internship with Print Quarterly, I was asked to go to the print study room at British Museum. This involved the exciting task of investigating a particular collection of nineteenth-century prints. I hadn’t been to this Museum since starting at UCL, (which is fairly shocking considering it is just round the corner), so this felt like a particularly creative reason and opportunity to go.
After making myself acceptable to enter the print room, (i.e. taking minimum ‘hand luggage’ – something I often struggle with! and remembering pencils over pens, along with no coats), I was promptly greeted by one of the print specialists asking what I would like to see. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I was definitely surprised when the catalogues I was after were found so quickly. Prints were stored in books, binding and catalogues that lined each of the walls and even remained impressive in the face of scaffolding currently dominating the room’s entrance.
The print study room was certainly austere; a very serious and strict place to study. Yet any sense of distance and restriction soon faded away when I saw the catalogues. I looked through eight stocky, and beautifully presented, catalogues to find out whether – and how – Chinese subjects had been represented within them. Only having seen nineteenth-century prints online, it felt wonderful to see the prints up close and in my own time. The careful details, not only of the political caricatures themselves, but in the calligraphic writing that decorated and informed their perimeters were beautifully crafted, and yet not always ‘perfect’, which added to the playful characters of the prints. This has to be the best experience I have had at the British Museum so far.