Conservation Bite! Part 1

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Thursday 22 March 2012
Sarah Hillary

William Frank Calderon’s 1905 painting On the Sea-Beat Shore, Where Thracians Tame Wild Horses, from Alexander Pope, Homer’s Iliad has been the subject of a recent Conservation Bite. Conservation Bites offer visitors the opportunity to step inside the Gallery’s painting conservation studio. They have been happening every lunchtime this week, and we thought that people might be interested to follow the treatment of Calderon’s painting as it progresses.

We are not sure if the painting has ever been displayed at the Gallery, but it has been rolled up for decades and is in a deteriorated state. I hasten to add that the deterioration occurred in the distant past and is not caused by current arrangements (but more about that later)!

This year the curators decided that the treatment of the painting should be a priority as the work should go on display. We have limited resources at the Gallery, so things have to be carefully considered before we take on a major treatment such as this. The size of the painting meant that it would take up the whole of the large painting conservation studio and require the work of three painting conservators for several months. It was decided that we would treat it in stages, the first part being documentation; followed by stabilisation, cleaning and repair; then finally restoration of the damages.

It is no easy task getting the painting out – it measures approximately 1.8 x 3.8 metres so you need sufficient room and plenty of hands to assist. In order to have quality digital images of the condition, the painting was laid out on the floor of the photography studio, and there Gallery photographer John McIver crawled up into his loft to take some aerial views.

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Conservation at the Gallery is responsible for the care and treatment of the collection and works on loan as well as carrying out related research. There are seven of us – three painting conservators, two works on paper specialists, one objects conservator and a conservation assistant. Four of the seven conservators are part-time. Some of us are also involved in the conservation service the Gallery provides for the public on a user-pays basis.

The Calderon conservation team are Ingrid Ford, Nel Rol and Sarah Hillary.