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By Wendy S-Woodiwis on

Surveying the arts store

Conservators turn detectives in order to record the conditions of paintings in the Museum's art store.

Recently we’ve been doing some work surveying our arts store, a controlled environment which has a large number of artworks from the Collection. We noticed a little while ago that there are some unusual environmental fluctuations, so we were obviously keen to put aside some time to investigate the issue thoroughly.

Our arts store is kept between 56-63% humidity to store the objects
Our arts store is kept between 56-63% humidity to store the objects in the correct environment

Our arts store is kept between 40-60% humidity to store the objects in the correct environment

We also took the opportunity to review the general state of various items in the store. In particular we paid close attention to the paintings, assessing the condition of the canvas and varnish, accretions of dirt, any biological damage or chemical deterioration and any repair done in the past that may be starting to deteriorate.

The following portrait by George Percy Jacomb-Hood shows the kind of deteriorating paintwork we wanted to record. Believed to be the artist’s father, it depicts Robert Jacomb-Hood (1822 – 190) who was the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway’s consulting engineer and a director from 1883 of the railway. The picture is framed but unglazed, hence the state of the paint below.

An example of deteriorating paint due to historical fire damage.

Similarly, we found an oil-on-canvas portrait of Ralph Brocklebank, one-time Director of the London & North Western Railway. Although a cursory look seems fine, a deeper inspection looking at the back of the canvas reveals that much of the paint is starting to crack that in time will show visible deterioration.

Portrait of Ralph Brockleback, Director of the London & North Western Railway.
Portrait of Ralph Brockleback, Director of the London & North Western Railway

We couldn’t have done the review of the store without help from students of York University, so a huge thanks to Zoe Dawson, Sian Johnson, Izabella McKie, Ru Wei Hu, Kalina Kossowska and Helena Marshall.

There is a bonus of spending significant time in our arts store – I get to come across many gems that I either had forgotten about or had not known about at all! For example, I love this oil on canvas, by Jack Merriott, depicting Torquay in 1958. It shows the promenade, with holidaymakers walking among palm trees beneath red sandstone cliffs. It was the original artwork for British Railways (Western Region) poster ‘Go to Torquay, Queen of the English Riviera’, part of the ‘Travel by Train’ series.

Torquay by Jack Merriot
Torquay by Jack Merriot

On a similar vein, there is also a more Mediterranean interpretation of good old Scarborough by Constantin Gorbatoff’s oil on canvas:

Scarborough looking decidedly exotic in Gorbatoff's depiction (left)
Scarborough looking decidedly impressionistic in Gorbatoff’s depiction (left)

One of Helena’s particular favourites is this painting by Robert Collinson. It depicts a cavalry soldier in the uniform of a hussar regiment bidding farewell to his nearest-and-dearest, who, on the verge of tears, clasps his hand in hers. Behind her a bearded guard holding a green flag raises his left hand to signal that the train is ready to depart and their time is nearly up

'Farewell to the Light Brigade', by Robert Collinson c1870
‘Farewell to the Light Brigade’, by Robert Collinson c1870

This post was jointly written by Wendy Somerville-Woodiwis and Helena Marshall.

One comment on “Surveying the arts store

  1. This summer we are also hoping to do some conservation work on the pictures by the artist Claude Buckle through a collaboration with Northumbria University. Hopefully there will be some further blogs on the conservation work on the NRM’s art collection to follow this one.

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