Author Archives: Jill
More on Cope’s ‘Martyrdom of Laurence Saunders at Coventry.’
Cleaning is progressing well on the picture.
There is a coating of dirt and a yellow/brown discoloured layer obscuring the colours in the painting. The sky has areas of blue and pink, white and grey. The layers are being removed with a suitable solution which leaves the paint surface intact.
Pictured above is the sky with test cleans on the right hand side.
The discoloured layer has a flattening effect. Cleaning has revealed the pinkish-red roofs and spires of Coventry in the background. Details of the brushstrokes also begin to emerge. The distinctive spires above and below are those of St Michael’s, on the left- hand side; Greyfriars in the middle and Holy Trinity on the right of the picture.
The artist, Charles West Cope (1811- 1890) is known as a Victorian painter and etcher of historical, literary and genre subjects. He also painted frescoes at the House of Lords after winning a competition to decorate the Houses of Parliament. He exhibited at the Royal Academy for the first time in 1833. He was born in Leeds and apparently given the name ‘West’ after the American artist Benjamin West. He studied at the Royal Academy and later in Paris.
Cleaning has also begun on the subject of the triptych – Laurence Saunders, a Protestant minister. Saunders was brought to Coventry after his arrest for preaching ‘heresies’. Although Saunders’ church was All Hallows in Bread Street, London he was brought to Coventry and burned there – with others – on the 8th February 1555. His brother, Sir Edward Saunders, was Recorder of Coventry and had spoken out – unsuccessfully- on his behalf.
This is a resumption of my blog after an interval when I was busy with exhibition work.
A little bit of history relating to the picture: Painted in 1851, the picture was exhibited in the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1867. Another label on the reverse relates to an ‘Exhibition of Works of Art’ in Leeds the following year, 1868.
The triptych was previously displayed in the Council Chamber in Coventry Council House. It was taken down in January 2000 for the repainting of the Chamber and was placed in an anteroom. On closer examination it was decided that the condition of the picture was such that it would be advisable to remove it from display and it was subsequently moved to The Herbert Art Gallery & Museum.
The picture had suffered much paint loss along the lower edges and other areas of paint were flaking and in danger of falling off. The reverse of the triptych had been damaged by the activities of a pigeon which according to reports had at one stage entered the Chamber and become trapped.
Emergency conservation carried out involved adhering a protective facing tissue onto the endangered areas of paint:
The damage to the reverse is shown here:
Label relating to Paris Exhibition on reverse of frame:
Jill Irving December 20th
After my last blog which featured Frederick Jackson’s ‘Boats on the Shore’ currently on display for the first time in our accessible store ‘What’s In Store’ I thought I would focus on two works currently undergoing conservation. The works are quite different in subject matter and in scale. This is a brief introduction to two very different pictures!
The first work is the right hand part of a triptych entitled ‘The Martyrdom of Laurence Saunders at Coventry’ by the artist Charles West Cope (1811 – 1890). The frame size is just over four feet in height by just under 10 feet in width (more accurately 124cms x 301cms).
The picture is dated to 1851 and the three pictures that make up the triptych (medium, oil on canvas) depict from left to right: (1) A woman and child at a prison gate; (2) Saunders in his prison cell taking leave of the child and (3) (the painting currently undergoing work) Saunders being led to execution in Coventry. This image can be viewed on the Public Catalogue Foundation’s website. More on the subject matter, this picture – and what happened to it in the next blog.
The picture placed face up on the conservation table. The tissue paper is ’emergency’ treatment to prevent further paint loss in fragile areas on the lower part.
The second much smaller picture ‘Henry V’ (see image below) – artist unknown – is something of a curiosity as we do not have a great deal of information on it. According to our records it is presumed to be a ‘restorer’s’ early replacement of the original commissioned for 5d in 1474. Our picture has been dated c. 1850-1920. The medium is oil on wood panel. There are two test cleans visible left and right, carried out some time in the past. We know that the picture was transferred to The Herbert Art Gallery from St Mary’s Hall before 1974. The picture is being cleaned prior to loan back to St Mary’s Hall. It is approximately 36.5cms x 30cms unframed and the subject is portrayed in profile.
More next time on the removal of surface dirt and/or discoloured varnish and to see if any hidden details emerge.
At the end of last year I filled the areas of loss in the tears on Jackson’s ‘Boats on the Shore’ with a proprietary filler which is easily reversible. (The tears were above the rock on the right.)
I then retouched the areas of filling using dry pigments in a medium. See below:
This work was completed in December 2010.
The frame is in very poor condition and I’ll be working on that in 2011 and re-uniting it with the picture.
After a short break I have continued cleaning ‘Boats on the Shore’ over the past two weeks. The first image shows the picture almost half cleaned and the second shows the two remaining areas to be cleaned.
The picture below shows the cleaning completed. Next week I will begin work on filling the paint losses in the area of the consolidated tears.
After successfully flattening distortions in the canvas using moisture and pressure I have introduced a heat-seal adhesive to consolidate the edges of the tears which are now nicely in alignment.
The picture has now been placed face up and the facing tissue has been carefully removed.
The painting post tear is as follows:
Not much time to spend on ‘Boats on the Shore’ this week…
However, the tears on the painted side of the picture have been protected from further paint loss or damage by adhering strong tissue paper to the affected areas.
The picture can now be placed face down and pressure in the form of small weights applied to flatten any distortions in the canvas. Damp blotting paper and a heated spatula applied locally assists in the flattening and the edges of the tear can be aligned before further treatment.
Back at work after a short break. I have continued with test cleans on ‘Boats on the Shore’ on different areas of the picture to ensure that different pigments react uniformly to the solution – this is not always the case.
It appears that the picture is unvarnished – i.e. there is no surface coating on top of the paint layer. The picture has a dull brownish-yellowish appearance which has the effect of flattening out the colours and it seems that this is caused by the significant layer of surface dirt rather than an aged varnish. Further tests are required to confirm this.
I will be concentrating on the tears in the following weeks…
A shorter progress update this week as I am not solely working on ‘Boats on the Shore’…
I removed the picture from its frame and turned my attention to the paint layer.
I carried out a surface test clean in the sky using a moistened cottonwool swabstick, near the edge of the picture. It is always advisable to commence tests in the most unobtrusive area. In this case the test revealed that there is a significant layer of surface dirt obscuring the colours of the paint. I will do further test cleans on other areas and see how the different pigments react.
This week, after taking a number of photographs, I am writing up my condition report on ‘Boats on the Shore’. The report includes detailed descriptions of both back and front of the picture.
The reverse of the frame has this handwritten label – signed and inscribed in ink:
No 8 Sketch FW Jackson Middleton Junct. Nr Oldham.
The painting is also signed in the lower right corner on the front. The report records details of the damages – the length and shape of the tears, any paint loss, the condition of the paint, the canvas and the adhesion of the paint to the canvas support.
The picture is attached to a wooden stretcher and has eight keys (or wedges) which are used to tighten the canvas if necessary. These can become loose and lodge themselves between the back of the canvas and the stretcher bar causing a bulge visible on the front of the picture. The Jackson has all eight wedges in place but there is some debris in the corners, including an old spider’s web.
As part of the conservation work on the picture the keys will be attached to the stretcher bars to prevent them causing a problem if they become dislodged.