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


Object of the Month – February 2012

Coventry Blitz – General View, 1940,  By Ernest Boye Uden (1911 to 1986)

Coventry Blitz – General View by Ernest Boye Uden (1911 to 1986)

Coventry Blitz – General View
By Ernest Boye Uden (1911 to 1986)

This watercolour painting of Coventry in the Blitz is one of the Herbert’s newest acquisitions. It found its way to us in fairly unusual circumstances. The artist’s daughter got in touch with us from Canada where she now lives, to tell us that this painting was being offered for sale on a website run by an organisation called the Canadian Anglo-Boer War Museum. She was really keen for the Herbert to purchase the work, as she felt strongly that it represents an important event in the city’s history and should be in a museum in Coventry where it could be seen and appreciated by Coventry people.

After a number of communications with the Anglo-Boer War Museum, we reached an agreement with them to buy the painting. Fortunately the sale price was not too high and we were able to use some of the funding we currently have from the Heritage Lottery Fund to purchase works of art on the themes of conflict, peace and reconciliation. This was an ideal use of this funding, as the Herbert’s focus on these themes stems from the experience of Coventry in the Blitz of 1940.

When we first heard about the painting, we didn’t know very much about the artist, but luckily his daughter was able to supply us with some biographical information. We also discovered that the Imperial War Museum has several works by him in their collection.

Ernest Boye Uden (known as Boye Uden to distinguish him from his father Ernest Uden, who was also an artist) was born in 1911 in Peckham in London. He studied at Camberwell School of Art and Goldsmiths College and by 1936 had exhibited work at the Royal Academy. When the Second World War broke out, he joined the Auxiliary Fire Service in London, and was on duty during the air raids on the East End and Docks. He was part of the contingent wetting down St Paul’s Cathedral when it was surrounded by fire.

In 1940 he became an official war artist, attached to the National Fire Service. When Coventry was bombed on the night of 14 November 1940, Uden’s division was sent to the city to support the local fire services. This painting records his view of the three spires as they entered the city. After the war Uden established himself as a successful artist, illustrator and watercolour painter. He was commissioned to produce work for a number of well-known companies, including British Gas, Daimler, Bass, Dunlop, Ferguson Tractors, ICI and the Radio Times. He died in Sudbury in Suffolk in 1986.

The painting has required some work by our conservation team to make it ready for display, including making a new mount for it and framing it. It will be on show for the first time as part of the Warwickshire Watercolours exhibition, at the Herbert between 25 February and 22 July.

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

Object of the month October 2011

Brimley Hill, Devon by Robert Bevan

Brimley Hill, Devon, around 1915
By Robert Bevan (1865 to 1925)

This painting by Robert Bevan was acquired by the Herbert in 1982.

In the 1890s Bevan became a friend of the French Post-Impressionist artist Paul Gauguin, whom he met in Pont Aven in Brittany. At this time, Gauguin had just returned from his first trip to the South Seas and was experimenting with a style of painting which involved the use of simplified colour and flattened clearly outlined shapes. This clearly had a powerful influence on Bevan and a radical and expressive use of strong pure colours became characteristic of his work. One critic, commenting on a painting by Bevan, described ‘a rainbow horse, drawing a crimson plough, followed by a magenta ploughman over a purple field’.

Bevan was a member of the Camden Town Group of Artists which grew out of the Fitzroy Street Group in 1911. He painted many views of London’s horse drawn cabs and cabyards. His work also featured the suburban streets of St Johns Wood and Hampstead and the rural landscapes of Sussex, Somerset and Devon.

Bevan’s first solo exhibitions, in 1905 and 1908, were poorly received and his work was strongly criticised. His contribution to British art was not widely recognized until 1965, the centenary of his birth. In that year the artist’s son published his memoir and organised a series of exhibitions. His work is now found in many museum and gallery collections, including the Tate.

This painting is on display in the Herbert’s Art Since 1900 gallery.

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.

Painting Conservation, Part 8

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.


Add to DeliciousAdd to DiggAdd to FaceBookAdd to Google BookmarkAdd to RedditAdd to StumbleUponAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Twitter

Painting Conservation, Part 7

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.


Add to DeliciousAdd to DiggAdd to FaceBookAdd to Google BookmarkAdd to RedditAdd to StumbleUponAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Twitter

Painting Conservation, Part 6

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.

Facing tissue half-removed from left hand tear after treatment.

The picture has now been placed face up and the facing tissue has been carefully removed.

Jackson: Facing tissue removed.

The painting post tear is as follows:

The right hand side of the Jackson painting post-tear.

Add to DeliciousAdd to DiggAdd to FaceBookAdd to Google BookmarkAdd to RedditAdd to StumbleUponAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Twitter

Painting Conservation, Part 5

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.


Add to DeliciousAdd to DiggAdd to FaceBookAdd to Google BookmarkAdd to RedditAdd to StumbleUponAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Twitter

Painting Conservation, Part 4

Detail showing signature, brush strokes and paint loss on right hand side.

Test clean cotton wool swabs with surface dirt from ‘Boats on the Shore’.
Test clean on sky and sea also showing impasto or raised brush strokes.

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…  


Add to DeliciousAdd to DiggAdd to FaceBookAdd to Google BookmarkAdd to RedditAdd to StumbleUponAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Twitter 

%d bloggers like this: