Our team is often called out to specialist projects that require treatment on site. This is sometimes because an artwork forms part of a building or is too large to be removed. In the case of the Army and Navy Club, it was due to eight full length portraits being framed securely within the walls.

Army and Navy club conservation Above: our conservators Anna, Leonora and Lily working on the portraits in the Army and Navy Club coffee room

This historically important institution has offered a meeting place for military officers for centuries, with the faces of celebrated figures immortalised upon the walls. A selection of these powerful artworks were in need of a professional clean after decades spent in a social space full of atmospheric contaminants.

UV detailsAbove: a detail from the portrait of Lieutenant General Sir Edward Barnes whilst under UV light assessment 

The series of eight full length portraits had been present at the Army and Navy Club since 1864. Almost one hundred years later in 1963 they were reduced in size to fit a new ceiling height and have been in the same positions ever since. This lowered height in the room means that accidents easily occur around the feet of the portraits, in the form of stains, abrasions and indents. 

Army Navy ClubAbove: our conservator Anna conducting a surface clean treatment and our team capturing photographs for their assessment 

The portraits were all purchased by or donated to the club in the mid 19th century and therefore feature celebrated figures that were fairly contemporary to the era. Although many of the portraits are copies of famous pieces or from the same studio as the original, this does not make them any less important. It was typical for popular oil portraits to have several copies for different institutions. 

Army Navy Club Coffee RoomAbove: a view of the coffee room portraits in-situ

Portraiture in London’s Private Clubs

From the late 17th century onwards the idea of a private gentleman’s club was formed in the capital. This was further established throughout the 18th century with the input of the enlightenment period which brought together groups that wished to philosophise about life or engage in political and literary debates. It later became the norm for groups beyond politicians and aristocrats to come together by trade or interest. This would have been the historic foundation of the Army and Navy Club, which was created in 1837. 

Gentlemens clubsAbove: A Club of Gentlemen by Joseph Highmore (1730) and a print of the Club Houses on Pall Mall 

A common theme of these settings was the use of portraiture as a means to commemorate each member and allow them to be present even in their absence. This is especially the case for the famous Kit-Cat Club portraits by Godfrey Kneller, now found in the National Portrait Gallery. There was a sentimental form of bonding and brotherhood in many of these establishments, allowing social constructions of class and masculinity to be loosened amongst well-trusted friends and like-minded companions. 

Gentlemens clubsAbove: Portrait of a Group of Gentleman by Francis Hayman (1745-48) and Study for a Group Portrait by Joseph Highmore, formally attributed to Hogarth

The full length portraits of the Army and Navy Club’s coffee room allow past members to have a significant presence whilst providing guests with easy topics for conversation. This keeps them very much alive, solidifying their significance not only in British history but within the realm of current and future military colleagues.

HRH Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (1763-1827) After John Hoppner

Going clockwise from the entrance, the first portrait features HRH Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (1763-1827). Notes suggest the painting is ‘after John Hoppner’ although it is possible that this is the original. As is tradition for the second royal son, Prince Frederick took on a military role under the reign of his father George III and brother George IV. He is well known for being a Commander-in-Chief during the Napoleonic Wars. 

Prince Frederick detailAbove: detail from Portrait of HRH Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (1763-1827) After John Hoppner

In this portrait, he appears in the uniform of the Coldstream Guards, to which he was appointed colonel in 1784. His youthful appearance suggested that this was a commemorative portrait of the new position, as he was appointed colonel aged 21. Hopper’s work was heavily influenced by Joshua Reynolds and this is highly evident in this portrait in terms of tone, pose and atmosphere. Prince Frederick died in 1827 and this portrait was purchased by the Army and Navy Club in 1864, most likely by members who had served under him early in their careers.

Prince Frederick before after full

HRH Prince William Duke of Clarence, later William IV (1765-1835) Studio of John Hoppner

The next portrait is of Prince Frederick’s younger brother, HRH Prince William Duke of Clarence, later William IV (1765-1835). This piece is also listed as being from the studio of Hoppner, though research suggests that it could also be an original piece by the artist. Youthful in his vigour and overall appearance, Prince William is depicted in nautical fashion to reflect his role in the Royal Navy. In 1785, William was made lieutenant and captain of HMS Pegasus and in 1787 was placed in command of HMS Andromeda. By 1790, he was appointed rear-admiral whilst serving on board HMS Valiant. 

Prince WilliamAbove: detail from Portrait HRH Prince William Duke of Clarence, later William IV (1765-1835) Studio of John Hoppner 

The prince’s position on land gives him a solid sense of command upon the shore he has been placed to defend and reign over – his grip of the rock is emblematic of his grip upon the country. The HMS Valiant was previously commanded by Augustus Keppel, a frequent subject in the portraiture of Hopper’s biggest influence – Joshua Reynolds. Similar themes can be found in Reynolds’ portraits of Keppel, although these typically provide a stronger sense of military prowess and determination. The relaxed dominance of Prince William in this portrait perhaps pays reference to the royal ease of his ever-growing rank.

Prince William

Admiral Sir Philip Charles Calderwood Henderson Durham (1763-1845) After John Wood

This full length naval portrait was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1845, the year of Admiral Durham’s death. This copy was donated from the estate of Sir Durham to the Army and Navy Club in either 1844 or 1845. The painting is listed as being by John Wood, although another exists with the collection of the Maritime Museum. Both may have come from the same studio.

Sir Philip Durham DetailAbove: detail from Portrait of Admiral Sir Philip Charles Calderwood Henderson Durham (1763-1845) After John Wood 

Durham had a lifelong career in the Royal Navy, taking a vital role in the Battle of Trafalgar commanding the HMS Defiance. John Wood is generally a lesser known artist of the era, his influences tend to steer towards the work of Thomas Lawrence and fantasy subjects. This portrait echoes the tradition of Joshua Reynolds and Gainsborough, likely due to the desire of the patron to be depicted in the same style as their renowned colleagues.

Sir Philip full

Admiral Viscount Horatio Nelson (1758-1805) Studio of Lemuel Francis Abbott

Lemuel Francis Abbott is best known for his portraits of Lord Nelson, which is likely to be the reason his name is connected to this painting. The angle of Nelson’s head is very much in line with other work attributed to Abbott, including portraits of Nelson held in the National Portrait Gallery and 10 Downing Street. 

NelsonAbove: detail from Portrait of Admiral Viscount Horatio Nelson (1758-1805) Studio of Lemuel Francis Abbott 

Although Abbott was celebrated throughout his early career and worked with renowned patrons, he later became mentally unwell and was institutionalised in Bethlem Hospital, then known as ‘Bedlam’. Lord Nelson is one of the most famous figures in British military history, his portrait has a commanding presence within the room of his peers, despite his smaller stature. 

Nelson full

Portrait of FitzRoy Somerset, 1st Baron Raglan (1788-1855) George Clarke after Francis Grant

Somerset fought in the Battle of Waterloo, where he had his arm amputated. Here his sleeve is pinned to his jacket in the same fashion as Lord Nelson. Later in his career, Somerset commanded troops in Crimea, where he was known for having an eccentric personality, often referring to the Russians as ‘the French’ as if he were still at Waterloo. This portrait was likely purchased around the time of his death in 1855.

Fitzroy detailsAbove: detail from Portrait of FitzRoy Somerset, 1st Baron Raglan (1788-1855) George Clarke after Francis Grant

The original portrait was by Francis Grant, a Scottish portraitist who served as president of the Royal Academy after the death of Charles Eastlake. Grant was well respected and composed portraits of Queen Victoria and leading political figures of the era. In comparison to the earlier portraits in the room, this piece has far more of a Victorian fashion to the sitter and portrays him as a gentleman serving to protect a newly industrial nation. 

HRH Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge (1774-1850) Ernest Gustave Girardot after John Lucas

Prince Adolphus was the seventh son of George III, placing him far down the line of succession and much further away from the honours bestowed upon his older brothers. Prince Adolphus is in the uniform of the Coldstream Guards, he was appointed as their colonel-in-chief in 1805 and spent much of his military career in Hanover. He is in direct line to the current royal family, as his granddaughter was Mary of Teck, mother of George VI. Adolphus served as president of the Army and Navy Club from 1845 to 1850.

Prince Adolphus detailAbove: detail from HRH Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge (1774-1850) Ernest Gustave Girardot after John Lucas

This portrait was purchased by the club in 1847. Ernest Gustave Girardot was a fairly well-known artist, though this portrait is a copy after John Lucas. The portrait echoes the portraits of his older brothers, with an inflexible pose that makes him appear almost as a statue against the backdrop of a stone column. This classical evocation is reflective of imperial history and the position of Prince Adolphus within Britain’s global reach.

Prince Adolphus full

Vice Admiral Charles Paget (1778-1839) with his brother Henry Paget (1768-1854) F.C. Tomlinson 

Brothers Charles and Henry Paget held respected positions within the Navy and Army. Henry Paget in particular is well known for losing his leg in the battle of Waterloo, where it became a tourist attraction for several days before being buried. The distant look of Charles and the fierce gaze of Henry, show different yet commanding sides to their character. 

Paget detailAbove: detail from Portrait of Vice Admiral Charles Paget (1778-1839) with his brother Henry Paget (1768-1854) F.C. Tomlinson 

Charles Paget had also been a subject for Thomas Lawrence. This portrait shows a similarly fashionable use of deep blue sky to contrast the flush of their slightly windswept visage. The painting is signed F. C. Tomlinson, this is possibly a relation to portraitist George Dodgson Tomlinson if not the artist himself. 

Paget

Lieutenant General Sir Edward Barnes (1776-1838) John Wood

This portrait was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1838, a year after the establishment of the Army and Navy Club. Barnes was a founding member of the club alongside Admiral William Bowles. Unfortunately, Barnes died on 19 March 1838, two weeks before the first meeting of the club. This portrait tenderly allows him to oversee the achievement he did not live to be a part of.

Sir Edward FullAbove: detail from Portrait of Lieutenant General Sir Edward Barnes (1776-1838) John Wood

A brigade commander, Barnes served under Wellington on numerous occasions. He was wounded at the battle of Waterloo, but survived to become Lieutenant General and Acting Governor of Ceylon. He was succeeded in Ceylon by Edward Paget, another brother of the pair beside him. 

Sir Edward Full

Treating and preserving the portraits

Each portrait was fully assessed by our conservation team, who could see evidence of discolouration across most of the surface. This was due to build-up of atmospheric contaminants. The portraits were most likely positioned in nicotine-rich environments for at least one hundred years, due to their position upon the walls of a social club across the 20th century. 

Army and Navy club coffee roomAbove: the portraits in the busy coffee room prior to restoration

Evidence was also found of abrasions, scratches and indentations, typical damage for paintings that have been within a busy or functional environment for many decades. The coffee room is used for food and drink and the size of the portraits made them level with the chairs and tables, allowing accidents to easily and understandably occur.

Admiral durham damageAbove: areas of impact damage, abrasions and overpainting found during the assessment 

The most pressing issues were the discovery of scratched and dented areas on the surface, as the original paint was at high risk of continued loss. Our conservators consolidated and stabilised the damage before performing the rest of their treatments, ensuring no areas would be disturbed further. The consolidation was carried out by applying 10% isinglass. This was applied to the edges of the flakes using a brush and allowed to flow behind the delaminated layers. A heated spatula was used to soften and flatten raised areas of paint as well as curing the adhesive.

Prince Frederick detailsAbove: a selection of details from the portrait as our conservator cleans the surface with a cotton swab

A gentle cleaning process was then carried out to lift any surface level contaminants and stains. As most of the discolouration sat upon the surface rather than within the varnish layer, only surface level treatment was required. This allowed our conservators to approach each piece with an ethical, minimal intervention whilst still providing a safe and visually effective result. As well as the use of swabs, dry cleaning was also carried out to remove dust and atmospheric debris.

Where there was evidence of paint loss, for example around the abraded areas of paint, our conservators used a tiny amount of conservation-appropriate pigment to allow for visual cohesion and added stability. This method is fully reversible, ensuring the portraits are never permanently altered by a hand that is not the original artist. As these portraits have such cultural and historic value, it was extremely important to all parties involved that these pieces retained their integrity. 

For the future of the club, this conservation treatment allowed peace of mind that the paintings were now stable and well-preserved. Our team created a full report of the work including imagery and technical records. This would allow future conservators to know exactly what treatments the paintings had undergone. Our team also wrote up care instructions for the club, giving a list of tips on how to avoid future damage and protect the paintings going forwards. As part of this preservation effort, the club chose to place UV protective film on their windows. This would form part of the Army and Navy Club’s records, giving insight into the ongoing care of some of their most renowned members. 

How can we help?

If you have any questions about art restoration and conservation, please do not hesitate to get in touch. As part of our service we offer a nationwide collection and delivery service as well as information on worldwide shipping to our studio. E-mail us via [email protected] or call 0207 112 7576 for more information.

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