AT Salisbury Museum, Theresa Whitfield’s drawings in ‘Lace: An Unexpected Look’ are certainly as advertised.

They have an astonishing impact: at first you almost believe you are looking at the real thing: yet not quite, because they are too accurate.

So clinical and precise is their execution, they almost remind me of images from an electron microscope.

Reality indeed, but filtered through a mechanical interface. This may well have been Whitfield’s intention. Using pen and ink, she has not allowed herself a single expressive stroke, meticulously replicating each turn of the thread.

The show tells the interesting story behind the Downton Lace she has worked from; indeed there are a few souls who keep the lace-making tradition alive.

The drawings must have taken hours to produce and the prices at around £1,500 reflect that.

I was certainly impressed but very soon reflected that an alternative ‘drawing’ process has been available for nearly two hundred years and was invented here in Wiltshire.

William Henry Fox Talbot experimented with photography at Lacock in the 1830s and while researching his process he exposed light-sensitive papers to the sun, making shadow pictures from objects placed on top.

These objects included pieces of lace, and the images have become some of our oldest photographic artefacts.

These days we still make such images and call them photograms. Some light will pass through thin material so it’s possible to create images with a range of tones, not just solid black and white.

Photograms have the advantage of reproducing both subtle folds in gathered material, and the feathering of a frayed edge.

This is something that Whitfield’s drawn images cannot do, and impressive though they are, I know deep down there is an easier, and better, way to set about the task she has taken on.

I never pay to visit Salisbury Museum because I have an Art Fund pass. For a family this costs less than £100 a year and gives free entry to a number of museums including Salisbury.

It also offers 50 per cent reductions at some major art galleries.

The Art Fund exists to help museums and galleries buy art or to prevent artworks leaving the country, and the subscription helps pay for that.

What I most admire about the way it is managed is that quality is always the priority (they seem to be good judges) yet there is no favouritism for periods or styles.

Recent financial support has been given for Titian’s ‘Diana and Callisto’ at the National Galleries of Scotland and to Rachel Whiteread’s ‘Tree of Life’ on the facade of the Whitechapel.

Martin Urmson

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