Blog Archives

Painting Conservation

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.Test cleans on the Martyrdom of Laurence Saunders at Coventry

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.

Detail of cleaned areas on the Martyrdom of Laurence Saunders at Coventry

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.

Jill Irving


Painting Conservation

More on Cope’s ‘Martyrdom of Laurence Saunders at Coventry.’

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

Painting Conservation

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.

%d bloggers like this: