We are working hard to prepare the Gallery for welcoming visitors back on 22 June. Read on as our Collections team offer a behind-the-scenes insight into this exciting chapter in our history.

The first stage of the renovated building was handed back to the Gallery by the builders Gilbert Ash in September 2022. After so much planning and time away from site since de-installing the Collection in 2020, it was very exciting for the Collections team to return to the galleries again.

With the galleries prepared with their newly painted walls and new fabric wall coverings and environmental controls functioning, the portraits could begin being transported back on-site from storage. The logistics of this complicated task of moving the Collection have been managed by the registrars, who have planned truck loads and schedules and tracked and overseen the movement of hundreds of artworks from storage. Once the portraits arrive at the Gallery, they are carefully unpacked by the art handlers, who then pass them on to the conservators for condition checking and preparation for display.

A large painting is being hung on the wall by workers on the ground and on a scissor lift

The first works to be prepared and installed were the oversized paintings that had been rolled to move them out from the building. As these works are so large and heavy, their preparation and installation require the art handling and conservation teams to work closely together. The paintings were unrolled and then restretched onto their re-assembled wooden stretchers by the paintings conservators after some treatment was undertaken to stabilise them. The frame conservators re-assembled the frames and carefully refitted the paintings with protective backings. Due to their size and weight, each stage required numerous art handlers to help safely manoeuvre them, and specialist equipment was used to position them on the walls when they were finally installed.

In order to prepare all the paintings and sculptures for display, a temporary conservation studio has been set up in room 20 – the largest of the gallery spaces. The Inspiring People Conservation Team have been condition-checking and documenting each work as it comes back into the Gallery, undertaking any stabilisation and minor repairs required to prepare them for display. This has also presented the opportunity to undertake high-resolution digital photography of many portraits, working with the Digitisation team.

A painting is lifted on to the wall by two members of Gallery staff; another painting rests on blocks on the floor to their right

After the largest works were safely placed, the first and second-floor galleries were hung with paintings. The registrars have coordinated this activity with the Curatorial and Design departments to ensure the new displays are installed according to plan. The art handling team skilfully and carefully positioned the paintings, making the minor adjustments needed to realise the curators’ vision, gradually transforming blank walls back into galleries again.

The subsequent phases of the installation will include sculptures, photographs and works on paper. The conservation team are busy preparing these for display. While much progress has been made already, there are still artworks to install before we welcome you back in June 2023.


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