Every year we celebrate some of the most interesting and unusual projects to come through our studio doors. Speaking to our conservators and office team about their favourite artworks, we have compiled a list of the paintings, sculptures and furniture that sparked joy for them in 2021. We hope you enjoy reading about these amazing projects as much as we enjoyed being a part of them.
Above: a view of some of our easel painting and frame conservators at work in our Carlisle studio
Hiding from the Nazi regime
This Parisian street scene was covered up with house paint when our client’s grandmother escaped from Nazi occupied Paris during World War II. This was one of our most thrilling projects in the London studio in 2021 as it had such an interesting back story.
Above: the front and back of the canvas – on the back you can see the housepaint which originally covered the whole artwork
Luckily, the artwork got out of Paris unnoticed by the Nazi occupation and has finally been able to have full colour and detail restored. The original cover-up had been partly removed in a historic restoration attempt, but with modern professional treatments our conservator could safely clean away the residue and discolouration.
To commemorate its turbulent history, it was decided that the house paint on the back of the canvas would be left as a reminder of the story for generations to come.
Cross tear on Saint Joseph
When asked about their most memorable restoration of the year, many of our team suggested this beautiful oil painting which had come to us from a church following damage. The painting had been severely torn, though quite symbolically this had formed in the shape of a crucifix. The painting shows St. Joseph sleeping, soon to be visited by the angel Gabriel who will announce to him the immaculate conception of Christ.
The painting was large, measuring 200 x 163 centimeters. As the artwork required a full varnish removal in order to allow for a seamless restoration and finish, it was a team effort to clean the surface and remove the historic layer. Varnish removal is conducted with a small swab which cleans only a small area, so for a painting his size it can take many hours without assistance. Therefore, this restoration was seen as a communal effort by our conservation team.
Above: our intern Robert working on the back of the canvas to stabilise and restore the large tear
The large tear was restored thread-by-thread and with consolidation to the affected area. It was then expertly retouched with small amounts of conservation-approved pigments before being evenly varnished with a new protective layer.
Flying papier-mache bull
This delightful flying bull was once suspended for display from a ceiling. Over time the white surface had become discoloured and heavily dusty, which is why it came to the attention of our specialist conservators.
Above: the papier-mache bull which was restored in our studio, before and after conservation treatments by our team
Our team remembers this sculpture well as it was so unusual and the papier-mache material meant that it required a dry clean with the avoidance of any moisture which could damage the surface and interior. The result brought it back to a bright white, ready to be returned to public display.
William IV extender table
When we asked our furniture team for their favourite project, this grand extender table was at the top of their list. The bright shining finish which was achieved through careful application of a traditional French polish gives a remarkable difference from the state it came to our studio in. The table is from the era of William IV and has neoclassical features on the legs typical of this precise period.
Mother most admirable
Mater Admirabilis or ‘mother most admirable’ came to us from a Sacred Heart school. Based on a sacred mural associated with miracles, this painting is important to their institution and traditions. Our team found this restoration a joy to work on, as the painting is so beautiful and has such unusual bright tones for a religious artwork.
Above: the Mater Admirabilis painting before and after restoration by our team
The painting also had special features such as the three-dimensional star halo, making it slightly more complex in terms of materials. The finished result was thrilling for both our conservation and office team to see, as her dazzling robes and gentle expression really came back to life.
Above: details showing the colour change following varnish removal and a surface clean
Unveiling a historic cover-up
Our team can sometimes reveal hidden features in oil paintings and 2021 was no exception to this exciting part of restoration. Our conservator Ruth unveiled a historic cover up of a morally challenging street scene.
This Dutch genre painting had originally featured a man begging as a central part of the artwork. There were also features such as a bag of money on the ground. These had been covered up, most likely in the Victorian era, to make the painting more appealing to a domestic environment. It is not uncommon for paintings to have been altered in the 19th century, we often see items such as skulls and serpents painted out by religious or superstitious owners. The removal of the beggar from this painting suggests a dislike of socially challenging or politically uncomfortable themes.
Above: the Dutch street scene before and after restoration with a detail of the unveiled beggar in the centre
Ruth was pleased to have returned these features to the oil painting, returning not only the figure of the beggar, but the wider context of the artwork which had gone from being a pleasant market scene to a complex take on social justice and welfare.