Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Conservation in Action - The State (of the) Bed

For the next couple of Wednesday afternoons for our Conservation in Action event, the house team are focusing on Mrs Wyndham's Bedroom, upstairs in the bedroom corridor.

Visitors to Petworth House on a Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon are able to see the guest bedrooms in the house, and perhaps the most often commented on piece of furniture is the State Bed in Mrs Wyndham's Bedroom.

The State Bed

Dating from the 1750s, the Rococo bed is attributed to James Whittle and Samuel Norman. It features crimson damask hangings and is painted and parcel-gilt (partially gilded). The carvings on top include ostrich plumes and great pierced shells; the dome topping the bed features a Chinese dragon and a very cute squirrel eating a nut!

The dome topping to the bed - spot the squirrel, and all sorts of other creatures!

It was created for the Second Earl of Egremont (1710-1763) and it was originally displayed in the State Bedroom downstairs (now the White Library, open on most Monday afternoons) before fashions for downstairs bedrooms changed in the 1770s.

When the Dowager Lady Egremont lived at Petworth, she would always sleep in the State Bed. In the 1980's when the bed was treated by the V&A Conservation team, they were flummoxed by a strange staining which was covering the top dome of the bed. Experts were called in - was it some kind of mould? In the end, they asked the family - it turned out that the Dowager kept a pet owl who liked to roost in the carvings at the top of the bed - and so would naturally leave droppings which had covered the top of the bed!
The bed underwent conservation treatment for the V&A's Rococo exhibition and the bed was subsequently moved from the State Bedroom into its current position in Mrs Wyndham's Bedroom.

When it comes to us cleaning the bed now, we use a soft ponyhair brush with a vacuum cleaner to remove the dust in the carvings. The damask is cleaned using a textile brush attachment on the vacuum, along with a piece of netting to limit the stress on the fabric, and a very low suction on the vacuum.
The fragile nature of the bed means that it is cleaned as little as possible - meaning there are quite large dust deposits being found on the top hangings!
Photography isn't allowed in the bedrooms, as they are still a private part of the house belonging to the family. So to see just how we clean the bed and the rest of the furniture, you'll just have to visit us! (We will be cleaning Mrs Wyndham's bedroom on the 26th March and the 2nd April).

Conservation Assistant

Sunday, 23 March 2014

And we're off!

Paintings have been dusted; sculptures and ceramics have had their dust sheets removed; floors have been polished and buffed; copper has been cleaned and polished… even the spaniels have hidden themselves in ever-more tricky places to find! The 30 paintings that had been rehung for the ‘Constable at Petworth’ exhibition in the Square Dining Room, Somerset Room and Oak Hall were returned to their usual hanging places late on Friday night, once the last visitors to the exhibition had left. Witherington's 'Fete in the Park' has also had new lighting fitted to it, on a trial basis, joining the other paintings in the North Gallery which are being trialled for this lighting.
Following a successful winter clean, Petworth House opened its doors again on Saturday to welcome visitors back into the house. And what a beautiful weekend to welcome them with!
Daffodils in the Pleasure Grounds

Now that the winter clean has finished, the house team are busy preparing for the open season – replacing bug traps to monitor the pests and sorting out what we will be cleaning in front of the public this year for our Conservation in Action events,which will be happening every Wednesday afternoon (commencing from the 19th of March). This week will see us cleaning the state bed in Mrs Wyndham’s Bedroom.

The State Bed in Mrs Wyndham's Bedroom

We do hope to welcome you to Petworth soon!
Conservation Assistant

Monday, 17 March 2014

Faustina’s Return and the Luck of a Rabbit’s Foot

Last year, Cliveden Conservation took away one of our sculptures, a bust of Faustina, to provide her with some much-needed treatment. She was returned to us on Tuesday, in time for the House reopening fully on Saturday.
Faustina coming out of her box. Cliveden used a pump truck to get her to the right height before putting her back in place - she's an incredibly heavy lady!
Cliveden treated and reconditioned the previous damage she has suffered, such as around her neck. She has also been repatinated to return her appearance to have it might have looked in the 18th Century.

This bust of the Roman Empress Faustina is from the 2nd century AD and was collected for Petworth by the 2nd Earl of Egremont.
 Julia also spent time on Tuesday repairing a rabbit’s feet from a sculpture in the Marble Hall. When they came to assess the sculpture last year, the rabbit was only missing one foot, but the other was incredibly loose and structurally unsound. The condition of the marble has deteriorated over time, leaving the marble with a sugary texture, making it weaker and therefore more susceptible to damage.
The decision was made to remove both feet so that they could be taken away and consolidated before being refitted. 

The feet are reattached by placing a length of metal dowel into the foot along with a special adhesive before being connected to the main body of the sculpture. It takes around 10-15 minutes for the adhesive to set (and longer for it to be fully sound), so tape is used to support the sculpture while it dries.

Sculpture and, importantly, rabbit complete with feet!
We are very pleased to have the rabbit back in one piece – a legless rabbit did look somewhat odd, and hopefully the feet will bring us luck for the season!

Conservation Assistant