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

<a href=”http://www.bloglovin.com/blog/2670079/?claim=m2ps26p5wk5″>Follow my blog with Bloglovin</a>





Envelope Finds Lost Letter After 164 Years

25 11 2013

My father is a very keen collector of old postage stamps, letters and envelopes, some of them dating as early as the 1617. Dad often likes to show me, especially if he has found something exciting or of great interest. On this particular evening he wanted to show me an envelope he had acquired from eBay.

Front of the envelope

Front of the envelope

The envelope was very small with two post marks, one from Paris with a date of 9th July 1850, and another from Darlington. The envelope also had a red wax seal on the back, with what looked like some sort of coat of arms or family crest.

Back of the envelope & seal

Back of the envelope & seal

In beautiful hand writing the envelope was addressed to: Mr Dent, Streatlam Castle, Barnard Castle

Dad wondered who Mr Dent was? We know that sadly Streatlam Castle is no longer there any more as it was demolished in 1927 and later blown up in a training exercise by the Territorial Army. However, it was owned for much of the 19th century by John Bowes, one of the founders of our Museum.

Streatlam Castle

Streatlam Castle

My father believed that a Mr Dent worked for John Bowes, but did not realise at the time that Streatlam Castle was indeed one of John Bowes’ homes, so we were left wondering if this Mr Dent, named on this envelope was actually the Mr Dent that worked for John Bowes.

As I have recently gained employment at the Museum I said that I would try and find out. I also thought it was a great shame that the letter was missing. The next day I went into work and contacted our Archivist, Judith Phillips. She invited me up to the Library and Archives as she believed that the envelope could be connected to The Bowes Museum, and she may be able to find evidence of the missing letter in the Archives.

I had only ever been shown the Library and Archives on my induction day, so when I arrived up there on the agreed day, I could not keep away from the windows as the view is magnificent and it is so peaceful up there. When Judith finally had my attention, we worked out from the post marks that it was sent from Paris on 9th July 1850 and arrived in Barnard Castle 3 days later.  We then checked the Archive catalogue and found the folder of letters John sent in 1850. Next we checked the word-processed transcripts and found a letter written on 8th July 1850. The following letter is dated a few days later and it turned out to be the missing letter! I could not believe it. With the click of a few buttons and the sheer skill of our Archivist and her volunteers’ work, we found a letter written by John Bowes that had had no envelope for 164 years.

John Bowes' letter

John Bowes’ letter

The letter continued

The letter continued

Judith has given me a photocopy of the letter and a transcript for my Dad and the Museum now has a photocopy of the envelope. My father was really pleased. He has since visited the Museum for the first time in years and he really enjoyed it and he will definitely be visiting again.  He has also found out that Mr Ralph Dent worked for John Bowes for 30 years.

This has been very interesting for me and my father. It’s a great example of how our Archives can work, and my father is really pleased that he has something special in his own collection.

By Caroline Nilsson, Customer Service Assistant





Conservation of Turner’s ‘Lowther Castle – Evening’ Week 2

14 11 2013

The removal of the thick varnish layer continues to make a huge difference to the look of the painting, revealing the original colours and some lost details that Turner originally painted. It is also showing that there is quite a lot of wear and some small damages too, which may have been caused by it being on a castle wall for a long time. It’s also possible that this painting may have been treated unkindly by people working on it in the past. Turner used lots of different techniques. The photos show how dramatic the change to the painting is, and also some of Turners original intentions for this piece. We can see that the painting is more about light and atmosphere than detail.

The thinning of varnish has uncovered areas of the painting that are more challenging, particularly in the darker brown areas. In some places it becomes difficult to determine where past restoration finishes and Turner begins. This means I will need to do some more analysis on these particular areas, in order to gain information that will help us treat the painting with the care it deserves.

There is still some varnish on the sky and the mid-ground which I will continue to clean while deciding the best course of action for the sensitive areas. The details of the castle are coming through nicely with the removal of the obscuring varnish. We can also see that the painting looks as though it was painted on a pleasant summer’s evening, which was not as evident when I first starting treating it.

We had some more attention from a local newspaper, The Teesdale Mercury, which will hopefully help inform more people on what we’re doing with this painting.

Interview with the Teesdale Mercury

Interview with the Teesdale Mercury

For now, I will continue to make progress under the watch of the public, and from the cabinet of stuffed birds sitting just behind the painting!

By Jon Old, Conservation Manager





Nostalgia and memories of Laura Ashley fashion by Caroline Peacock

11 11 2013

I was a girl in my early twenties in London when the first Laura Ashley shop in London opened.  From tiny premises in Pelham Street, South Ken, it soon needed more space and moved to the Fulham Road, and it was there that I bought my first dress, probably in 1970.  Now, after some ups and downs in the intervening years, the worst of which was Laura Ashley’s death following a fall downstairs on her 60th birthday, I learn that in Elstree the chain has opened its first boutique hotel!  Actually, not so ’boutique’ as it has nearly 50 rooms, but dressed throughout in Laura Ashley furnishings.

A turquoise and white full-length cotton Laura Ashley dress with a Ram and Pelican pattern and puffed long sleeves, stand up collar, tie belt, flounce at hem. Early 1970s

A turquoise and white full-length cotton Laura Ashley dress with a Ram and Pelican pattern and puffed long sleeves, stand up collar, tie belt, flounce at hem.
Early 1970s

For me, though, much though I like the Laura Ashley homewares ‘look’, it is the dresses from the early 70s, long before the furnishing fabrics were produced, that really capture the spirit of the company.  When those lovely frocks with their flowing ankle-length skirts, flounced at the hem and produced in a huge range of sweet prints, were launched they came as such a breath of fresh air.  Late 60s and early 70s fashion had ended up in something of a cul-de-sac because hotpants couldn’t get any shorter, bell bottoms couldn’t get much wider, collars couldn’t become any more exaggerated, prints couldn’t be any more eye-poppingly psychedelic and big hair certainly couldn’t get any more absurd.  And then what?  Laura Ashley broke on the London scene with something so completely different, so pretty, so romantic and – by some standards – so primly charming, that wearing Laura Ashley was suddenly the height of being ‘with it.’

A pale green and white full-length cotton Laura Ashley dress with a large floral and fruit print. Designed with puffed long sleeves, stand up collar, flounce at hem. The tie belt in pale green silk velvet and covered buttons from neck to waist were added by Caroline

A pale green and white full-length cotton Laura Ashley dress with a large floral and fruit print. Designed with puffed long sleeves, stand up collar, flounce at hem. The tie belt in pale green silk velvet and covered buttons from neck to waist were added by Caroline

 

When in 1973, though, I got married – in a green Laura Ashley dress – and moved to live in County Durham, I discovered that the London fashions had definitely not penetrated as far as the north east!  I found I was seen as an exotic import.  I’m told people even began to wonder whether my long skirts (not always Laura Ashley, which I kept for best) concealed some terrible leg problem, since I wore them for everything from shopping to gardening to walking the dog.  I didn’t care; wearing a Laura Ashley dress out to lunch or supper was fun and made me feel good.  And that, to be honest, is still the feeling I get when I walk into the Bowes Museum’s current Laura Ashley exhibition, where 90 lovely cheerful dresses, five of them mine, are on display.  In fact to judge from the comments in the gallery book, they make other people feel good too – and for any fashion designer that’s some legacy.

Caroline, her father and her best friend on her wedding day, 1973

Caroline, her father and her best friend on her wedding day, 1973

Caroline and her father on her wedding day, 1973

Caroline and her father on her wedding day, 1973

By Caroline Peacock, Chairman of Friends of The Bowes Museum





Conservation of Turner’s ‘Lowther Castle – Evening’

8 11 2013

The Conservation of The J.M.W. Turner Oil Painting

Lowther Castle: Westmoreland, the Seat of

the Earl of Lonsdale: North-West View  from

Ulleswater Lane; Evening, c.1809-1810

The reason for cleaning the painting is that it is covered in a layer of natural varnish that has become very discoloured and dark, hiding the true colours and intention of Turner’s picture. By removing the varnish we hope to bring it back to something like the painting Turner made in 1810, though it will never be exactly as the day it was painted due to the paint aging.

Tuesday was spent carrying out in depth documentation, including photography, of the painting. The photographs we took showed that there are lots of small areas of over paint from earlier conservation. This paint covers small damages, paint losses and areas of abrasion. These may have been caused by the painting living in a damp castle for a long time. As it is over 200 years old it is bound to have had some ‘cuts and bruises’ in its life. Previously we have had some chemical analysis carried on the paint by Northumberland University so we know it is save to clean.

Detail, cleaning test centre

Detail, cleaning test centre

I began cleaning it on Wednesday and started by carrying out small tests all over the picture. The varnish is so dark that it is both an exciting and yet daunting prospect as it is difficult to ‘read’ the painting underneath.  Hence I have taken lots of notes and photographs as I went along. So far I have cleaned off a thin layer of surface dirt from the varnish which needs to come off to allow the solvent to dissolve the varnish.

I have cleaned a strip along the left edge which shows what a huge difference the painting will look when it is cleaned. I can see the blues and light greens in the sky and background coming out and Turner’s atmospheric vision appearing.

Painting, during cleaning

Painting, during cleaning

Tyne Tees are coming today so I hope we get a bit of coverage on the TV.

By Jon Old, Conservation Manager 07/11/2013





‘How To Hide A Lion’ children’s exhibition

5 11 2013

As Keeper of Fine Art I love working at The Bowes Museum but as a mummy I love nothing more than snuggling up with my little girl and reading her a bedtime story. One of my daughter’s favourite books is Helen Stephens’  ‘The Big Adventure of the Smalls’. It is a wonderful story full of fun and adventure. Helen Stephens’ beautiful illustrations which are inspired by the grand architecture of The Bowes Museum and its magnificent collections really bring the story alive.

Sally & Paul Small from 'The Big Adventure of the Smalls'

Sally & Paul Small from ‘The Big Adventure of the Smalls’

I was incredibly excited when I heard that we were going to have an exhibition of Helen’s books and illustrations at the Museum. Helen has written a number of other wonderful books which my daughter also loves.

Making a penguin from 'The Night Iceberg'

Making a penguin from ‘The Night Iceberg’

The exhibition ‘How to Hide a Lion’ opened on 26 October so I rushed along with my daughter to take a look. The exhibition is great for any budding young storytellers, artists or illustrators out there as it traces the development of Helen’s books from an initial idea through to the finished book. The drawings in Helen’s books are full of life and have so many small details that my daughter and I love to pick out when we read the stories.  I especially loved looking at Helen’s sketchbooks, which she takes everywhere with her. You can see how the characters in her books have developed from the first drawing she made in her sketchbook through to the final illustrations.

You can have your photo taken with the lion

You can have your photo taken with the lion

There are lots of fun activities to try in the gallery. My daughter enjoyed sitting at the banquet table and hosting a feast just like the one in ‘The Big Adventure of the Smalls’ and making a penguin inspired by ‘The Night Iceberg’. There are also lots of other fun things to do including a ‘How to Hide a Lion’ trail, light box drawing, dressing up.

Recreating the banquet from 'The Big Adventure of The Smalls'

Recreating the banquet from ‘The Big Adventure of The Smalls’

My daughter and I were lucky enough to come along to one of the storytime events that are being held during the exhibition. The education team read ‘Fleabag’ and my little girl was mesmerised.  She loved taking part in the accompanying craft activity and now has her very own fleabag and house to keep him in.

Making Fleabag and his house

Making Fleabag and his house

I’d highly recommend the exhibition which is on until 9 February 2014 as it will certainly keep the kids amused on a cold and wet winter’s day. I even managed to get a head start on my Christmas shopping as I’ve purchased copies of Helen’s books for friends and family from the Museum Shop.

By Emma House, Keeper of Fine Art





If you go down to the Bowes today, you’re sure of a big surprise…

18 07 2013

Summer holidays are calling! And with the opening of new permanent exhibition Dolls, Bears & Robots, look no further than The Bowes Museum for a fun day out for the whole family.

Created in collaboration with partner museum Beamish, the new displays take a colourful and charming look at the history of children’s toys and games from the 19th century to the present day. It’s sure to fascinate and delight minds young and old!

Chipperfields circus

Chipperfields circus

The eponymous dolls, bears and toy robots take pride of place across several display cases. Dolls come in all shapes, sizes and costumes; from the rudimentary early 19th century ‘table leg’ dolls, carved with love by a family member, to those with angelic porcelain heads and fine dresses, complete with delicate lace trimmings, even brooches and pendants!

Doll

Doll

There are more unusual pieces too – a demure nun doll with her rosary (a far cry from the modern-day Barbie!), dolls with moulded wax head and hair and some vibrantly-coloured Italian ‘Lenci’ (felt dolls).

Naturally, doll accommodation is not overlooked. The exhibition has four dollhouses, including a remarkable Tudor House (an 1825 recreation of the home of Henry Norreys – soldier and son of a courtier to Henry VIII) and an early 20th century house fully-furnished with faux-marble busts on the fireplace, a fur rug in the bedroom and meat, milk and jam on the kitchen table. There are also beautiful examples of miniature furniture displayed in their own right. My favourites were a tiny monogrammed trunk, a luxurious silver toilette table and a table and chair set made entirely of feathers!

Contrasting with the domestic focus of the dolls and dollhouses (most designed for girls’ use), the ‘toys for boys’ reveal a very different destiny. Lead soldiers with a castle to defend, a building block set decorated with images of grand buildings and board games with ambitious titles. It’s not hard to guess the careers in store for the youngsters who received games such as ‘The Little Accountant’ and ‘The New Game of Stock Exchange’!

Marching band

Marching band

The bear showcase has a selection of bears of different gender, size and dress put into context with two heart-warming stories around the development of their production: that of Theodore Roosevelt (the original ‘Teddy’) and Margarete Steiff. The adjoining showcase explores the impact of the film and television era on the production of toys and the development of merchandising, using well-loved characters such as Mickey Mouse, Felix the Cat, Bagpuss and Muffin the Mule as examples.

Muffin, Felix, Teddy

Muffin, Felix, Teddy

If you prefer your toys less furry and more futuristic, the robots won’t disappoint! From Lilliput – the very first robot toy, with wind-up walking mechanism – through to a menacing toy Cyberman and even R2D2. The robots are complemented by some wonderful examples of clockwork toys in the neighbouring case. There’s a natural focus on transport – a German-made ‘Tut Tut’ car, a clockwork speedboat, even a Victorian lady on roller skates. Not to mention the marvellous musical clockwork objects, of which the ‘kiddyphone’ – a diminutive gramophone poised to play Rule Britannia – is a lovely example.

Robot

Robot

The dolls, bears and robots are certainly a winning combination. But don’t just take my word for it, take a trip to the Museum and see for yourself!

Want more reasons to visit? Remember that there’s free entry for children under 16, and Dolls, Bears & Robots is housed in a special child-friendly room, complete with some handling examples of wind-up and spinning toys for something a bit more interactive.

Do you have a favourite from the exhibition? We’d love to hear! Get in touch with comments and photos on Twitter and Facebook.

By Lorna Urwin, Marketing Volunteer








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.