Cleaning the Baroque to the Neo-Classical

26 07 2014

The time has come again for the carpets and upholstered furniture in the Baroque, Chinoiserie and Rococo room (Room 12), and the Neo-Classical room (Room 11) to be surface cleaned. Having historic objects on open display allows them to be enjoyed by the public, but also means that over time dust settles on the surfaces. The front of house staff regularly clean the wooden furniture, but the textiles require more specialist attention.

 

Room 12: Baroque, Chinoiserie & Rococo

Room 12: Baroque, Chinoiserie & Rococo

 

To state the obvious, having dusty objects is visually distracting, the fine weaving or embroidery is obscured, and the bright colours are dulled. Dust is also damaging for the textiles, becoming ingrained in their surfaces, and increasingly difficult to remove. Dirty surfaces can attract pests, and cleaning is a good opportunity to study each object in detail, looking for signs of damage and deterioration, or insect activity. But over-ambitious cleaning can remove more than just dust, fragile textile surfaces can become powdery, so the balance must be struck between removing the dust, and not damaging the textiles beneath.

 

Detail from Ven Den Bergh suite

Detail from Ven Den Bergh suite

 

This detail of tapestry chair cover from the Van Den Bergh suite, shows a wolf disguised as a shepherd. The layer of dust that has settled on its surface disguises the vivid colours, the pale cream colour of the sky, and bright red shepherds coat.

 

Curatorial Assistant Rosie cleaning the Van den Bergh suite

Curatorial Assistant Rosie cleaning the Van den Bergh suite

 

We surface clean with a specialist museum vacuum, with adjustable suction. The end of the nozzle is covered with fine muslin, allowing us to check how much dust is being removed, and if any fibres are being lost. Cleaning is slow and systematic, working thoroughly over the textile surfaces, and taking great care around the gilded wood, which is very fragile.

 

Katy, Textile Conservator

Katy, Textile Conservator

 

The results are good, and the appearance of the furniture has been much improved. We’ll monitor the dust levels in this room, and aim to clean the furniture again in another 6 months time. We’ve also highlighted a few objects in need of conservation, so I’ve added these to my ever-expanding list of things to do.

By Katy Smith, Textile Conservator

 

 

 

 





By means of introduction…

23 07 2014

I’m Katy, the new Textile Conservator at the Museum. I am here for 3 years, funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. I originally trained as a ‘general’ conservator, meaning that I worked on ceramics, glass, painted surfaces, archaeological objects, paper, metal, you name it. I later specialised in textiles conservation, training at the Victoria & Albert Museum, where I worked for several years.

 

Katy

Katy

I’m excited to be up North, and at The Bowes Museum, where we’ve got a fantastic collection of textiles and costume that I can’t wait to get my hands on. It’s been a little while since the Museum had a textile conservator on the team. I’ll be here to work on several projects:

 

  • A complete redisplay of the Fashion & Textile Gallery: Working alongside the curator and assistant curator of textiles, we’ll go through the collection, picking out items for display. I’ll assess each piece of textile or costume for its conservation needs, carry out the necessary work, and then mount it ready for installation in the gallery. We’ve already got a few great finds from the museum stores, and I’ll be sharing them with you as we go along, and showing you in more detail what textiles conservation involves.
  • Loans: The Bowes Museum loans textile objects to other museums and institutions, both nationally and internationally. This is a great chance for us to show off what we’ve got, allowing people to see our objects who can’t necessarily make it all the way to Barnard Castle. When loan requests are made to the museum, I’ll be checking if the objects are fit to travel and display, carrying out conservation work, packing them for transit, and helping to install them at the loan venue.
  • Displays: Aside from the permanent display in the Fashion & Textile Gallery, we have a space for changing exhibits. We’re currently showing a couple of items of costume from a collection that tie in with the centenary of the start of the First World War – including a Northern Cyclists Battalion tunic and a leather handbag bought in Newcastle the day the war broke out.
  • Collections Care: We have several galleries of furniture on open display. I’ll be responsible for the care and conservation of all of the textile components, this includes carpets, upholstered furniture, tapestries, and the iconic bed, owned by Joséphine Bowes.

 

Luckily I won’t be doing all of this single-handed. Thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund, I’ll be taking on 2 textile conservation interns to help. The applications are currently open, and we should be welcoming them in early October.

 

By Katy Smith, Textile Conservator





Conservation Work Needed on the 15th Century Altarpiece

19 07 2014

The 6 painted wings of the 15th century Flemish Altarpiece by the Master of the View of Sainte Gudule are in a remarkable state of preservation given their age. Considering they were made some 600 years ago they retain most of their original paint and intensity of colour. However, they are on oak panels which expand and contract as the humidity changes around them, causing some flaking of the paint. So while Rupert McBain will be restoring and conserving the carved elements of the altarpiece if we are successful in reaching our crowdfunding target on Art Happens, I will be conserving the flaking paint that has developed over the last few years. Several small areas are quite severe (see below) and will have to be treated soon. There is evidence of older repairs where the panel has suffered some damages in the past.

It will be interesting to do a full technical examination and to understand the techniques of the artist and materials used. There appear to be areas of underdrawing, see hands of the figure below,  which have not been completed. Why this is so is a matter for speculation at present.

I’m really looking forward to getting the panels into the studio to give them a close examination, though some of the characters look pretty intimidating!

 

Area of flaking paint on the arm of the guard

Area of flaking paint on the arm of the guard

 

Detail of flaking paint

Detail of flaking paint

 

By Jon Old, Conservation Manager





Skills for the Future

19 07 2014

We are pleased to announce that we will be hosting conservation interns on paid placements from October 2014. Thanks to generous funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and with the support of the Institute of Conservation, we will host 3 interns per year, for the next 5 years. One placement will be in paintings conservation, the other two in textiles conservation. The internships will last 12 months, with a bursary of £16,000 for each student.

The paintings intern will work alongside an experienced paintings conservator on items from the Museum’s fantastic collection, preparing paintings for display in the galleries, and loan to other institutions.

Paintings Conservator, Jon Old

Paintings Conservator, Jon Old

The textile interns will work alongside the new Textiles Conservator, in close collaboration with the Textiles and Fashion department on the Museum’s wide ranging collection, including textiles, costume and accessories, tapestry, upholstery, and toys. The long-term project is the complete redisplay of the Fashion & Textiles Gallery, although we will also be working on short-terms loans out of the Museum, small changing displays within the galleries, and maintenance of objects in the stores, and on open display.

Moving the Agra carpet in the Music Room

Moving the Agra carpet in the Music Room

 

The interns will be encouraged to further their development with visits to other conservation studios, attending lectures and conferences, and will be encouraged to publish and present their work, while building up their conservation portfolios.

For more information, look at our Jobs page.

Apply directly via the Icon website. The closing date for applications is 6th August 2014.

By Katy Smith, Textiles Conservator

 





‘A Moorland Road’ by Sir Charles Holmes

8 05 2014
 ‘A Moorland Road’ by Sir Charles Holmes

‘A Moorland Road’ by Sir Charles Holmes

In 1937, the Art Fund purchased ‘A Moorland Road’ by Sir Charles Holmes and presented it to The Bowes Museum. It was the first work to be acquired by the Museum through the Art Fund.

But what does this artwork have to do with the National Gallery’s painting by Manet ‘The Execution of Maximilian’ that is currently on display at The Bowes Museum?

During World War I, the art critic Roger Fry, told his friend the economist Maynard Keynes about a sale of impressionist works from the collection of the artist Edgar Degas, who had recently died. And so, as the War continued to rage in the trenches of Flanders and northern France, Keynes and the then Director of The National Gallery, Sir Charles Holmes, caught a boat train to Boulogne and travelled by train to Paris with £20,000 in French banknotes.  Aware that the French would be reluctant to sell to a British bidder and to preserve their anonymity, Holmes shaved off his moustache and adopted a faux French accent. As the auction began, Paris was rocked by the sound of German shells. Some bidders fled, prices tumbled, and Holmes and Keynes were able to secure some real bargains. One of those bargains was Manet’s ‘Execution of Maximilian’, which had been cut up after Manet’s death and partially reassembled by Degas.

If Sir Charles Holmes the artist who painted our wonderfully tranquil ‘A Moorland Road’ hadn’t travelled to Paris during the War it is unlikely we would be able to display the ‘Execution of Maximilian’ today.

By Emma House, Keeper of Fine Art

 





‘Shafts of Light: Mining Art in the Great Northern Coalfield’ installation

2 05 2014

We have had a great first week installing our next exhibition ‘Shafts of Light: Mining Art in the Great Northern Coalfield’ which is curated by Gillian Wales and Dr Robert McManners and opens on 17 May.

One of the first works to go up was Stephen Hannock’s breathtaking ‘Northern City Renaissance’. This beautiful painting celebrates both Newcastle and Gateshead’s glorious industrial heritage, iconic architecture and their regeneration.

Stephen Hannock's breathtaking 'Northern Renaissance"

Stephen Hannock’s breathtaking ‘Northern City Renaissance’

This monumental painting arrived in three sections, the largest of which only just squeezed into the building with centimetres to spare. Our wonderfully skilled art handlers then had to reassemble the three pieces with millimetre precision, before hanging it on the wall. Come along and find out more about the region’s coal mining heritage or just marvel at the Sage and the Angel of the North in Stephen Hannock’s wonderful landscape.

Installation of 'Northern Renaissance'

Installation of ‘Northern City Renaissance’

 

By Emma House, Keeper of Fine Art

 





Conservation of Turner’s ‘Lowther Castle – Evening’ Week 3

9 12 2013

Thursday 21st of November was the last day of cleaning the Turner in the Gallery! It has been interesting being viewed through a window, and slightly disconcerting as I felt as if I was in a theatre production.

During the cleaning of the painting it has become obvious that the picture is even more complex than I had thought. There are old damages, and some repairs and retouchings are quite hard to read.  The sky is now being thinned down and some of the areas of varnish will be left alone, as different areas of the painting seem to react in very different ways. Turner’s technique is very varied and he rarely painted two paintings in the same way. I have also partially cleaned the trees, while revealing the fully cleaned background behind them.

The painting is now back in the Conservation Studio where we have better lighting conditions and the use of a microscope. This means I can start to carry out more complex processes that aren’t entirely suitable for the Gallery.

Jon examines the painting in the Conservation Studio

Jon examines the painting in the Conservation Studio

I have taken more samples to send to the lab, and I am continuing to research other works by Turner from around the same time period to compare with this one. This will help me when it comes to tackling the more challenging areas of this interesting painting and with the necessary retouching.

I hope to have the project complete by the end of March.

By Jon Old, Conservation Manager

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