Couriers and Condition Reports: Matisse comes to Brisbane

Couriers from the Musée départemental Matisse, Le Cateau-Cambrésis, and the National Gallery of Australia examine art works alongside Queensland Art Gallery paper conservators | Photography: Mark Sherwood

Welcome to another behind the scenes glimpse of how an exhibition like ‘Matisse: Drawing Life’ is brought together. You may not see the conservation section at work during your visit to the Gallery, but we’re always there looking out for the wellbeing of the art works.

For an exhibition like ‘Matisse: Drawing Life’ our practical input began once the crates were ready to be relieved of their precious cargo (aside from all the months of planning of course). Most of the art works for an international exhibition like this travel with couriers from the lending collections and as the works are taken out of the crates the couriers, usually specialist conservators themselves, and our conservation staff need to check their condition. This is to make sure that they haven’t sustained any damage en route, are in a good and stable condition and are ready to hang on the wall.

A Queensland Art Gallery paper conservator and a courier from the Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Pompidou, condition-reporting art work | Photography: Jocelyn Evans

It is an exciting moment being the first on hand to see these treasures when they are revealed, and then having the chance to examine them so closely, for ‘Matisse’ 292 works have come from international destinations.

Sometimes works of art on paper are sent out unframed and, therefore, require framing at their destination. For this exhibition, unframed works were attached to window mounts using Japanese tissue hinges and a reversible adhesive. Next, the mounted art works were fitted into standard museum frames to be ready for installation.

Gallery paper conservator hinging an art work in the GOMA conservation laboratory | Photography: Liz Wild
Gallery paper technician mounting and framing Matisse art works in the GOMA conservation laboratory | Photography: Liz Wild

At the end of the exhibition’s time here in Brisbane this whole procedure will be repeated to ensure that the works are still in a good, stable condition and are ready for the rigours of travel. In the meantime, conservation keeps a watchful eye over them while they are on display, making sure that they continue in the best condition possible for all to enjoy.

‘Matisse: Drawing Life’ is the most comprehensive exhibition of Henri Matisse’s prints and drawings ever mounted and is only on view at GOMA until Sunday 4 March. Presented in partnership with the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the exhibition has been curated exclusively for GOMA. If you can’t get to the exhibition, the Gallery has produced an accompanying publication so at least you don’t miss out on seeing his drawings.


  1. This exhibition is the most amazing exhibition I have seen, it shows the shapes and context to his drawings

  2. I visited the APT with my scohol art class and I really enjoyed myself. I had never been to an art exhibition before this trip, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Although I was a little unsure to begin with, I very quickly began to appreciate the art pieces. The artists have, no doubt, put a lot of hard work and effort into these pieces, and it has really paid off. One of my favourites was the Elk that was covered with the glass balls. It was creative and extremely different. The other one that I really enjoyed was the string room (Liminal Air). It was such a different experience, walking through the sea of strings. Overall I had a great time. I would recommend the APT to anyone who would like to branch out and experience something new! :)