Scrubs up nicely

Portrait of ‘young’ Sir George Booth, 1st Baron Delamer (1622-1684), by circle of Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723), at Dunham Massey, photographed following conservation. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Hollow

Portrait of ‘young’ Sir George Booth, 1st Baron Delamer (1622-1684), by circle of Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723), at Dunham Massey, photographed following conservation. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Hollow

In June 2012 we managed to buy this portrait of ‘Young’ Sir George Booth, 1st Baron Delamer of Dunham Massey (as I reported at the time). It was sent to London-based conservator Sophie Reddington for treatment and Sophie has just sent me these images of the work.

The portrait before conservation. ©Christie's

The portrait before conservation. ©Christie’s

The picture was quite dusty and dirty and even had some white splash marks which appeared to be emulsion wall paint. At some point it had also been relined using too much heat, causing the paint to melt in places.

The portrait midway during varnish removal. ©Sophie Reddington

The portrait midway during varnish removal. ©Sophie Reddington

Sophie cleaned the painting with deionised water and then removed several layers of discoloured varnish with various solvents. Old retouching and overpainting was removed, again with solvents and also mechanically with a scalpel.

Lord Delamer's sleeve during varnish removal. ©Sophie Reddington

Lord Delamer’s sleeve during varnish removal. ©Sophie Reddington

Then Sophie refilled the small paint losses with acrylic putty, applied a first coat of new varnish and added new retouchings, followed by a final coat of varnish sprayed on in several thin layers.

The portrait after the filling in of the losses and the application of the first coat of varnish, but before retouching. ©Sophie Reddington

The portrait after the filling in of the losses and the application of the first coat of varnish, but before retouching. ©Sophie Reddington

Where the canvas had become brittle and torn around the sides and the back of the stretcher Sophie mended it with nylon gossamer impregnated with adhesive.

Fragile and brittle tacking edges before treatment. ©Sophie Reddington

Fragile and brittle tacking edges before treatment. ©Sophie Reddington

Sophie also treated the frame, consolidating loose parts, retouching damaged areas with watercolours and bronze paint, lining the rebate with paper tape and felt and reinserting the picture.

The same tacking edges after treatment. ©Sophie Reddington

The same tacking edges after treatment. ©Sophie Reddington

On the back of the frame there is a label of James Bourlet and Sons, London frame makers, as well as the more recent Christie’s label.

Labels old and new on the back of the frame. ©Sophie Reddington

Labels old and new on the back of the frame. ©Sophie Reddington

All this has vastly improved the readability of the image and given it a new lease of life.

9 Responses to “Scrubs up nicely”

  1. style court Says:

    Always enjoy seeing the conservator’s process.

    Sidenote: I feel as if I’m waiting for the art history professor to take his laser pointer and talk about the awkward bend of Booth’s right elbow and how the loose folds of his sleeve echo the heavy drapery in the top left :)

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes the combination of studied nonchalance and awkwardness in his pose is quite engaging :)

    And that professor with his/her laser pointer would probably also have something interesting to say about Lord Delamer’s theatrical pseudo-Roman armour.

  3. Katharine McNealey Says:

    Fascinating. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Lex van Haart Says:

    Emile, I often lack the time to follow the ‘reader’ of my favourite blogs, but when it opened this evening I saw the familiar face of Booth and remembered the discussion we had over his odd hand-on-hip. I’m happy to see the results of the conservator’s work, and a splendid job she did. His all’antica attire is looking very… very, yes. :)

    Despite the better view on the details of the background, it remains an odd pose and I can’t help but to smile and surpress the urge of wanting to wish him well with that eternal dislocated shoulder.
    If you ever find a counterpart, which, to me, would explain a lot more about this pose, I’d be very much interested to hear about it. Especially if it would be Lady Katherine, it turns out my grandmother has Clinton-ancestry.

    Thanks for the follow-up with the results of this.
    And compliments for the work of the conservator.

  5. artandarchitecturemainly Says:

    The nonchalance is not accidental, I think. It reminds me of the swagger portaits that became so popular in the Grand Tourists in Italy. Although Sir George was dead by 1690, there was an easy confidence in all these young men’s born-to-rule attitude.

    Enjoy the newly conserved portrait.

  6. Andrew Says:

    Apropos, Mary Beard was musing a while ago when the toga went out of fashion for busts and portraits – http://timesonline.typepad.com/dons_life/2011/02/when-did-the-toga-go-out-of-fashion.html

    There are some later examples, but few after the 1860s. For example, a togate Abraham Lincoln looks a bit odd – http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/art/common/image/Sculpture_21_00013.htm

    And there is a very different, much more conservative and presumably earlier, painting of Booth by Lely in the NT Collections database – http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/932282 – although he is still doing something slightly odd with his left hand!

  7. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Katherine, glad you like it.

    Lex, glad to hear you approve of Sophie’s work. Yes the theatrical pose and the theatrical attire go well together, don’t they? :) And yes we will let you know if the pair to this turns up.

    Helen, yes this is very much a swagger portrait, although this is only a half-length so it doesn’t include the elegantly placed feet and dashing shoes :)

    Andrew, yes that is an interesting question, as to when it stopped being appropriate to be dressed all’antica in portraits. Lincoln indeed looks decidedly odd, perhaps because of his very Victorian coiffure and facial hair, or perhaps because we associate him with stovepipe hats.

    Yes, what is it with ‘young’ Sir George and the hand-with-palm-outward-on-hip thing? It is actually quite a difficult pose to maintain (you can picture me striking ridiculous attitudes in our open-plan office) – puzzling.

  8. deana Says:

    I think the Delamer was very proud of his extravagant epaulet and was showing it off to its best advantage in the odd pose he struck –– it is a very fine epaulet!

    Lovely restoration work,kudos to the brave technician. It is perilous work and not for the faint hearted as much can go wrong with the process (thanks to dodgy techniques and materials of the artist).

  9. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Deana, yes of course the costume would very much appeal to you, as a production designer. You must see actors showing off their costumes (and general charisma) like that all the time :)

    Here it was also a case of dealing with dogy previous conservation treatment, which almost succeeded in melting the painting.

    Sophie also noted the that the very dark sky was probably not intentional (although this colour is very fashionable just now: Pantone have declared ‘Turbulence’ to be one of the must-have colours for autumn 2013 :)) and was originally probably blue. The reason for the darkening could be that the paint contains smalt, a pigment that can darken over age when exposed to a relatively humid and acidic environment (for a fuller scientific explanation see here: http://bit.ly/YfG1d9). You can often see the same blackening in depictions of blue and white ceramics in 17th-century still lifes.

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