Conservation of Turner’s ‘Lowther Castle – Evening’

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

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