This page is dedicated to all recent goings-on here in our studio and further afield.
A very curious picture was brought to our studio by a client a few weeks ago. Purporting to be a copy after Nicholaes Maes`s painting of a Lady Dozing, the picture was mounted onto what seemed to be an old stretcher and bearing a thick layer of dirt on its surface. Having been asked to conduct a cleaning test, it soon became obvious that this was in fact a print, which had obviously been doctored to make it appear like an authentic oil on canvas. The difference in value between a print and a period copy requires little explanation.
It is clear that this picture was fabricated with the intention to deceive any well-meaning buyer. Determining exactly how recently the picture was made is extremely difficult, as the tracks of its creator have been incredibly well hidden. The reverse of the painting too, bearing some old scribbled text, was obviously concocted to reel in a buyer seeking some exciting backstory or forgotten provenance.
As is often the case, many pictures are very difficult to judge until examined in the flesh. As accredited conservators, with decades worth of experience, understanding such deceptive techniques is an essential part of our work.
The old saying CAVAET EMPTOR still rings true.
Portrait Conserved for the Foundling Museum's Exhibition
Two handsome grand manner portraits by Enoch Seeman came to the studio recently for conservation so that one of the portraits could then be included in the Foundling Museum's recent exhibition entitled Ladies of Quality & Distinction. On loan from a private collection, this painting was considered by the exhibition's curators to require sensitive conservation treatment before it could be put on display.
The portrait, attributed to the artist Enoch Seeman, depicts Frances, Countess of Winchilsea (c.1690-1745) in her baronial robes. The painting's enormous size, measuring nearly two metres tall, proved no problem for our highly skilled conservators here in the studio. Much of the work undertaken on the picture was the cleaning and removal of surface dirt, consolidating loose paint and sympathetically retouching areas of damage.
As expert conservators of historic frames, we also paid special attention in conserving the painting's highly ornate surround. This included strengthening the structural joints, which over time had loosened and weakened significantly. Once this was achieved, we stabilised the gesso ground and repaired loose plaster decoration and re-gilded damaged areas where necessary.
Once completed, the painting was installed amongst the many other fine pictures of the notable ladies involved with this important charitable institution throughout history. These included works by William Hogarth, Godfrey Kneller, John Vanderbank, Charles Phillips and Thomas Hudson.
Battle of Texel - A Colossal Maritime Conserved
Over the last nine months our studio has been busy conserving and restoring a powerful seventeenth century Dutch Marine. Measuring over one and a half metres tall, and nearly two and a half metres wide, this colossal painting arrived into our studio requiring attention.
Careful removal of the thick yellowed varnish uncovered areas of damage hidden by previous campaigns of restoration. Overzealous overpaint has now been removed revealing the artist's outstanding attention to detail. All other areas of damage have since seen seamlessly retouched, which has finally allowed the painting to appear as a coherent whole once more.
Needless to say, the painting arrived with no attribution and bearing a vague indication as to the precise scene of the battle. As marine specialists, we set about researching both spheres which could tell us more about the picture’s murky history. Comparison to other paintings of the period has confirmed the attribution of this picture to the Flemish marine painter Peter van de Velde (1634-1723/4). Other examples of his work, including those in the Rijksmuseum, exemplify the duskier colours the artist used in capturing tempestuous seas, alongside the precise brushwork in the details of the ships decoration and sailors caught in action. Our research also concluded that this is undoubtedly a depiction of the Battle of Texel (1673). The victorious Dutch Admiral Van Tromp’s flagship the Golden Lion, visible in the foreground, is depicted engaging with British vessels commanded by the notorious Prince Rupert of the Rhine. The English Ship Royal Prince, according to the historical accounts, can be seen on the far right having been separated from the rest of the fleet.
The before and after images make clear the vast amount of work that went into conserving this outstanding marine, the results of which have allowed this picture to visually set sail.
A Dutch Portrait Conserved and Reframed
2019 has been off to a busy start, with preparations for the upcoming BADA fair requiring a great deal of attention alongside our thriving studio.
One recently completed project, of which we were particularly proud, was the conservation and redisplay of a seventeenth century portrait attributed to the Dutch artist Gortzius Geldorp (1553-1618).
The picture had arrived in a nineteenth century lacklustre painted black frame accompanied by a thin gilded slip. To make the most of this relatively austere portrait, we decided to produce an outset Dutch ripple frame in our studio that would enhance the artist's original intentions. This was achieved using highly decorative ebony stained cut moulding.
Sensitive cleaning by our conservators had revealed the warm flesh tones in the sitter's face, details which were completely lost in the painting's previous setting. To achieve a greater unity between picture and frame, the moulding's undercoating of terracotta bole has been allowed to subtly shine through the black staining, which has enhanced the harmony of the picture greatly.
As specialist framers, with vast experience and knowledge of all eras and styles of the fine and decorative arts, we recognise how important and integral frames are in the presentation of paintings. The results speak for themselves.
G F Watts - Sir Galahad
As passionate admirers of the work of George Frederick Watts (1817-1904), in the summer we had the pleasure of conserving and restoring a fine picture belonging to the Watts Gallery in Compton, Surrey, which had recently been presented to them.
Sir Galahad, painted at around 1860-62, is the perfect evocation of the neo-medieval aesthetic that Watts so greatly admired. This small-scale version, perhaps a sketch for the larger canvases that exist in full length format at Harvard, Eton College and in a private collection, was produced under the influence of Burne Jones and Rossetti, with whom Watts had been travelling and working with during this period. Working in a style which came closest to the Pre-Raphaelites, this work is said to have taken inspiration from Tennyson’s poem of the very same subject.
Painted onto a very coarsely grained canvas, the picture entered our studio under a thick and discoloured varnish. Once carefully removed, the true vibrant colouring of the artist soon emerged from the murky shadows. The glistening gothic armour and majestic horse once again play an active part in the scene as Watts had intended.
The picture’s frame, entirely typical of the ‘Watts Frame’ style, required consolidation, cleaning and replacements of broken decoration. As is often the case, delicate details in gesso are susceptible to being snapped off and replaced with poorly executed work or simply painted over in gold to hide the damage. The result of this neglect detracted from the quality of the picture and required serious attention. Replacements were made by making a mould of surviving ornament and recasting in composition.
We are thrilled that the picture is once again on display in the Watts Gallery, in the artist’s former studio no less, surrounded by other celebrated works of this truly great Victorian painter.
Seventeenth Century Marine in the Studio
Marines rarely come larger than this. Measuring in at around one and a half by two and a half meters, this late seventeenth century battle scene is currently undergoing treatment in our conservation studio. As is so often the case with such pictures, damages are found throughout the canvas and especially where the artist has had to make joins between sections of fabric. This picture was supported by an additional layer of canvas in the seventeenth century, so as to stabilise this enormous painting and was then subsequently lined again in the nineteenth century. Only when the thick layers of discoloured varnish are removed can one see the full extent of previous campaigns of restoration. Despite this, most of the fine details of the picture are well preserved. This includes the brilliantly detailed carvings on the various ships’ sterns, often precisely painted in a bright yellow to replicate exuberant gilding. So too are the details of the various figures who can be found engaging in hand to hand combat, firing guns or rowing small boats on the turbulent waves beneath.
As Marine Specialists, we are also undertaking research on the attribution and identification. It goes without saying that it arrived in our studio bearing neither. Fortunately, conservation has potentially revealed the artist’s monogram, along with other details that has helped to reveal the picture’s true identity.
Conserving pictures such as these present great difficulties, yet, nothing is more satisfying that witnessing them emerge once again from their former state.
A New Frame for a Modern Marine
At the beginning of Summer we had the opportunity of conserving and reframing a particularly fine painting by a well-known twentieth century second world war marine artist, whose work if represented at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.
The canvas arrived suffering from the usual ailments, including a particularly yellowed varnish and significant blistering within the pigment layers. It’s modern pine frame no longer complimented the artist’s light atmosphere and Canaletto-esque water, especially once its thick nicotine had been carefully removed.
Taking inspiration from the painter’s colour scheme, we set about constructing a bespoke frame that would elevate the artwork’s presence in its intended setting. This was achieved by increasing the frame’s size, incorporating elements of the older one, and giving it a mottled gilded finish. Layers of light ochre wash, enhanced with waxes, were applied to imbue it with a slightly distressed look, with shells added to the corners to provide a decorative maritime flourish. Finally, an inner slip embellished with 22 carat gold leaf was inserted to bring the picture, shimmering water and all, to life. The results can be seen below.
Follow the link below to read our Winter Newsletter. For the upcoming festive season we have compiled a special Christmas List of pictures that would make the perfect present for any discerning collector. Works include watercolours and drawings by the likes of Albert Goodwin, James Duffield Harding, Edward William Cooke and Ange-Joseph Antoine Roux.
During the autumn months we have been engaged in a considerable amount of conservation work for private clients, a few examples of which we wanted to share with you.
The first being a China Trade portrait of a sea captain’s wife, executed during the nineteenth century, which arrived in a badly degraded state, with a damaged frame. Our initial investigations always begin with a thorough examination under a strong UV light. As illustrated, the darker areas indicated that extensive re-touching had been applied to a great deal of the painting, possibly to hide previous damage. This is particularly noticeable in the darker areas, as these fugitive pigments can be extremely susceptible to overcleaning. Once these were removed during a sensitive and light clean, we proceeded with retouching and varnishing. The painting was once again partnered with its frame, which had also been stabilised, cleaned, repaired, re-gilded and waxed to enhance the overall visual appearance of the artwork.
Finally, we recently completed treatment on an extremely yellowed orientalist picture brought in by a private client. The old varnish, which had been generously applied to the board, had become so discoloured that it resembled tobacco stained honey. Delicate and careful cleaning tests revealed that our specially mixed varnish removers would not disturb the paint later, an important consideration, and thus we decided to go ahead with the complete picture. The transformation is breath-taking. Not only are the minute details of the architecture and stone now visible, but, the picture’s vibrant colours now once again play a part in the composition.
Conservation of an historic Vellum Scroll
We recently had the great pleasure of conserving a very fine illuminated velum scroll dating from the reign of George III. It arrived at our studio, tightly rolled, in its original decorated leather box. With our team of expert works on paper conservators, we first dry cleaned the velum to remove the superficial surface dirt. Next, the manuscript was carefully humidified and pressed to reduce the rolling, so that it could be both safely and handsomely displayed in a deep cut French fold mount. Japanese tissue paper was then attached at the edges to allow the document to be drummed to an acid free foam board.
As experts in frames, we then selected and made a bespoke gilded frame to reflect the document and wax seal’s extravagant design. It was chosen to compliment the private client’s existing Carlo Maratta frames, so that the document could be hung harmoniously alongside other related pieces of historic interest. Special UV glass was also fitted to ensure that the vibrant colouring will be protected from harmful and bleaching sun light.
The beautiful original eighteenth century box, decorated in stamped leather, was also consolidated and repaired. Original leatherwork was reattached to the box which had become detached.
Our studio has been tackling some rather diverse and varied artworks recently. From eighteenth century marines to twentieth century modern art, we have been busy both conserving and restoring paintings of all genres. In some cases, we have also been creating brand new bespoke frames for artworks in need of a visual lift.
The first work, an early nineteenth century Chinese picture of a Tea Party, presented a great challenge. Not only were the vibrant colours of the picture hidden by a thin yellowed varnish, but, large areas of open craquelure were distracting from the overall quality of the picture. This was particularly pronounced in the darker areas, where the bright ground visible through the craquelure produced a very jarring effect. This was reversed with very subtle and delicate retouching, using the point of the brush only, which has allowed the landscape and figures to sit alongside each other more sympathetically.
Secondly, a twentieth century African picture from the Congo came in for treatment a few months ago from a private client. Surprisingly, this work presented a much greater challenge than many of the older pictures that regularly arrive at our studio. Modern paints, mixed medias, matt varnish, applied in a bold manner and with monotone colouring, are more susceptible to damage and wear. They are also much more difficult to retouch, as modern paint can sometimes be more unforgiving than those produced centuries ago. As the canvas came to us without a frame we created a new one from scratch, taking inspiration from the picture itself. The result, as seen below, is extremely pleasing and has elevated the work considerably.
Restoration of a Seventeenth Century Portrait
Having arrived with various tears, losses and a dried out varnish, we set about conserving the picture with the utmost care and consideration. Although the damage was quite considerable in parts, it was clear that good quality paint work was still evident in much of the face and drapery. The painting was relined and given a delicate clean to remove old and discoloured varnished. Once this had been completed, the true quality of the picture was exposed for the first time in decades. Amongst the many fine details revealed during cleaning was the brilliantly painted feigned oval composed of a laurel wreath in monochrome paint, a device often employed by the likes of Mary Beale.
After careful varnishing and retouching, we provided a new ebony style frame to compliment the character and period of the picture.
Please follow the link below to access our September Newsletter. Our picture of the month, which is accompanied by a brief summary, is a stunning drawing by Eric Ravilious (1903-1942) entitled Men at Break.
We've recently uploaded a short video showing the exciting process of removing yellowed varnish mixed with decades worth of dirt and grime. Click on the link above to view.
Restoration of oils by Thomas Butterworth
This August we had the pleasure of bringing two maritime paintings by Thomas Butterworth (1768-1842) back to life. Buttersworth began his career as a seaman painter before he was invalided in 1800. Some of his most successful works, apart from his oils, are the large number of watercolours by the artist preserved in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.
The two oils on canvas were brought in for treatment from a private collection. Much faded from yellowed and dulled varnish, and considerably over-painted; these two naval scenes showed signs of great promise once small windows of the paint layer had been exposed during cleaning tests. After the complete removal of the varnish layers, areas of damage were stabilised and prepared for careful retouching. As illustrated, one of the pictures was missing a large section of sky and needed complete reconstruction. Ensuring a harmonious reading of the painting, especially considering such a significant loss, is always the primary consideration of any approach to careful and considerate restoration. Replicating the smooth modulations of sky and clouds is a true test of the ability of the conservator. Minor and more simple losses could be found around the stretcher lines, often resulting from a slack canvas being allowed to move far too freely in its frame. Once given a new coat of varnish, the colours including the blues, reds and yellows became saturated and play their part in achieving the original intentions of the artist. The same effect can be observed when dipping a pebble into the ocean, varnish acts as the film to allow the colour to achieve its full depth and brilliance.
Finally, but equally important, is the framing. Copies were made of a surviving frame, which had descended with one of the pictures, to ensure the paintings hung harmoniously together in their intended environment. An unsympathetic frame, which works against the artwork instead of for it, can produce the most jarring effect. It is for this reason that we believe so vehemently in a rounded approach towards fine art; its conservation, restoration and display.
Summer 2017 Newsletter
Please follow the link below for our Summer 2017 Newsletter. Included within is a brief piece focusing on our Picture of the Month A view of Lake Como by artist John 'Warwick' Smith.
Sati Scene c.1770-71 by Tilly Kettle (1735-1786) held in an outset cornered William Kent style frame made in the studio by Julia
Below this you can download a copy of the article that Julia wrote for the Art Framing Today trade magazine (August 2016 edition). Julia takes us on a journey through the golden age of frame-making in Europe, from the Mediaeval period to the 19th century. The frame is an essential part of a painting, and plays an important role that is often overlooked.
Conservation Of The Portrait Busts For The Royal Society of Musicians
While The Royal Society of Musicians is mid-way through a two-year project to refurbish its new offices, Julia restores eight of its busts of composers. Eight composers, Beethoven, Chopin, D'oyly Carte, Gounod, Handel, Haydn, Mellon and Parry, have had their busts conserved by Julia. An average of 50 hours' careful retouching, waxing and polishing has been lavished on each bust.
Conservation of two badly-damaged, oval 17th Century Baroque / ‘Kneller’ frames for the Charterhouse
As part of the long-term conservation programme currently under way at the Charterhouse, Sutton’s Hospital, Charterhouse Square, Julia’s studio has recently completed the conservation of two badly-damaged, oval 17th Century Baroque / ‘Kneller’ frames. Over the centuries the frames had so deteriorated as to threaten their very survival intact, as all four joints, top and bottom, had lost virtually all symmetry and cohesion. The original gilding had long since vanished and been replaced, many decades ago, with a layer of gold paint. Even this colour had almost disappeared, as the surface had become so dry and degraded that scraps of the original layers of material were falling away. The statutes of the Charterhouse, owing to its age as an eminent charitable foundation, do not permit it, regrettably, to spend any part whatsoever of its financial resources, on the conservation of its heritage collection, Julia, in recognition of these constraints, decided therefore to carry out, on a pro-bono basis, the urgent conservation of these frames to encourages others to support on a similar basis the urgent work needed to preserve the collection for the enjoyment of future generations. Shown below is some of the detail of the work involved in the conservation of the frames.