In a previous blog-post about the work I am undertaking on the collection of Dürer engravings at the Fitzwilliam Museum, I discussed the benefits of being able to compare a number of impressions of the same print. I also mentioned the historical practice of trimming sheets along, and sometimes within, the plate-mark. The latest batch of prints I have been working on contains two impressions of the print St Jerome in Penitence in the Wilderness (Fig. 1), which demonstrate this point.
Both are rich, well-inked impressions of the same state1 of the print. When compared it becomes obvious that 22.I.3-65 has had a strip of approximately 15mm cut from the top edge, probably to remove an area of damage. This impression is also interesting because it has a number of tight, diagonal creases in the sheet, extending from the top right corner deep into the printed image (Fig.2). We can’t be certain what the cause was: it is possible that they occurred when the sheet of paper was formed, but I think they are more likely to be printer’s creases2. They have disrupted the printed image, and at some point, a rather crude attempt has been made to disguise them by retouching the areas that didn’t print properly with black ink.
More care was taken to obscure a similar crease in the engraving The Four Witches (22.I.3-94). It is almost invisible to the naked eye, and was only revealed on the back of the sheet once it had been lifted from the mount (Fig.3). A restorer has applied very fine patches of paper to the front of the sheet, covering the area along the crease where the printing has been disrupted. The design was then carefully drawn in ink over the patches to match the surrounding image. This restoration becomes apparent when the sheet is viewed in transmitted light (Fig.4).
In this latest group of engravings there is another example of a very skilful repair which is really only visible under magnification. There is a complex tear to an impression of the print The Temptation of the Idler, also known as The Dream of the Doctor (22.I.3-103). The damage extends from the lower right edge of the sheet to the centre, through the standing figure of Venus at the right. It looks as though the restorer has had to pare the edge of the tear in places in order to achieve this near-invisible mend. When viewed from the back, these areas appear slightly darker as the printing ink is visible through the thinned paper fibres (Fig. 6).
Attitudes have changed and removal of original material, even very small amounts such as this, is not considered permissible in conservation today. But it is difficult not to marvel at these restorations: they clearly required huge skill and expertise.
During my treatment, I removed the lining paper from the print, and it was possible to wash the sheet carefully in order to reduce the discolouration without disturbing the tear. The print was then pressed, inlaid, and hinged into a new museum-board mount.
Another impression of this print (P.3104-R) was given to the Museum by Arthur W. Young in 1934. The old mount carries some more fascinating and revealing inscriptions from scholars that I described in my previous post. In this instance, the notes suggest that both Thomas Barlow and Campbell Dodgson considered this impression inferior to the ‘existing’ one discussed above, and it was therefore a possible candidate for disposal. But there is also a comment from J.W. Goodison who spotted the disguised tear, and this might be the reason that both impressions were fortunately kept3:
‘? Reject. This is a very fine, but your existing impression is also brilliant & I don’t think you need keep both. Existing impn. is clearer & this one has staining top corner v. on the other hand it has a much better margin than existing impn. T[homas] B[arlow] Aug 35’
‘I think this is hardly wanted C[ampbell] D[odgson]’
‘Wd suggest keeping this as existing impn. has a bad damage J.W.G[oodison]’
In Barlow and Dodgson’s defence, some of the tell-tale discolouration along the tear may not have been visible when they inspected it.
Looking closely at these very beautiful prints during the conservation process continues to reveal fascinating aspects of their history.
There are 374 prints by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) in the Fitzwilliam Museum, many of which are fine and rich impressions, and a further 251 sheets attributed to followers of Dürer. I have recently enjoyed the opportunity to look closely at some of these prints as part of an ongoing project to conserve and remount them.
The prints come from a number of sources, including a core group of 127 engravings owned by Lord Fitzwilliam. These were bound together in an album (22.I.3) by Henry Woodburn in 1811, with Lord Fitzwilliam’s inscription on the fly-leaf title sheet, ‘Oeuvres / d’Albert Durer’. In 1876 the prints from this album, along with etchings, engravings and woodcuts from five others including Rembrandt and Martin Schöngauer, were sent to the British Museum for conservation and re-mounting. The sheets were mounted individually in ‘sunk mounts’ of a standard Royal size (559mm 406mm), with gilded edges, and stamped with the lettering ‘Albrecht Dürer’ and a number corresponding to catalogue raisonnés of Dürer’s prints (Ottley and Bartsch) (Fig. 1). This type of mount was devised by the Department of Prints & Drawings at the British Museum around the middle of the 19th century in an effort to limit unnecessary handling of the sheets and reduce abrasion to the surface of works of art on paper that were previously stored loose in portfolios. A bevelled opening was cut in a piece of cardboard slightly larger than the print, a second ‘backboard’ was pasted to it and the print mounted in the aperture. The surface of the print sits below the surrounding board thus protecting it from wear.
‘Today, the availability of paper board is taken for granted, but until the beginning of the 19th century it had been neither a widely used nor a readily procurable commodity […] In the British Museum, pure quality, stiff rag cream-coloured board from J M Whatman had been utilized from the 1840s. The high quality of this board is certainly a major factor in the fine condition of the Museum’s collections today.’1
The opportunity to look very closely at these prints has revealed other work that appears to have been undertaken at the British Museum during remounting. It was common practice to adhere the prints to a thin machine-made paper; this lining supported torn or weak areas of the print and made it easier to attach the print to the mount without causing distortion. I have discovered examples where small losses to the original engravings have been very skilfully recreated, hand-drawn in ink on the lining paper (Fig. 2).
It is not uncommon for intaglio prints such as etchings and engravings, especially those by Old Masters, to be trimmed to the plate-mark (the indentation around the image created by the metal plate being pressed into the dampened paper as it moves through the press). There is often a printed ink line along this indentation created either by the artist as a drawn border to the image, or a result of ink residue not wiped from the extreme edge of the plate. Trimming of the sheets was often surprisingly haphazard with the very edge of the printed image sometimes being removed in the process. As a result, prints with a complete margin, even when very narrow, are highly prized. The recent study of the Fitzwilliam’s Dürers has revealed some instances where missing sections of platemarks have been re-touched in ink, either on the primary support or the lining paper. We can be fairly confident that this was carried out when the objects were re-mounted as there is an example where the line has slipped slightly onto the mount (Fig. 3).
There are also examples of prints that have a curious pink line at the plate-mark (Fig. 4). It is thought that these marks were made with a copying pencil.2 When dry, the marks of a copying pencil resemble graphite, but they contain an aniline dye that is soluble in water and permanently changes colour if it becomes wet. While purple/violet is most common, a range of colours has been noted.3 It is possible that the colour-change occurred due to moisture from the mounting adhesive.
Not all the prints are in good condition. For example, when viewed in transmitted light it becomes apparent that the impression of St Thomas (AD.5.22-201) is only a fragment of the original sheet and very thin in places (Fig. 5). It would have certainly sustained more damage without the support of the lining paper carefully applied at the British Museum.
There are fascinating inscriptions on some mounts where scholars have noted the merits or flaws of various impressions. Describing an impression of the engraving Virgin and child with the pear (P.3092-R), given to the Museum by Arthur W. Young in 1934, Thomas Barlow writes, ‘It seems to me an unusually brilliant impression with this mark (anchor in a circle watermark). It is more like a Bull’s Head impression. Your existing impression is excellent and a more pleasing impression, this is rather over inked on the right side. But a very interesting impression. I should be very chary of disposing of it.’4 Campbell Dodgson added his agreement below: ‘It is very fine, shows platemark more completely, and ought to be kept.’5
Subtle differences between impressions can be noted within the collection. The ink is a little blurred in places on the impression of the Virgin and Child with the Pear on the right, where the plate was less thoroughly wiped (Fig. 6). The dramatic loss of richness and detail, the result of a worn printing plate, becomes apparent when comparing two impressions of St. George on Foot (Fig. 7).
The mounts are now nearly 150 years old and, while the materials used were the best available at the time, they are showing their age. There are handling marks which would be distracting if the works were displayed, and the mounts are also generally much thinner than those we would use today. The linings make the prints look unnaturally flat and prevent access to the back of the sheets, which can often provide valuable information to researchers. A number of pale brown/orange spots have also developed over time. They occur on both the prints and mounts which suggests they are a result of either impurity in the board or in the adhesive used to attach the prints (Fig. 8).
Inevitably with a collection of this size, the documentation and conservation project will take some time to complete and I hope to update this blog with further observations as the work continues. The approach to treatment is dictated by the condition of each print, but in many cases they are being lifted from the old mounts once all the original inscriptions have been recorded.
Where possible, the linings are being removed (Fig. 9) and the adhesive used to attach them is reduced or removed. This process has already revealed some interesting inscriptions and collector’s stamps. The papers used to make these prints are beautiful and very good quality: they have responded well to washing treatments and the spotty discolouration has reduced to a point where it is no longer distracting (Fig.10).
Tears and losses are repaired and the original British Museum retouched fills are being retained in-situ where appropriate. Once the prints have been lightly pressed they are inlaid into a slightly larger sheet of paper, a technique that allows access to the back of the sheet, and remounted in 100% cotton Museum-board mounts.
I am hopeful that this work will continue to protect these beautiful prints for another 150 years.
Fans are complex, three-dimensional objects made of several types of material. Conservation of fans from the recently acquired Lennox-Boyd collection has been a rewarding collaboration between conservators in the Applied Arts department and the Paintings, Drawings and Prints (PDP) department. Phase 1 of the project involved a condition survey, photography and treatment of a small sample of fans. Phase 2 involved a re-housing project, scientific analyses and conservation treatment in preparation for the current display at the Fitzwilliam Museum. A selection of 51 fans was made for the display, reflecting the variety in age, manufacture and condition of the Lennox-Boyd collection. This post discusses the project from a Paper Conservator’s perspective.
Paper Fans – Condition
Although fan leaves can be made of materials such as vellum, bone and silk, the predominant material used is paper. The Lennox-Boyd collection contains over 400 paper–based folding fans and flat paper leaves. Of all the components that make up a fan, it is the leaf which suffers the most damage and deterioration. The quality and condition of fans in the Lennox-Boyd collection reflects their wide-ranging variety, age and history. Many fans show signs of ownership and long use: accumulated dirt and assorted tears and splitting along the pleats are the most common types of damage. Additionally, fans can be harmed by exposure to light, fluctuating temperature and humidity, pollution, biological attack from mould and insects, and contact with other, frequently inferior quality, materials. These affect the paper as well as the applied, painted or printed media which decorate the leaves.
Early European papers used for fans were hand-made from plant fibres, which were strong and long-lasting. There are many fine examples of these beautiful papers in the collection. With the advent of machine-made papers from around 1860, paper quality became more variable. Around this time, less durable, mass-produced papers started to appear in fans. Over time, these poorer-quality papers become acidic and weak, tearing easily and losing their ability to endure opening and closing. Other materials used in fan manufacture have also developed and changed, often affecting the stability and permanence of the fan overall: adhesives may discolour and fail as they age; paints and printing inks become less permanent. Other fan components may affect the stability of the paper: the wooden or card ‘ribs’ which hold the fan leaf in place sometimes cause staining and degradation, as do corrosive or degrading paints and inks. The collection also exhibits a wide range of old repairs using materials such as stamp hinges, paper, thread, and pressure-sensitive tapes. Many of these repairs are unsightly and have caused further deterioration.
Conservation of Paper Folding Fans and Fan Leaves
Treatments undertaken on the Lennox-Boyd fans in preparation for display ranged from minimal cleaning to more interventive, labour-intensive repairs. Treatment of the folding fans was limited to actions such as gentle surface cleaning and physical repairs which could be carried out safely without taking the fans apart. The fans were supported underneath during treatment with tapering pieces of polyethylene foam and care was taken to apply as little pressure as possible to their delicate surfaces.
Dirt and dust were removed using soft brushes, accretions were carefully picked off using the tip of a scalpel blade, and the more ingrained dirt was reduced using either dry cleaning sponges or small wedges of vinyl eraser. Cleaning was avoided in areas with fragile media. Where possible, flaking or cracked paints were consolidated with a cellulose-based adhesive. Mould spores were safely removed using a brush and suction. Many flat fan leaves were detached from unsuitable acidic boards. Several discoloured and stained leaves were dry-cleaned, then washed in buffered de-ionised water. Before pressing they were given a coat of dilute gelatine to replace degraded sizing and gently re-adhere the sheets together where they had separated. They were then lightly humidified and pressed between blotters and weighted boards. Some disfiguring stains on the fan leaves were locally treated with a weak bleach solution and then rinsed.
Splits and tears were mended with starch paste and/or a cellulose-based adhesive and narrow strips of cut or torn Japanese tissue tinted with dilute washes of acrylic paint. Where possible, the two paper sheets making up many fan leaves was gently prized apart in order to insert the mend between the layers. The sheets were then pasted closed again to make the repair invisible. If this wasn’t possible, a small strip of tinted tissue paper was pasted along the reverse side of the damaged seam. Repairs were held in place to dry under small weights, using clamps or by hand, depending on the location of the damage and the strength of the paper. Losses were filled with Japanese paper of a matching weight, texture and colour. Disfiguring or damaging old repairs were removed and replaced.
Conservation procedures followed strict professional protocol, using conservation-grade materials, testing prior to treatments, and thorough documentation throughout.
Display and Storage of the Fan Collection
After treatment, a customized acrylic stand was made for each fan by technicians in the Applied Arts department. The stands can be tilted at different angles by means of a ball-joint mounting and are sensitively designed to support the open fan safely whilst on display. Flat fan leaves were hinged onto acid-free museum board with Japanese paper and starch paste, and given fan-shaped window mounts. Other fan leaves will be stored in polyester sleeves with acid-free card support. The majority of folding fans will be stored closed and wrapped in acid-free tissue. All the fans will be stored in museum Solander boxes on racks of dedicated shelving. It is hoped that the conservation of the Lennox-Boyd collection will continue, enabling more of these intriguing objects to be available for study and display in the future.
Thank you to the curatorial and conservation staff in the Applied Arts department and the Paintings, Drawings and Prints department of the Fitzwilliam Museum. The fan collection of the late Hon. Christopher Lennox-Boyd (1941–2012) was accepted in lieu of Inheritance Tax by H M Government and allocated to the Fitzwilliam Museum in 2015. This conservation project was generously funded by the Marlay Group.
How LEDs are now very much earning their keep. Conservation viewing aids and other useful pieces of equipment.
Definition of ‘light’: The natural agent that stimulates sight and makes things visible; the key words here being ‘makes things visible’.
Definition of to ‘illuminate’: to enlighten, as with knowledge, to make lucid or clear.
With such a large, diverse and dynamic collection here at the Fitzwilliam1it is hardly surprising that a lot of time is given over to preparing new displays, reviewing items destined for loan and supporting, at times complex in-house exhibitions.
Conservators are required to examine objects extremely closely and quite a lot of their time is spent carefully recording this information. Assessments are made with regard both damage and decay and then to diligently note perceivable change, especially over time. Furthermore, we must be able to establish the construction of an object, the materials that have been used, such as paper and drawing media, and in some instances even the order in which these have been applied.
Although light can be extremely damaging to a wide range of museum objects, its power with regard to illuminating collections can be fascinating and at times, revelatory. As such, both good light and good optics are essential.
Stand alone inspection lamps
To help in these tasks, the museum has recently acquired several stand – alone LED photographic lamps 2. These have replaced older fluorescent lamps which by comparison are somewhat harsh, one directional and at times prone to heating up.
Useful features include: an ability to adjust both the levels of illumination and colour temperature and integrated rechargeable batteries, which offer the unit much greater flexibility of use.
For conservators, the technology is now very much out there and the options available are multiplying all the time. To some extent, the process of selection will be determined by personal preference and in many cases, the cost. Speaking from experience, investing in a good stand (one that is both stable and mobile) will pay dividends. The wheels on ours seem to have a mind of their own and tend to travel in only the one direction!
Hand held LED inspection lamps
The Docter Aspherilux Midi rechargeable LED Torch 3
German-made and the quality really shines through.
A compact torch which gives bright, directional light of even intensity. The metal casing is robust, the body is well balanced and the unit contains integrated rechargeable batteries. The only problem you may have with this particular torch is ‘holding onto it’. In our museum, at very least, useful things become popular with others!
This clearly shows the power of ‘raking light’ in revealing the paper undulations, embedded creases, ingrained dirt and other interesting surface textures. Invaluable!
Shown below is a portrait miniature of Charles, 1st Marquis Cornwallis (1738-1805), No 3922. Watercolour on ivory, by John Smart (British artist, 1741-1811) within a decorative gold locket, glazed. Dimensions: 67 x 52 mm.
The black arrow above shows a passage of glass clouding and although subtle, this is important, being indicative of the onset of glass disease4. If this condition is left indefinitely, especially in a poor environment, the sequence of deterioration would become very much more dramatic. As such, by having noticed the change and ideally acting accordingly, this is an important first step in any good preservation plan.
On occasion, examining an object under Ultra Violet light can be extremely rewarding as illustrated by the 16th century portrait miniature, shown below. In this case the yellowy – green fluorescence indicates passages of loss, earlier damage and discrete later additions. This particular ‘visual marker’ is indicative of a 19th century pigment, Chinese White (zinc oxide)6.
Portrait miniature of Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales by Isaac Oliver (British artist, 1556(?)-1617) 3903. Watercolour on vellum laid to card. Dimensions: 52 x 40 mm.
An Optivisor is a useful and inexpensive viewing aid, costing approximately £30-50. This is the sort of thing that one often reaches for whilst inspecting an object at close quarters and is commonly used by paintings conservators engaged in detailed image reintegration -restorations.
Various lenses are available offering different powers of magnification and are easily interchanged. Personally, I have found x 4 most helpful for some of the more detailed conservation tasks.
In recent months here at the Fitzwilliam we have been taking a closer look at many of our miniature paintings7and for this task, I have found a small hand-held magnifier especially useful8.
Portrait miniature of an unknown man, PD.958-1963. Watercolour on ivory by John Smart (British artist, 1741-1811) within a decorative gold locket, glazed. Dimensions: 38 x 32 mm.
Examining such small works as these under magnification and in good light, helps enormously in their interpretation. Close inspection is invaluable and may reveal all sorts of ‘collection care issues’; such as friable media and/or loss, the onset of glass disease or perhaps even, invasive mould growth (see the detailed image shown below).
Portrait Miniature of Sir Joshua Reynolds by James Nixon, British artist, c.1741(?)-1812, No 3800. Watercolour on ivory, within a locket, glazed. Dimensions: 80 x 64 mm.
Scale in life: 40 x 60 mm (detail)
Under closer scrutiny, surface mould growth is clearly visible. Spotting this type of damage and taking the necessary action (ideally addressing the mould and being especially vigilant with regard ‘storage conditions’) is important, in any progressive collections care plan .
Conservators are naturally inquisitive creatures and often, through necessity, have had to evolve and adapt. The profession is relatively small and sadly, all too often poorly resourced. As such, borrowing ideas from others is especially satisfying and all the more so when this saves a little money.
LED Light panel – light box
By way of example our studio recently purchased an LED ceiling light panel9,a chance find at a local electrical outlet. Although most frequently used in schools and hospitals, this even light source has now become our ‘go to’ studio light box.
Transmitted light (light shone through a surface, such as a paper) is especially helpful in revealing certain characteristics that otherwise may remained hidden, such as a maker’s watermark or perhaps even, the date of manufacture.
M.219-2015: 18th century Italian chinoiserie fan. One of 600 or so, rich and varied fans recently acquired by the Fitzwilliam (2015)10.
As conservators we look for clues with regard the paper type, the process of manufacture, the probable age and perhaps even, a place of origin. This not only helps in our better understanding an object it may sometimes lead to more precise authentication.
Below is a watercolour by JMW Turner, photographed in day light.
When viewed in transmitted light the paper shown above is clearly wove11 and looking more closely, a maker’s watermark ‘J Whatman 1834’ can be seen, which is both of help and significance. Turner is known to have visited Venice on at least three occasions, in 1819, 1833 and 1840, although recent research has suggested that he was also there between 1835 and 1839. The light shining through the paper reveals an extensive inscription written on the back of the watercolour (possibly in Ruskin’s hand) and also gives useful insight into Turner’s working methods where he has scratched back the paper, creating highlights of both the Venice skyline and turbulence seen in in the sky and breaking waves.
Dated watermarks do not prove the date of production but do provide a reference point of sorts, and it would be reasonable to assume that the work by Turner shown above could not have been produced any earlier. It could, however, have been produced several years later. Some artists are known to have preferred using a seasoned or aged paper, whereas others may have returned some years later to work up an incomplete sketch.
I hope that some of the illustrations presented above are of help and may stimulate others to look more closely and with that all-important ‘questioning eye’.
Acknowledgement: My thanks go to several kind colleagues for reading the text, helping with IT issues and for gently nudging me back on course.
This June I was lucky enough to spend two weeks working with Richard Farleigh, Conservator of Works of Art on Paper, as I undertook my training placement at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. I have been living and training in Cornwall as a Books and Archives Conservator for just over a year now, having left my posts at the Fitzwilliam Museum in June 2017. It was a real joy to be able to return to the museum this year in a new guise, with new skills and a fresh perspective.
Carrying out my placement in the Paintings, Drawings and Prints Department (PDP) over a two-week period provided a unique opportunity for me to work alongside the Fitzwilliam’s paper conservators whilst also assisting the Department’s technicians with the installation of a new temporary exhibition. Whilst I cannot include in this blog post all that I have learnt, below I have picked out a few highlights from my time at the Museum. Before I tell my little story, I would like to thank the team for making me feel so welcome. It was a real pleasure to work with colleagues, old and new, and to gain such a breadth of experience through doing so.
My first week was largely spent assisting the Department’s technician team with the exhibition ‘Floral Fantasies’, now on display in the Shiba Gallery until 9th September 2018.
It was hugely valuable for me to work on this installation due to the range of objects and materials involved, each presenting its own challenges for mounting and display. It was exciting to see innovation at work in the Museum, particularly in terms of new mounting techniques and the use of acrylic to create bespoke cradles for the paper-based collection and the museum’s precious miniatures.
Coincidentally, my placement fell just at the moment a large consignment of some 80 art works, a loan show, Degas: A Passion for Perfection returned from the Denver Art Museum, USA. I assisted with the unloading and then helped the technician team return the full transit crates to one of the Museum’s picture stores.
The Museum had used a number of shock loggers, packed inside selected crates which monitored shock magnitude in real time.
Some of the works, be they pastel drawings or three dimensional sculptures, are inherently fragile. Information from the Shock loggers was relayed to designated recipients who were then able to monitor levels of shock and/or excessive vibration during the long journey.
I also assisted the conservators and technicians in unpacking several of the crates and then helped to condition check a number of Degas drawings.
It was interesting for me to understand how the Museum manages its various loans and to work through the procedures for condition checking. Later in the year in Cornwall I will be delivering a training session regarding best practice for display and will certainly be able to include many of the tips that I picked up whilst working in the PDP Department.
During my second week I was able to spend time at the bench in the conservation studio with both of the PDP paper conservators. With the Conservator of Prints, Harry Metcalf, I tried my hand at inlaying prints from parts of the collection currently not on display.
I also worked with Richard Farleigh on the mount cutter to learn more about the various house-styles for mounting up drawings. I made a mock-up of a mount for my own print and practiced other techniques using Japanese paper hinges. As exhibition preparation falls outside the remit of our conservation studio in Penzance, it was extremely useful for me to exercise my mounting skills. I now understand how to provide safe and lasting housing for paper-based collections, and how to select the most appropriate display methods.
As I came to the end of my placement, it was a real joy to work in the studio with Rosie Macdonald, a contract paper conservator. In collaboration with the Applied Arts conservators, Rosie is conducting a survey of the condition and the conservation needs of the Lennox-Boyd collection of fans, a recent bequest of 435 folding fans, 10 screen fans and 178 single leaf fan designs. I helped with the survey and the cleaning and packing programme. Fans are complex objects often made from a variety of materials including paper, bone, gems, metal leaf and textile. Their conservation and storage needs are challenging, as Rosie explained.
Careful thought has also been given to the method of packing. Each item is wrapped in acid-free tissue, folded (importantly not rolled) in such a way that the fans are still partially visible through a layer of tissue, whilst also being supported by multiple layers of folded tissue underneath, forming a cushion.
My return to the Fitzwilliam, albeit brief, has really allowed me to supplement my training in Cornwall by broadening my skills in both paper conservation and exhibition planning and preparation. I would like to give special and sincere thanks to Richard Farleigh for organising my placement and for taking time out of his busy schedule to pass on his skills and provide opportunities for me to collaborate with colleagues.
Until next time Cambridge….
New Starter Trainee
PZ Conservation C.I.C.
In 2015 the Fitzwilliam received an exceptional bequest of around 250 works on paper, paintings and applied arts items, the collection of Sir Ivor and Lady Batchelor. Since then, paper conservators and technicians at the Fitzwilliam have undertaken a project to conserve the drawings, watercolours and prints from the gift – documenting, treating and preparing them for archival storage and future display
Professor Sir Ivor Batchelor (1916-2015) was an eminent psychiatrist, academic and advisor to the National Health Service. He developed a love of art as a boy and began a lifetime of amateur collecting, later sharing his passion with his wife Honor.1 They regularly made gifts to the Fitzwilliam throughout the 1990’s, notably enhancing the museum’s collection of drawings by James Ward. The 2015 bequest features predominantly British C19th and C20th drawings, prints and watercolours. Favoured artists include David Cox, Frank Brangwyn, Edwin Henry Landseer, David Wilkie, Muirhead Bone, William Orpen and Walter Sickert, as well as earlier works by James Ward, Heneage Finch, Thomas Rowlandson and others. It was the distinction of great draftsmanship, coupled with affordability, which dictated most of their purchases.
The Conservation Project
The works arrived at the museum in a variety of mounting and framing styles. The condition of the works varied: many were in reasonably good condition, while others had been visibly affected by factors such as light, humidity and contact with degraded mounting and framing materials. Some works (such as the drawings by Walter Sickert) are in themselves made of poor quality papers which show the effects of age much more quickly than better quality artist’s papers.2
Technicians in the Department of Paintings, Drawings and Prints unframed the works, photographing the frames and documenting inscriptions and labels on the frame backboards. The works were placed in folders and stored in archival boxes ready for accessioning by curators.3 Cataloguing in this case is being carried out alongside the conservation project – the process of unframing, examination and treatment sometimes reveals new information about the work, as can be seen in some of the examples discussed below.
Each work is thoroughly examined, photographed and documented by conservators before any treatments are undertaken (as well as during treatment). Many items in the Batchelor collection have only required the removal of old hinges and mounts, pressing and re-mounting.4 Others however have required more interventive processes, such as backing removal, stain reduction, washing and various types of repair.
Discovering a new drawing
Removing this graphite drawing by David Cox (1783-1859) from its acidic backboard revealed another image on the reverse of the sheet – a roughly executed watercolour of a rocky landscape and some figures in pencil – probably dating from around the same time, as this page previously formed part of a sketchbook. Old adhesive was removed, the sheet was pressed and the work was mounted in a ‘double-sided mount’ so both sides of the paper can be viewed and also protected.5
Doodles and marginalia
This studio drawing by Frank Brangwyn (1867-1956) was soiled and creased with some prominent stains caused by the old acidic window mount. The window also partly covered the artist’s inscription and completely obscured other interesting drawings around the edges of the paper. It was decided to remount the work showing the entire sheet. Due to the sensitive nature of the red ink, cleaning and stain reduction could only be done ‘locally’. The newly mounted sheet looks much less cramped and gives us greater insight into the way the artist worked.
Out-foxing the Foxing
The chalk media of this drawing by Gwen John (1876-1939) was fresh and unfixed. However, the machine-made paper was poor-quality and severely discoloured overall. There were several disfiguring large brown stains, or ‘foxing spots’ scattered across the image area6 The spots were treated with water and alcohol followed by careful bleaching and a final rinsing. By using a ‘suction point’, the stain removal process was carefully controlled – the spots no longer detract from the delicately drawn image.
Emerging from the Darkness
The buff-coloured sketchbook paper used by William Orpen (1878-1931) for this sketch was of an inherently poor quality and had become acidic, dark and brittle. The sheet was undulating and distorted from old self-adhesive tape holding it in place. After removal from the mount and testing of the media, the drawing was given several washes in cool then warm de-ionized water to release the acids and impurities and re-invigorate the paper. It was then lined with a carefully chosen light-weight Japanese paper and starch paste to provide the paper with extra strength and support for the future.
Whether the conservation work is preventive or interventive, the end result is gratifying – the treated works are now stabilized and ready to be accessed for viewing, display or loan. They are now protected by their new museum-quality acid-free mounts and are stored safely in high-quality Solander boxes.7 After treatment, high-resolution digital photographs are taken before the works are returned to the climate controlled Prints and Drawings store. The Batchelor Collection conservation project for works on paper is ongoing and there will be an exhibition of selected works from the collection at the Fitzwilliam in 2018.