Friday, 20 December 2013

Face to Face with Reynolds

Last week the house team were busy moving paintings, in preparation for the 'Constable at Petworth' exhibition which starts on January 11th 2014.

The Somerset Room and Square Dining Room will be open during the exhibition, but will look very different to how visitors will have seen them in the past. Much of the artwork has been redisplayed in order to show paintings that would have inspired Constable during his stay at Petworth in 1834.

Taking down a number of paintings from the North Gallery so they can be redisplayed in the showrooms open during the exhibition.

Taking down a painting from the Square Dining Room - those on a lower level require as many hands as possible to safely lower and remove the painting. Those higher up require ropes and pulleys to get them down. 

On top of this, the lighting consultants who visited the property earlier in the year have been back to the house, to add further lighting to some of the paintings which will be on display. The pictures look fantastic!

Newly-instated painting, with new picture light
Two paintings now installed for the exhibition in the Square Dining Room - my camera does not do these paintings justice; the lighting illuminates them beautifully.
One of the biggest jobs (quite literally) in the Square Dining Room was the lighting of the Macbeth and the Witches. When I last wrote about this painting, conservators were at Petworth determining what could be done to improve the visuals of the painting. The painting will be going away in April for this conservation work, but part of the project includes having the canvas properly lit.

Here the lights have been fixed to the top of the Macbeth. You can already see the difference it makes to the detail visible on the canvas - as well as how well it lights compared to the older picture lights (for example those down the right hand side, which unfortunately inclue a lot of glare and a lit circle from the light).
Having the lighting consultants in also meant we were able to get the scaffolding right up close to the portrait of Reynolds himself – who will look fantastic when he is lit properly lit.

The photo is rather distorted (the inherent problems of dealing with scaffolding and cameras!) but it does bring out the detail in the portrait of Reynolds which it is currently very difficult to see, due to his dark location above the Macbeth! We look forward to seeing him properly with picture lights in a few months time.
Do come and see the changes that have been made for the exhibition - as well as, of course, the fantastic collection of over 40 watercolours and oil paintings by Constable which are being exhibited together for the first time in our exhibition room. Many of these paintings were produced by Constable during his visit to the house in 1834. The Old Library - usually closed to the public - will also be open to those visiting the exhibition. Booking is essential - click here for more information and to book tickets.

We hope to see you in the new year for the exhibition!

Conservation Assistant

Monday, 16 December 2013

Henry Behind Bars

The Carved Room is perhaps one of the better known rooms at Petworth, as each of the four walls and the ceiling are covered in intricate lime wood carvings. In around 1690, the 6th Duke of Somerset commissioned Grinling Gibbons to decorate the South end of the current room and also a number of the full-length picture frames which hang either end of the long East wall.

In 1786 the 3rd Earl of Egremont began the project of doubling the size of the room, bringing in carvings from elsewhere in the house. Jonathon Ritson was charged with the task of the ceiling carvings, as well as adding drops and hangings to Gibbons’ original design – the majority of which were dismantled in 1870.
Between 2000-2, much of this carving was returned and new carving was also commissioned to replace pieces that were no longer available, most notably those around the Turner landscapes along the West wall.

A view of the East Wall in the Carved Room.

The carvings in the centre of the East Wall. The carvings for the pictures along the bottom are by Ritson. The carvings around Henry VIII were probably done by John Selden c.1689-90 and were originally in the Beauty Room before being moved to their current location by the 3rd Earl of Egremont.

Whenever we do Conservation in Action events, we are frequently asked how we clean the carvings. The simple answer is, minus a few exceptions, – we don’t. The majority of the carvings on the wall are far too fragile for us to touch – previous woodworm damage means that the insides of the carvings are like honeycomb and the outershells incredibly fragile.

The room goes through a programme of specialist cleaning whereby a machine puffs air onto the carvings – it is too fragile even for the touch of a brush. This lifts the dust off before it is sucked away into a vacuum cleaner. Specialists are called in every 5 years and it takes around 3 years for the whole room to be cleaned! A very time-consuming process and one which would do more harm than good if undertaken too frequently.

There are a few carvings which we can clean, however. Those which surround the lower paintings (the bottom row on the photos above), such as those around the Turners – which are more modern – as well as some of those by Ritson. Although they are dusted on a weekly basis, during the winter clean we can really inspect them thoroughly.
They are removed from the wall so that we can direct light onto them and see underneath and all around the carvings on the frame. This enables us to check for any pockets of dust which may have collected – if there is any dust present it can be a haven for mould, as the spaces behind the carvings can create small pockets of high relative humidity due to the lack of air flow. Removing them from the wall also means that we have greater access to the carvings to remove this dust. We gently use cotton wool buds, if necessary, to get into the detail, pony-hair brushes and vacuum cleaners.
A portrait of Jonathan Ritson by George Clint, commissioned by the 3rd Earl of Egremont. This hangs along the West wall of the carved rooms and acts as pendant to a second portrait by Clint, of Gibbons. Both hang in carved frames by Ritson. We shine the light into the side of the frame so that we can really see into the detail.

Close up of one of the Ritson carvings that we can clean!

We still get the scaffolding out and get up close to the carvings and paintings in the room. It is still important to check the condition of all the paintings.
Henry behind bars!

Conservation Assistant

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Azures and collars and chains - oh my!

If you look up above the chimney pieces in the Marble Hall, you will see a unicorn and a bull flanking the Somerset Crest. This decorative woodwork was carved by John Selden, and formed part of the original layout of the room - described  by the 6th Duke of Somerset’s accounts as ‘The Hall of State’. The Marble Hall itself was completed in 1692 and designed by Daniel Marot, an influential Huguenot designer who worked extensively for William III.

Selden spent much of his working career at Petworth. As well as producing the works in the Marble Hall he also carved the frame surrounding the Henry VIII portrait (after Holbein) in the Carved Room, 1689-90, where it stands alongside carvings by Gibbons and Ritson. It is thought that he worked elsewhere in the house, for example in the chapel, although accounts of this do not survive.

Rumour has it that Selden died while trying to save the Carved Room carvings when Petworth House caught on fire on the 31st December 1713. However, the dates for this do not coincide with the time of his burial, which makes it extremely unlikely to be fact!

Winter clean updates
This week we are in the Marble Hall – this, in terms of the winter clean, means we are out of the Square Dining Room! We have put the scaffolding up so that we can reach all the carved decoration which makes its way around the room, meaning that Michelle, Caroline and Judy were face-to-face with the resident bulls and unicorns, who are the heraldic supporters of the 6th Duke of Somerset.

The 6th Duke of Somerset's coat of arms, as featured in the carvings (see below!)

On the left a unicorn is gorged with a ducal collar azure, to which is affixed a chain. On the right a bull azure, maned, collared, chained, and hoofed
Click here for more information about the crest

Judy cleaning the South Wall decoration. We use a hogs-hair brush and vacuum to lift the dust and take it away from the carvings

Michelle dusting the carved work. A long brush and nozzle was needed to get behind the carvings

There's still lots of decorative work left to dust in the Marble Hall - we'll be busy over the next few weeks!

Conservation Assistant