By the calming waters of Bassenthwaite Lake in the Lake District, Armathwaite Hall Hotel is nestled under the watchful gaze Skiddaw mountain and the fells. The hotel’s Lake Room is the perfect place for peace and quiet reflection, allowing guests to unwind and relax in coveted surroundings.
The hotel has a wonderful collection of artwork, displaying scenic and inspiring landscapes from around the Lake District.
One such striking painting is of the lake Derwentwater, situated in the Lake Room for guests to admire.
It has been in the hotel for many years, and with so many special occasions, events, and guests slipping from room to room, the painting had understandably acquired some deterioration and damage.
After making a pleasant journey into the Lakes – just under an hour away from our northern studio – we undertook an initial assessment of the painting as part of our conservation and condition report.
At 77 by 47 inches, the painting is a substantial size. The artwork is a wonderfully evocative landscape of Lake Derwentwater, created by artist Charles Pettitt in 1872.
Upon initial inspection, the painting appeared to have weakened and lost its tension.
There was no indication of tears, punctures or holes to the canvas. The paintwork was in generally good order but had some minor areas where the paintwork had flaked away – notably to the upper left-hand side and upper middle area.
There were also indications there had been some liquid spillage to the painting to an area in the middle. The painting had suffered from numerous marks all over the surface, as well as an accumulation of dirt, surface contaminants and discolouration to the varnish over the years.
The frame had suffered from damage and losses to the decorative areas in various places but was fortunately in good structural order. The frame has at some stage in the past been painted over in dark gold paint. This helped to mask some of the decorative losses and was not in keeping with the style of the original frame.
Following our report, we agreed with the owners an appropriate date for our transport team to collect the painting for restoration, to coincide with the renovation of the Hotel’s Lake Room.
Restoration of the Painting
After safely transporting the painting to the studio, our conservators made another assessment after removing it from the frame. Fortunately, there was no hidden damaged covered by the frame, so we could progress with the planned restoration.
Our first priority was to remove the canvas from the stretcher bars and re-tension the painting. This would remove the ‘creasing’ effect from the top left corner of the painting, where the canvas was not sitting comfortably and was causing some distortion.
We then turned our attention to ensuring that the paint layer was stabilised, specifically for the areas where previous paint loss had occurred.
Our conservator Lito gently heated these areas with a preservation spatula to ensure they fully adhered to the canvas.
Understandably, for a painting of such an age as well as the social environment in which it has been displayed in, the painting required a full clean to remove many years of accumulated dirt and surface contaminants, and subsequently varnish removal. The most effective solvents were found to remove the varnish, thereby removing the discolouration from the painting to bring back the vibrancy of the scene.
There was a fantastic difference after surface cleaning and varnish removal of the painting.
After this stage was complete, we could begin some retouching for the areas where the paint loss had happened. We carefully pigment matched the original paint, and built up the fine layers of paint to maintain the style of the painting.
The final step of the restoration of the painting was to re-varnish to provide a protective and lasting finish for the painting.
Restoration of the Frame
While our easel painting conservators restored the painting, our frame conservators turned their focus to the restoration of the frame.
Much like with the painting, the frame had also been exposed to the same environmental dirt and surface contaminants. The frame was cleaned, with special attention paid to the detailing and corners of the frame where the dirt could be most easily trapped.
A few parts of the frame required remoulding, where decoration had been lost. This was most frequent at the bottom edge of the frame, for places where it would have had most incidental contact with guests brushing by the frame.
These areas were carefully remoulded following the success of making some test moulds using a casting powder with water mix. The distinctive detailing along the frame was studiously replicated.
Once the frame was structurally stable, our conservators could work on making the frame more aesthetically appealing. The gold paint currently on the frame was quite a heavy colour and masked the interesting detailing. By gilding the frame, the colours of the painting could also be complemented and fully brought to life.
Our conservators carefully applied gold leaf across the painting, once more paying attention to the raised dimensions, and some hidden details, of the frame.
After the gilding was complete, we applied a wax treatment over the frame to act as an ageing effect and to maintain the style of the painting and frame.
The painting could then be re-framed, with the restoration coming to completion.
After liaising with the Hotel, our transport team made another pleasant January journey into the Lakes, to deliver the restored painting, ready to be installed again in time for the unveiling of the Lake Room renovations.
We were delighted to restore this wonderful painting and frame and to assist the Hotel in preserving their greatly treasured painting, capturing a local scene beloved by many.
If you have a painting or frame requiring some restoration, please contact us for our advice and recommendations.