Conservation: walking the walk and talking the talk

The Regency curtains that until recently hung in the Sultana Room at Attingham, showing signs of wear and tear. ©National Trust

I just wanted to mention some more lively blogs focusing on the conservation work taking place at the historic houses of the National Trust.

Conservator applying a coat of water-based acrylic to the painted floorcloth in the Entrance Hall at Attingham, to help protect it against tens of thousands of visitors' feet. ©National Trust

The Attingham Park Mansion blog has been chronicling the big winter cleaning and maintenance round, but also shows the results of archival research into the history of the Noel Hill family, the cataloguing of the collection of photographs as well as a recent Marie Claire photoshoot.

Hoisting the 3rd Duke of Dorset back into position at Knole. ©National Trust

The Knole conservation blog shows the recent reinstatement of the Reynolds Room following an environmental control trial which involved a life-size mock-up of the room being placed in front of the walls (and which I reported on earlier).

One of the internal gutters at Knole, with evidence of recent snowfall. ©National Trust

The blog is also witness to the considerable problems that the house is facing with water ingress, often due to strange historical drainage solutions such as gutters that run inside the walls, demonstrating the need for the major conservation project that has just got underway there.

Finished toile for a corset of the type that the lady in the Dunham portrait would have worn. ©Jennifer Craig

I have already mentioned Jennifer Craig’s blog about her project to recreate the costume worn by the lady in the Jacobean portrait we recently acquired for Dunham Massey, but Jennifer has since added a number of interesting posts about her research into seventeenth century embroidery and corset-making.

Oyster, not gold. ©Jennifer Craig

Jennifer also remarks how the recent cleaning of the portrait has shown that the colour of the lady’s jacket is oyster, rather than gold as we all thought prior to the removal of the old varnish – demonstrating the importance of conservation in not only protecting but also revealing the true nature of historic objects.

9 Responses to “Conservation: walking the walk and talking the talk”

  1. Parnassus Says:

    Your last point about discovering the true color of the jacket brings up an interesting general issue. Many old items that we see now have significantly changed in color. Dirt accumulation can dim and darken objects, especially the surfaces of old buildings. Darkening of varnish, fading of dyes, and chemical changes in color make objects look different today. Old color can be removed or stripped–a good example is classical statues and architecture, which were often brightly painted. Many objects that today seem refined and restrained were actually quite gaudy when new, although the jacket going from gold to a more sedate oyster shows the opposite effect.
    –Road to Parnassus

  2. knolenationaltrust Says:

    Thank you for this post Emile..lots of increased activity on the Knole blog today! Emily

  3. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Parnassus, indeed and the issues of discolouration in historic interiors are always complicated and fascinating. In general, the National Trust tries not to overclean things, especially when the different elements in a historic interior have lived and faded together for a long time and look relatively harmonious together. But each case presents different challenges, of course.

    And you are right to point out that historic interiors were originally often much brighter and gaudier than they appear now. The Reynolds Room at Knole is a case in point: on the Knole blog you can see how the red damask behing the pictures is still much more saturated than those sections that have been exposed to the light.

    Faded interiors can be charming and beautiful, of course, and Uppark is a classic case, where the faded look was carefully recreated after a disastrous fire. But equally it is important to know what the original look would have been like, and sometimes it can be appropriate to recreate that too.

    Emily, excellent, please keep writing those great posts 🙂

  4. attinghamparkmansion Says:

    Thank you as well Emile – we have had increased activity too! Georgina

  5. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Great. I was fascinated by that image of the floorcloth being varnished!

  6. Margaret McAvoy Says:

    Dear Emile:
    Another fascinating post regarding the enormous efforts in preserving history! I’m beyond-fashionably-late to the party about the photographic murals for the Reynolds Room at Knole: hats off to Richard Crowest/Corvidae! Have any decisions been made as to where they will go next? I agree with another comment that suggested a travelling exhibit of sort. Unfortunately, though, many of the aspects that make the “experience” will be missing (acoustics, smells, approach, sight line, etc.). But then again, also doing without the cost of overseas travel, might lessen (but only very slightly) the sacrifice for many. And many thanks for the terrific links: wonderful folks doing wonderful work at the properties…24 hours in a day is quite simply not enough time to indulge my desk-top vacations! Kind regards & warm blessings!


  7. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Margaret, thank you very much for your generous comments. I will try to find out if the colleagues at Knole have any plans for the ‘virtual’ Reynolds Room. There should be some more interesting approaches and discoveries coming out of Knole over the next few years as their big conservation project gathers steam.

  8. Mark D. Ruffner Says:

    Emile, I just wanted to note, in regard to the oyster-colored painting, that the artist did such beautiful work that for several moments, I thought I was looking at a close-up of Jennifer Craig’s re-creation!

  9. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Mark, what a nice mistake to make 🙂 Yes one wonders whether the artist was allowed to study the costume without the sitter in it, to be able to take the time to get the details right.

    I think Jennifer is going to focus on recreating the structure of the costume rather than its decoration. A full-scale recreation was attempted recently at Plimoth Plantation, with astonishing results, but they had dozens of volunteers working on it – which raises interesting questions about the economics of creating these clothes in the Jacobean period.

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