British picture restorers, 1600-1950 - A
An online resource, launched in 2009, selectively updated twice yearly. Last updated December 2020. Contributions are welcome, to Jacob Simon at [email protected].
Added March 2018
George Aczel, home 137 Adelaide Road, London NW3 1942-1943, studio 20 Westbourne St, W2 1942, possibly 48 Dover St, W1 1944, possibly 85 Ecclestone Square, SW1 1946, Paris c.1948-c.1956, 4 Haunch of Venison Yard, London W1 1958-1984.Picture restorer and flower painter.
George Aczel(1907-97), Hungarian born, came to England in 1939 and set up as a picture restorer in London in 1942. His curriculum vitae, sent to the Tate Gallery in October 1942 when seeking work, provides considerable detail about his early career (Tate archive, TG 18/1/1/9/6). This stands in contrast to his later years which are not so well documented.
In his curriculum vitae he records his education in Budapest and his studies in the Budapest, Vienna, Florence and Paris art academies. He learnt about the history of art and the chemistry of paint. Both his father and grandfather were restorers and he describes how his father, a retired keeper of the museum of applied arts at Budapest, provided guidance in the technique and processes of the old masters. He worked under the guidance of the chief restorer for the museum of fine arts at Budapest (A. Behr), at the school of restoring at Milan and with ‘Mr Lucien’, restorer at the Louvre. He was employed as a restorer in the monasteries of the Order of Saint Francis in Hungary for 18 months and then worked as a restorer for the Ernst museum in Budapest. He undertook work internationally, in Greece restoring a large collection of early icons in 1930, in New York restoring a Raphael and another picture belonging to the Mellon collection in 1931 and in Belgium and Holland restoring pictures for various catholic orders and art collections.
Aczel came to England in 1939, writing a book on restoration which remained unpublished due to the war and, from November 1940, teaching the history and technique of art in Worcestershire and restoring pictures including Joshua Reynolds’s ‘Dr Chauney’ [Chauncey?], a portrait by John Hoppner in the Radford collection and early English portraits for the Bishop of Hereford. In summer 1942 he set up as a restorer in London, working on pictures by Van Dyck and El Greco among others. All the above derives from his curriculum vitae. He can be seen at work on an El Greco in an illustrated feature in 1943 (‘An Expert Restores a Painting by El Greco’, Picture Post, 26 June 1943, pp.22-3).
Aczel married Cornelia S. Quitt in the Caernarvon district in 1941 and they had sons Peter in 1941 and John in 1945. He was working as a picture restorer for Antique Art Objects Ltd in 1943 as he stated in his application to the Home Office for a permit to practice as a picture restorer in his own name (Tate archive, TGA 8812/1/1/23/124). He lived and worked in Paris, c.1948-c.1956, before returning to London (information from Peter Aczel, November 2016). He appears in telephone books as a picture restorer at 4 Haunch of Venison Yard, W1, 1958-84, but details of his practice, mainly for picture dealers, remain to be established. Aczel was also a flower painter, holding exhibitions of his work in London at Gallery Lasson (1973), Brian Koetser Gallery (1974), Brook St Gallery (1975) and Hamiltons Gallery (1980). Catalogues are held by Tate library and the V&A National Art Library.
See British picture framemakers on this website.
The activities of John Anderson (d.1773) as a picture dealer have been explored by David Connell, to whom this account is indebted. Many of his dealings were undertaken privately, acting as an agent. Late in life, in 1769, he claimed to have been active for 40 years (see below). However, it was not until 1742 that he comes to notice, when he purchased five paintings at the posthumous sale of Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of Oxford. He attended picture sales in London over three decades, often acting on behalf of collectors, in the 1750s purchasing pictures for Charles Wyndham, 2nd Earl of Egremont, and in the 1760s for Charles Ingram, 9th Viscount Irwin. ‘Anderson’ is recorded as a buyer at 15 picture sales between 1742 and 1759 (‘Sale catalogues of the principal collections of pictures..., 1711-1759’, 2 ms vols, V&A National Art Library, 86.OO.18-19).
Restoration work: As a picture cleaner, Anderson undertook work for Frederick Prince of Wales, 1747-9, restoring 42 paintings (Connell 2007 p.121; see also Michael Levey, The Later Italian Pictures in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen, 2nd ed., 1991, p.122, and Millar 1963 pp.105, 109); his final bill came to £260.13s, including the substantial sum of 30 guineas for ‘Cleaning & making out & Repairing’ Van Dyck’s St Martin dividing his Cloak (Royal Collection, see Millar 1963 p.104; see also pp.100, 102, 109, 109, 110).
In a letter of 24 February 1750, ‘Mr Anderson’ was praised by Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield as a ‘very safe man’ to remove the varnish on a painting by Rubens which he had just acquired. Anderson also sometimes cleaned pictures that he had purchased for Lord Egremont, being paid 5 ½ guineas in 1751 and 93 ½ guineas in 1752 (Connell 2007 p.122, from information supplied by Christopher Rowell). He undertook further work for Lord Egremont in 1763, charging for lining, cleaning and repairing various paintings at a cost of £40.6s, including enlarging a painting by Luca Giordano for £6.6s, cleaning and repairing ‘the large Claud Lorain’ for £8.8s and lining, cleaning, repairing and enlarging Peter Lely’s Duke and Duchess of York for £9.9s (information from Alastair Laing, July 2010). Anderson also received payment for work undertaken for Egremont’s executors, 1763-4 (West Sussex Record Office, Petworth House Archives, PHA/6615).
Anderson provided a similar service to Lord Irwin, cleaning Rubens’s Holy Family with Infant St John (with Agnew’s, see Connell 2007 figs 6, 8) and Claude’s Pastoral Landscape (Earl of Halifax, see Connell 2007 figs 7, 8) for £3.3s in 1765, and also reframing these pictures.
George Vertue saw an enormous portrait at Anderson’s in 1749, namely Daniel Mytens’s Charles I and Henrietta Maria departing for the Chase (Serlby Hall, see Millar 1963 p.86), then belonging to Richard Arundell (Vertue vol.5, p.78). Anderson cleaned pictures for John Warde of Squerryes Court in Kent in 1747 and 1756, and for the Duke of Bedford in 1756, cleaning and repairing a portrait of Lord Bacon which was ‘in a very bad condition’. He was mentioned in 1768 by Sir Brook Bridges(?) in a letter to Horace Walpole about ‘Anderson’ securing a portrait of Richard III (Walpole’s Correspondence, vol.41, 1980, p.132), and in February 1770 by Sir Joshua Reynolds, who noted him as a picture cleaner in his pocketbook (Connell 2007 p.126, n.54).
After a fire in 1769 Anderson appealed for aid ‘to the Nobility, Gentlemen and Artists’, referring to his 'Care and Labour of 40 Years' (Gazeteer and New Daily Advertiser 8 May 1769, Public Advertiser 25 May 1769). Following his death, his old master paintings were sold by Mr Christie on 4 and 5 March 1774, when Anderson was described as late of Park St (Daily Advertiser 27 January 1774). His business was taken over by his son-in-law, Charles Lloyd (qv).
Sources: David Connell, ‘John Anderson and John Bouttats: picture dealers in eighteenth-century London’, in Jeremy Warren and Adriana Turpin (eds), Auctions, Agents and Dealers. The Mechanisms of the Art Market 1660-1830, 2007, pp.120-6; Lord Mahon, The Letters of Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield, vol.3, 1892, p.343; G. Scott Thomson, ‘The Restoration of the Duke of Bedford’s Pictures’, Burlington Magazine, vol.92, 1950, p.321. For abbreviations, see Resources and bibliography.
*John Anderson (1948-2003). Head of Frame Conservation, Tate.
Outside the time frame of this online resource, but see obituary by Roy Perry in Conservation News, May 2004, no.90, p.18.
Updated March 2018
Frederick William Andrew, 22 Coleshill St, Pimlico, London 1844-1847, 268 Oxford St 1848-1857, not recorded 1858, home addresses from 1859, 9 Gloucester Grove West, Brompton 1859-1862, 3 Neville Terrace, Onslow Gardens, South Kensington 1863-1891 or later. Stationer from 1844, jeweller and stationer from 1848, Fancy Repository from 1851, then restorer of works of art and antiquities, later Chief Art Repairer, South Kensington Museum.
Frederick William Andrew (1822-1903) was christened at St Mary Marylebone, the eldest of four children born to Frederick William Andrew senr and Ruth Tudor between 1822 and 1829. His father traded from 23 Northumberland St, Marylebone, and took out insurance from these premises with the Sun Fire office in 1822, 1827 and 1828 as a painter (and glazier in 1828) (London Metropolitan Archives, Sun Fire Office policy registers, 493/987191, 515/1065001, 516/1069747); he died in 1847, leaving a will in which he described himself as a painter and glazier of St Marylebone.
The son, as F.W. Andrew junr, exhibited a still-life at the Society of British Artists in 1842. Initially, he traded as a stationer, then as a jeweller and stationer from 1850 and as a fancy repository from 1851. In the 1850s he gave up trade and turned to restoration. His subsequent career was closely associated with the South Kensington Museum. He was awarded a scholarship by the Science and Art Department in March 1854 and received a prize for design in February 1855 before entering the training class in October 1855. He would seem to have joined the staff of the South Kensington Museum in 1857. He was appointed Restorer of Art Objects at the museum in 1864 and was promoted in 1868. During his museum career, he presented reports on many subjects including moth damage to tapestries (1865) and on the condition of some of the Sheepshanks pictures (1866). Of particular interest are the experiments he conducted, starting in 1876, on the effects of exposure of watercolours to light (reported in A.H. Church, The Chemistry of Paints and Painting, 1890, p.284). It is clear that Andrew’s responsibilities ranged over objects in diverse materials. He retired as Chief Art Repairer at the age of 71 in 1893, when he was said to have served for 36 years 3 months.
In censuses, Andrew was described in 1851 at 268 Oxford St as ‘Fancy Repository, Master’, age 28, and in 1861 as a restorer of antiquities, age 38, living at Brompton, with Lucy, his wife, 43, a drawing teacher. In subsequent censuses he can be found at 3 Neville Terrace in South Kensington, in 1871 as an artistic repairer for the South Kensington Museum, with seven children between the age of 8 and 24, in 1881 as an artistic restorer, by now a widower, and in 1891 as Superintendent, Art work…(?), South Kensington Museum. F.W. Andrew held an account with the artists’ suppliers, Roberson, from the South Kensington Museum, 1862-6, 1875-6 and from his home address, 3 Neville Terrace, 1871-4 (Woodcock 1997). It is at this home address that he was listed in the court section of London directories. He died in 1903 at the age of 80 in the Uxbridge district.
Andrew undertook occasional restoration work for the National Portrait Gallery. George Scharf described him as ‘the restorer of miniatures’ and his work included restoring Camille Manzini’s Thomas Grenville for 10s.6d in 1879 (National Portrait Gallery records, Duplicates of Accounts, vol.1, p.105, vol.2, p.80). He also treated various portrait busts. Using a monogrammed paper from 3 Neville Terrace, he billed the Gallery in 1885 for cleaning 27 white marble busts for £6.15s and in 1890 he cleaned a terracotta bust of Thackeray (NPG, Secretary’s journal, 9 March 1885, 6 February 1890).
Sources: For Andrew’s career in the South Kensington Museum, see V&A archive, ED 84/35 pp.44, 88, 102, 84/36, Precis, Board Minutes, Science and Art Department, vols 1-2; V&A archive, RP/1865/07/22, 1866/01/09; V&A archive, AO 304, Retirement and Pension Register. I am grateful to the staff of the V&A archive for drawing these records to my attention.
For abbreviations, see Resources and bibliography.
Edward Anthony (b. c.1841), see William Anthony
James Martin Anthony, various London addresses before 1841 including 12 Tavistock Row, 28 Coventry St, 12 Shaftesbury Terrace, Vauxhall Bridge Road; 33 Newman St 1839, 41 Lisle St, Leicester Square 1840-1841, 79 St Martin’s Lane 1844; various addresses before 1850 including 16 Frith St, Soho, 5 Park Walk, Chelsea; 84 St Martin’s Lane 1848-1851, 18 Greek St 1850-1852, Hammond’s coffee house, St Martin’s Court, Leicester Square 1850. Artist and picture cleaner and restorer.
James Martin Anthony (c.1797-1851), artist and picture restorer, was born at Waterford in Ireland according to the 1851 census. He was the older brother of William Anthony (see below). He was in trouble for debt in his last 10 years. Described as late of 41 Lisle St, he was imprisoned for debt in 1841 (London Gazette 22 January 1841). When he was brought back to court the following year, he was described as an artist and picture cleaner, formerly of various addresses, given above, and late of 41 Lisle St (London Gazette 3 May 1842). He appeared again before the court in 1850, still described as an artist and picture cleaner, formerly of various addresses, given above, now of 18 Greek St and of Hammond’s coffee house (London Gazette 9 July 1850). He was followed at 18 Greek St by his son, Redmond Anthony (see below).
In the 1851 census Anthony was listed at 18 Greek St, as a picture restorer, age 54, with his wife and two sons, William, age 11, and James C., age 8. He died in the Strand district later the same year and was buried without ceremony at Kensal Green cemetery on 18 June 1851, his age given as 54. However, it should be noted that there is a directory listing in his name at 55 Rupert St, Haymarket in 1853. His son, James Campbell Anthony (1842-1914), worked with William Anthony (see below), and was recorded in census records as a picture restorer or cleaner, in 1871, age 30, lodging at 24 Lisle St, in 1881, age 38, lodging at 38 Clarendon Square, and in 1911, age 69, at 35 Clarendon Square.
For work undertaken for Sir John Soane’s Museum by ‘Mr Anthony’, see William Anthony, below.
Redmond Anthony, 18 Greek St, London 1852, 30 Gerrard St 1854-1855, 4 Hatcham Terrace, Hatcham New Town, Old Kent Road, Surrey 1855, 7 Werrington St, Oakley Square, Somers Town 1861, 18 Millbank Row, Westminster 1862, 14 Green St, Leicester Square 1864, 42 Lisle St, Leicester Square 1865-1866, 4 Peter’s Court, St Martin’s Lane by 1868-1870, 115 High St, Stoke Newington 1871, Millhouses, Abbeydale Road, Sheffield 1881, 108 Millhouse Lane, Ecclesall, Sheffield 1891. Picture restorer, picture dealer and artist.
Redmond or Redmund Campbell Anthony (1830-97) was born in Paris (National Archives, RG 33/062). He was the son of James Martin and Sarah Campbell Anthony (see above) and followed his father at 18 Greek St. He married Jesse Adelaide Shaylor at St Pancras Old Church in 1859. He was in frequent financial trouble. In 1855 he was imprisoned for debt, described as a picture dealer and restorer of old paintings, late of 4 Hatcham Terrace (London Gazette 17 July 1855). He was declared bankrupt in 1862, described as an artist of 18 Millbank Row and previously of 7 Werrington St, and was bankrupt again in 1868, still as an artist but now at 4 Peter’s Court, St Martin’s Lane (The Times 15 November 1862, London Gazette 9 December 1862 and 17 November 1868).
Anthony was listed in the 1861 census as a restorer of paintings, age 31, in 1871 as an artist and restorer of paintings in Stoke Newington, and in 1881 and 1891 in Sheffield. He died in Sheffield in 1897.
Updated January 2017
William Anthony 1840-1870, Edward Anthony 1871-1875. At 25 Bedford St, Covent Garden, London 1840-1841, 26 Southampton St, Covent Garden 1841-1845, 19 Lisle St 1846-1851, 1 Duke St, St James's 1851-1875, 2 Duke Street 1852-1853. Picture restorer and cleaner, picture dealer.
William Anthony (c.1803/8-1870), son of the Irish innkeeper and antiquities collector, Redmond Anthony (1768-1848), and younger brother of James Martin Anthony (see above), was recorded in census records, in 1841 as an artist in Southampton St, in 1851 as a picture restorer at 1 Duke St, age 43, and in 1861 as a picture cleaner at the same address, born in Ireland, with his nephew, James Campbell Anthony, age 18, also listed as a picture cleaner, born St Martin-in-the-Fields. William Anthony, picture cleaner, died age 66 in 1870 in the St James Westminster district, leaving effects works under £5000, with probate initially granted to his niece and nephew (Edward Anthony of 1 Duke St, carver and gilder) but then revoked and granted to his brother and residuary legatee, Henry Anthony, picture framemaker of Clonmel in the County of Tipperary. He was followed in business by Edward Anthony, who was recorded in the 1871 census at 1 Duke St as a picture restorer, age 30, born in County Kilkenny.
‘Mr. Anthony’, whether William Anthony or another member of the family, undertook cleaning, lining and restoration work, in collaboration with John Seguier, 1841, on Canaletto’s Riva degli Schiavoni looking West (Sir John Soane’s Museum, information from Hilary Floe and Helen Dorey, 2008). William Anthony lined and varnished a portrait said to be of Charles I and treated two other pictures for John Snare for £11 in 1845 (John Snare, The History and Pedigree of the Portrait of Prince Charles, afterwards Charles I, by Velasquez, 1847, pp.63-4). He worked for the National Portrait Gallery in 1858 and 1860 (National Portrait Gallery records, Duplicates of Accounts, vol.1, pp.22, 37), including lining and repairing Samuel Drummond's Sir Marc Isambard Brunel for £4 and regilding the frame for £3.12s in 1860 (Walker 1985 p.70). For the National Gallery, he gave an opinion for £2.2s in 1867 on a picture ascribed to Paul Potter (National Gallery Archive, NG13/1/4). ‘Anthony’ was paid £46.16s for picture cleaning work for the 7th Duke of Devonshire in 1860 (Devonshire Archives, Chatsworth, DF5/2/1/14, 7th Duke’s account book 1865-72, information from Charles Noble, October 2014).
William Anthony had an account with the artists’ suppliers, Roberson, from 26 Southampton St, 1841-3, and from Lisle St and 1 Duke St, 1848-69 (Woodcock 1997). Anthony was the purchaser of a number of paintings at the Stowe sale held by Christie's in 1848 (Forster 1848, pp.153, 155, 163-5, 177, 192). He sold various Irish antiquities from his late father’s collection to the British Museum in 1849 (Mary Cahill, ‘Mr. Anthony's Bog Oak Case of Gold Antiquities’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, vol.94C, no.3, 1994, pp.53-109).
For abbreviations, see Resources and bibliography.
John Arnold (d.1752) lived in Covent Garden with his uncle, Jan van der Vaart (qv), a Dutch portrait painter and engraver, for between 30 and 40 years until Van der Vaart’s death in 1727 (Vertue vol.3, p.32). ‘Arnold’ was a member of the Rose and Crown club of artists and a subscriber to the Academy of Painting in Great Queen St in 1713 (Vertue vol.6, pp.34, 169, see also Bignamini 1991 pp.53, 56 n.5, 73). With John Coleman and Henry Frith, John Arnold witnessed the will of the printseller, Michael Hennekin, in December 1722 (London Metropolitan Archives, AM/PW/1725/34, see 'The art world in Britain 1660 to 1735,'). He seems to have been involved in picture dealing: ‘Arnold’ was a buyer at sales in 1726 and 1742 (‘Sale catalogues of the principal collections of pictures..., 1711-1759’, V&A National Art Library, 86.OO.18-19).
At Van der Vaart’s death in 1727, Arnold was his executor and main beneficiary, being described in his will as 'John Arnold alias Hornevelt' (Croft-Murray and Hulton p.484, where given as Spornevelt). Arnold can be found in Westminster rate books, at least from 1736 to 1745, listed at Bedford Ground, the same description as found for Van der Vaart, whose house in Tavistock Row he probably continued to inhabit. In 1746, John Arnold was described as ‘leaving off house-keeping’, when two sales were held at his house in Tavistock Row by Christopher Cock (qv), firstly of his pictures and household furniture and his house lease at £16 p.a., and secondly of his prints and drawings, 3-4 February 1746 (Daily Advertiser 22 January 1746; sale catalogue, British Museum, Prints and Drawings Dept).
It has been suggested that Arnold died in 1745 (Ellis Waterhouse, The Dictionary of 16th and 17th Century British Painters, 1988) but it is now known that he is the John Arnold, described as from St Martin-in-the-Fields, who was buried in the Church of St Paul Covent Garden on 11 December 1752 (William H. Hunt (ed.), The Registers of St Paul’s, Covent Garden, vol.4, 1908, p.2). In his will, made 17 June 1752 and proved 3 May 1753, John Arnold, Gentleman of St Paul Covent Garden, asked to be buried as close to his uncle, Jan van der Vaart, as possible; he made generous provision for his niece, Mary van Tol, and her children, and also for his nephew, the Revd Arnoldus Kuys, whom he made his executor, together with his friend, James Tysoe. He also made bequests to his brother-in-law, Bastian Hornevelt, to Bastian’s daughter, Sarah Hornevelt and to the two sons of his other brother-in-law, Barnett Hornevelt.
Restoration work: Very little is known of John Arnold’s work as a portrait painter and perhaps also a still-life painter beyond his assistance for his uncle, Jan van der Vaart. According to George Vertue, Arnold cleaned John Michael Wright's portraits of the Fire Judges at the Guildhall, apparently at some date after 1721 (Vertue vol.2, p.138); he is also documented as ‘cleaning, cutting and altering’ two portraits of Queen Anne and King George I in the Guildhall for £13 in 1730, to match in size those of King George II and Queen Caroline (London Metropolitan Archives, Rep. 133 f.394, information from Gordon Balderston, October 2012).
Arnold also undertook restoration work on country house collections. He worked for Lord Dysart, 'Lining, Cleaning & Mending... Pictures’, also supplying black peartree frames, according to his bills for £8.2s.6d in 1736 and £23.19s in 1739 (copies in Victoria and Albert Museum, Furniture Dept archive). Among pictures still at Ham House that can be identified in his bills are the Bassano Children of Israel gathering Manna and the copy of Daniel Mytens’s James I, which he lined and restretched in 1736, and which received new picture frames. He also lined, cleaned, mended and provided new stretching frames for four portraits by Peter Lely and, most expensively of all at £1.8s in total, Van Dyck’s Charles I, probably the portrait in the Long Gallery.
The steward at Badminton House recorded the presence of ‘Mr Arnold the picture mender' at Badminton in July and August 1746 (Gloucestershire Record Office, Badminton Muniments, weekly labour book, D2700/QB3/3/1).
For abbreviations, see Resources and bibliography.
*Harry Ashby, 85 Great Portland St, London 1794-1798, 14 Chatham Place, 1799, 1 St Andrew’s Court, Holborn 1800-1809, Lower Tooting, Surrey 1810-1813, Mitcham, Surrey 1816-1837, Upper Mitcham 1841. Portrait painter and occasional picture restorer.
Harry Ashby (1778-1847), also known as Henry Ashby, was the son of the writing engraver of the same name, Harry Ashby (1744-1818), and his wife Sarah. He was christened at St Martin-in-the-Fields on 26 April 1778. He was apprenticed to John Rising (qv) for five years from 21 May 1793 at a premium of £105. He exhibited at the Royal Academy from the early age of 16, using Rising’s address at 85 Great Portland St during his apprenticeship, and continued to exhibit until 1836 (until 1837 at the British Institution).
Ashby married Ann Maria Bell in 1806 (Annual Register, 1806, p.490). In later years he was art master at Balaam & Scott’s school at Clapham, as can be seen from the engraved silver palette prizes awarded to certain pupils, e.g. to Richard Thompson in 1820 (Fitzwilliam Museum, repr. Annual Report 1993, 1994, p.25) and to Henry Ricardo in 1828 (coll. Jacob Simon). He and his wife can be found in Upper Mitcham in the 1841 census. He died in Plymouth in 1847. His son Harry Pollard Ashby worked as a landscape painter.
Restoration work: In 1807 ‘H. Ashby’, apparently Harry Ashby, was requested to treat various pictures at the Foundling Hospital under the supervision of Benjamin West, and in 1809 at his own suggestion he was appointed ‘Inspector of the Pictures’ at the Hospital (Nunn 2009 p.240). He provided an estimate for £92.8s on 2 June 1807 for ‘Restoring & putting into perfect condition’ most of the important pictures in the collection, mainly by leading British 18th-century artists (London Metropolitan Archives, A/FH/A/06/001/065/001). For details of the pictures, housed in the Girls’ Dining Room, the Boys’ Dining Room, the Court Room and the Small Committee Room, see the Foundling Museum in this online resource.
Updated March 2018, March 2020
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, established 1683, established in its present form 1908, embracing the University Galleries, established 1845, and collections from the Bodleian Library, established 1602.
A good insight into the history of painting conservation at the Ashmolean is provided by Mark Norman’s excellent summary accounts (see ‘The History of Conservation in the Ashmolean’, The Ashmolean, no.56, 2009, cited here as Norman 2009, and ‘Conservation and the Ashmolean since before 1683’, in A. Oddy and S. Smith (eds), Past Practice: Future Prospects, British Museum Occasional Paper no.145, cited here as Norman 2001). What follows is an exploration in six sections of the story of the conservation of oil paintings in the university (excluding the colleges) and, importantly given the nature of the Ashmolean’s collection, of western works on paper (section 5 below). Mention is also made of the treatment of sculpture (section 6).
- The Bodleian until 1845
- The University Galleries, 1845-1908
- The old Ashmolean Museum, 1675-1908
- Conservation of paintings from 1908
- Treatment of prints and drawings
- Treatment of sculpture
Certain features emerge: the concern of early benefactors such as Elias Ashmole, John Aubrey and the Rev. John King for the care of the collection; the tendency for a restorer employed at one Oxford institution to then be employed at another; the increase over time in the level of charges made by picture restorers for treating paintings, as found elsewhere; the employment of local painters and craftsmen in the early 18th century and of visiting artists later in the century; the tendency from the mid-19th century to look to London rather than Oxford for restorers and to look for specialists; the reliance of the Ashmolean on the British Museum and the National Gallery for advice and sometimes also work from the late 19th century onwards; and the recognition of the status of conservators in the late 20th century and the move to employing salaried conservators on the Ashmolean’s own staff.
It was not until 1908 that the Ashmolean Museum, as we now know it, was created by combining two ancient Oxford institutions: the University art collection and the remains of the original Ashmolean Museum collection to form the ‘Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology’, to give it its present title.
The older partner, the University art collection, was housed for many years in the Picture Gallery in the Bodleian Library (see section 1 below). It grew from a collection which contained just a few portraits in the 1620s to become a significant gallery in the 19th century. Much of the collection, excluding library portraits, was moved in 1845 to form the University Galleries in Charles Cockerell’s purpose-built neoclassical museum in Beaumont St (see section 2). For the University Galleries, see Jon Whiteley, ‘The University Galleries’, in M.G. Brock and M.C. Curthoys (eds), The History of the University of Oxford, vol.6, Nineteenth-Century Oxford, part 1, 1997, pp.611-30 (cited as Whiteley 1997).
The Ashmolean Museum had its origins in Elias Ashmole’s gift of the Tradescant collection and part of Ashmole’s own collection, which were housed in what is now the Old Ashmolean Building, built for the purpose, 1679-83 (see section 3). It was primarily a museum devoted to curiosities and scientific objects but included the Tradescant and some other pictures. The Old Ashmolean Building has since 1921 housed a museum of the history of science. For the old Ashmolean, see R.F. Ovenell, The Ashmolean Museum 1683-1894, 1986 (cited as Ovenell 1986).
During the second half of the 19th century, the University Galleries continued to acquire significant art collections, while the then Ashmolean Museum built up extensive archaeological holdings which were housed from 1894 at the rear of the University Galleries in Beaumont St (Report, 1894). For more details of the Ashmolean’s complex history, see Jon Whiteley’s introduction to the Ashmolean’s Complete Illustrated Catalogue of Paintings (2004) and the short account on the museum’s website at www.ashmolean.org/about/historyandfuture/.
The Bodleian until 1845
The care of the Bodleian pictures and those in the ‘Schools’ warrants further research. Here the focus is on the 18th and 19th centuries, with particular reference to works now in the Ashmolean Museum. Little is known of the treatment of the collection in the 17th century but in the wider context of Oxford colleges the local portrait painter John Taylor (1620?-1680) is recorded as mending and cleaning pictures. It was fairly common practice to protect portraits by lining the reverse with boards and curtaining the front, at least from the 1620s (Mrs R. Lane Poole, Catalogue of Portraits in … Oxford, vol.2, 1925, pp.xiv, xv, xviii).
Interestingly, one benefactor, the Rev. John King (c.1655-1737), master of the Charterhouse, was well aware of the hazards that paintings faced in public collections, as he made clear in his will in 1736, when bequeathing 13 paintings to the University (many now in the Ashmolean): 'Item, as to all other pictures already hung up in any of the galleries over the schools at Oxford (which are very visibly in decay) my will is that the same shall be well and neatly cleansed by a skilfull hand and the back of them laid in oil colours and the frames wainscotted or lined with boards behind to preserve them from any further injuries of weather or damp...' (King’s will, transcript made 1890 by T.W. Jackson, Bodleian Library, MS.Top.Oxon e.151, f.6b, information from Dana Josephson).
In the first half of the 18th century, work on the Bodleian picture collection was carried out by a succession of Oxford painters who were not restorers as such but who undertook general painting work for the university. ‘Wildgoose the Painter’, i.e. Thomas Wildgoose (c.1670-1719), the’ University Painter’, was paid £12.5s for work on the pictures in the ‘Gallery, Museum & Schools’ in 1701/2 and a further £1.2s.4d for mending pictures in the Gallery in 1703/4; he was also paid for repairing the Jacobean painted frieze of heads around the Picture Gallery, now the Upper Reading Room, in 1715. Other payments are not specific enough to identify the nature of work carried out. For Wildgoose, see Sources below.
Following Wildgoose’s death, Richard Witherington (c.1694-1740), often spelt Withington in his later years, undertook painting work at the Bodleian and elsewhere from 1720/1 until 1738/9. At the Ashmolean he treated pictures, 1729-33 (see section 3). At the Bodleian in 1731 or 1732 he cleaned, varnished and backed portraits for £3.16s.1d. In particular, he charged £1.5s.6d for new backing, cleaning and varnishing portraits of the founders of All Souls, Brasenose and New colleges, also lacquering their frames. In 1734 he undertook further picture restoration and framing work for £6.18s, treating ten portraits in the founders’ series at an increased charge of 10s each, reflecting that they also required mending. It would appear that on occasion he would work in tandem with the joiner, Thomas Speakman (d.1736), who would supply straining frames for pictures (two of Speakman’s men were thus employed for almost a week in 1734, using 75 feet of one-inch deal for the purpose, a rare record of this sort of work). Speakman supplied a straining frame for a picture of Mr Pullen in 1734, perhaps that of Josiah Pullen by Robert Byng, which Witherington then framed, including an inscribed ‘shield’. For Witherington and Speakman, see Sources below.
Following on from Witherington, ‘Green’ was paid £14.3s for cleaning pictures in the Gallery in 1738/9 and a further £1.3s.6d for work in the Schools. While there were several painters of this name active in Oxford in the 18th century, he would appear to be William Greene, a man of some talent who also produced designs for the Oxford Almanack (Helen Mary Petter, The Oxford Almanacks, 1974, pp.12-13, 63). Modest payments were made to the local joiner William Bletsoe (d.1763) for supplying a frame, straining frame and cloth in 1744 and backboarding picture frames in 1751 (Bodleian Library, Library Records, b.36, items 128, 193). There is also a record for work by an unspecified painter on the Theatre ceiling for £18.7s in 1739/40 and by ‘Mr Crawford’, another local painter, mending pictures for unspecified locations for £16.1s.2d in 1751/2 (University Archives, WPβ 22/1).
Much of this activity dates to before the university’s acceptance in July 1739 of the Rev. John King’s considerable bequest of £200 to cover the costs of restoring and backing pictures but there are subsequent payments in the accounts which may relate to work on the collection (for King’s bequest, see W.D. Macray, Annals of the Bodleian Library Oxford, 2nd ed., 1890, p.220).
In the second half of the 18th century, picture restoration work was usually put to visiting artists, often portrait painters. The single most significant job was not at the Bodleian but at the Sheldonian Theatre, where in 1762 the young portrait painter, Tilly Kettle (1735-86), was employed to line and repair Robert Streeter’s ceiling painting and to undertake other painting work for the huge sum of £373.16s (Croft-Murray 1970 p.236; see also University Archives, WPβ 22/1, Theatre account, ‘Mr Kettles bill for Painting, Gilding, Lineing, &c’).
Attention turned to other pictures in the 1770s, when work was given to two restorers, ‘Mr Walker’ and ‘Mr Griffin’. Not the only man of this name found in the Vice-Chancellor’s accounts at the time, Walker remains to be identified unless he be the ‘W. Walker’ who occasionally exhibited at the Royal Academy in the 1780s. He repaired and cleaned pictures, perhaps portraits, in the Theatre for £27.6s in 1774/5, and cleaned pictures in the Schools for £21 in 1775/6 and the Library for 12s in 1782 (University Archives, WPβ 22/2, Vice-Chancellor’s accounts; Library Records, e.15, p.33v); he is probably the ‘Walker’ who cleaned Mengs’ Noli me tangere on its arrival at All Souls College in 1772 (John Sparrow, ‘An Oxford Altar-Piece’, Burlington Magazine, vol.102, 1960, p.5). At much the same time, Mr Griffin, ‘portrait painter’, was paid £32.19s for cleaning pictures in the Ashmolean Museum in 1775/6 (see section 3) and a further £35.17s.6d for work on pictures in the Music School in 1776/7 (Vice-Chancellor’s accounts, as above). He can probably be identified with William Griffin (b.1751), a minor pastel and miniature painter who exhibited in London, 1772-6, and worked in Birmingham in 1778 (Daphne Foskett, A Dictionary of British Miniature Painters, 1972, p.297).
The frieze around the Library’s Picture Gallery, treated by Wildgoose in 1715, was again subject to repair and ‘new painting’ at a cost of £12 in 1792/3, work which was undertaken by ‘Buckingham’, perhaps the father or the uncle of the Oxford painter, Richard Buckingham (c.1781-c.1844) (Vice-Chancellor’s accounts, as above).
The landscape painter and engraver, William Delamotte (1775-1863), resident in Oxford for a time, cleaned and repaired 22 pictures in the Picture Gallery in 1798 for £12.1s.6d, mainly portraits at 10s.6d each, including John Taylor’s self-portrait and that of his uncle, the ‘water poet’ of the same name; he also treated for £1.1s each two old master paintings from King’s bequest, now in the Ashmolean Museum, Moses striking the Rock and The Incredulity of St Thomas, then given to ‘Jordan’ but now attributed to Arnout Vinckenborch (Library Records, b.37, item 72). Delamotte undertook other unspecified work for the Library in 1796/7 and 1798/9 (Library Records, c.29). He was paid £100 for 'cleaning & repairing' the Sheldonian ceiling paintings when the theatre was reroofed in 1802 (Vice-Chancellor’s accounts, as above, 1802-3; see also a note in James Dallaway’s edition of Horace Walpole, Anecdotes of Painting in England, vol.3, 1827, p.16n).
For much of the 19th century, until about 1870, most picture restoration work at the Bodleian was given to the leading local firm of carvers and gilders, successively trading as Robert Archer, Archer & Wyatt, James Wyatt and Wyatt & Son (for both Archer and Wyatt, see British picture framemakers on this website). Archer provided a new oval straining frame for an unspecified portrait and strained it in 1800, while Archer & Wyatt cleaned and varnished ‘a large picture Duke of Grafton’ for 10s.6d in 1805, which can be identified with the full-length portrait by Joshua Reynolds now on loan from the Ashmolean to the Examination Schools (Library Records, b.37, items 52, 204).
James Wyatt (1774-1853), not to be confused with the Oxford builder, George Wyatt, traded independently from 1806. He was a patron of J.M.W. Turner and later of J.E. Millais. He cleaned, varnished, framed and hung various works, as recorded in his lengthy itemised bills for work in the Picture Gallery: in 1810-11 for £2.10s, in 1831 for £25.19s.6d and, as Wyatt & Son, in a series of campaigns between 1837 and 1840 for a total of £71.3s.6d (Library Records, b.37, item 351; b.40, item 431; b.41, items 80, 211; b.42, item 58; other bills do not survive). Some of the works treated now belong to the Ashmolean, including seven large copies of the Raphael Cartoons, cleaned from dust etc for 10s each in 1810 and 1811 (now on loan to Hampton Court Palace), Thomas Bardwell’s Earl and Countess of Pomfret, cleaned, repaired and varnished together with its ‘gothic’ frame for £3 in 1832, what is presumably Allan Ramsay’s Flora Macdonald, cleaned, repaired, varnished and reframed for £3.15s in 1832, Edward Penny’s Death of General Wolfe and Marquis of Granby giving Alms, cleaned, repaired and varnished for £1.1s each in 1840, and what is presumably Pompeo Batoni’s David Garrick, which was cleaned, repaired and varnished for 10s.6d in 1840 (the stretcher bears Wyatt’s label, see Newbery 2002 p.48). Some of these works were treated again by the Wyatt business for the University Galleries in 1862 (see section 2).
But most paintings treated by Wyatt can be identified with portraits in the Bodleian or the Examination Schools. For example, he cleaned, repaired and varnished three full-lengths now in the Examination Schools, King Charles XII of Sweden and its frame for £1.11s.6d in 1811, George Huddesford’s 3rd Earl of Lichfield for £4.4s and Godfrey Kneller’s Robert Nelson for £2.12s.6d, both in 1837, and two half-lengths, Richard Phelps’ Peregrine Palmer and Michael Dahl’s William Bromley, both for 15s in 1837.
Wyatt was not the only restorer employed. John Rising (qv), the London restorer, appears to have done work on the copies of the Raphael Cartoons, perhaps in 1808, from his letter to the librarian transcribed in full in the entry for Rising in this resource. It is also worth noting a payment of almost £10 to ‘Skelton’ for cleaning unidentified pictures in 1821/2, but he is not necessarily identifiable with the Oxford engraver, Joseph Skelton (1783-1871) (Library Records, b.3, library accounts).
In 1838, in a rare and not uncontroversial instance of radical intervention, later repainting was completely removed from a panel portrait, the so-called Mary Queen of Scots, to reveal a 16th-century portrait of an unknown lady. This work was carried out by ‘S. Collins’, almost certainly Simon Collins (qv, c.1809-1893), a London picture restorer of Jewish origins, on the recommendation of Sir David Wilkie (W.D. Macray, Annals of the Bodleian Library Oxford, 2nd ed., 1890, p.337, whose account is here preferred to Mrs Lane Poole’s identification of the restorer as ‘Hogarth of the Haymarket’ in Catalogue of Portraits in … Oxford, vol.1, 1912, p.19). Collins later advertised that he had undertaken work at the Bodleian and at Magdalen, Worcester and New colleges (Bury and Norwich Post 8 November 1843). He was paid £20 for unspecified picture cleaning at the Bodleian in 1841/2 (Library Records, b.3). In a rather similar later case of interventive restoration, Collins removed overpainting from a portrait of Shakespeare at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1861.
Even after the departure of many works to the University Galleries in 1845 (see section 2), the Wyatt business, now led by James Wyatt junr (1810-82), continued to be employed in hanging, framing and restoring pictures at the Bodleian. In the late 1850s and 1860s, Wyatt’s work focused on picture restoration. In 1858 he enlarged, cleaned and restored a portrait ‘in very bad peeling state’ of Lord Burleigh on his mule for £9.9s and enlarged, ornamented and gilded the frame for £6.16s.6d (Library Records, b.44, item 434). Most expensively, in 1862, Wyatt lined, cleaned and restored the half length portrait ‘in very bad state’ of Sir Kenelm Digby for £12.12s and provided a richly carved oak and gilt frame with plate glass for £14.14s. He also cleaned and restored Joshua Reynolds’ portrait, ‘in bad state’, James Paine and his son (Ashmolean Museum) for £10.10s and widened, ornamented, regilt and glazed a frame for the portrait for £9.9s (Library Records, b.46). Apparently this portrait was placed under a curtain, an unusual step to take at this time, specifically to avoid further fading (W.D. Macray, Annals of the Bodleian Library Oxford, 2nd ed., 1890, p.326).
In 1874 the University voted £350 for the restoration of the collection of portraits in the Music School (Mrs Reginald Lane Poole, Catalogue of Portraits in … Oxford, vol.1, 1912, p.137).
The 20th-century history of the Bodleian portraits is not the focus of this account but is touched on here. In 1903 the London picture restorers, Haines & Sons (qv), prepared an estimate of £1023 for restoring 64 paintings and by May 1904 three batches of 16 pictures each had been completed, with the frames being restored by the Oxford business of Ryman’s (Committee on Bodleian Pictures, Third Interim Report, 5 May 1904, copy on National Portrait Gallery NOC files). Ryman’s label can be found on the reverse of some of these pictures. By 1907, 179 pictures had been treated at a cost of £1436, of which picture restoration, as opposed to framing, transport etc, came to £781 (Committee on Bodleian Pictures, Fifth Interim Report, 2 March 1907, available in Reports of University Institutions for the year 1906, pp.17-19). A generation later, another London restorer, the younger Horace Buttery (qv), treated various Bodleian portraits, 1939, 1948-61; he had begun work in Oxford at the Ashmolean and went on to work at various colleges.
Brief mention is made here of the Bodleian’s painted decoration. The frieze of painted heads around the old Picture Gallery, covered over in the 19th century, was restored by E. Clive Rouse (qv), 1949-50 (Rouse pp.201-7, see Sources below). Some panels of the Picture Gallery’s painted ceiling were cleaned by Prof. E.W. Tristram, 1948-9 (Myres p.89, Myres and Rouse p.305).
2. The University Galleries, 1845-1908
Many paintings from the Bodleian, mainly old masters but also some portraits, were removed in 1845 to the new University Galleries, housed in what is now the Ashmolean Museum. Subsequently there were several benefactions to the collection, including the Fox-Strangways gift of early Italian pictures in 1850, Chambers Hall’s gift of Flemish, English and Venetian paintings in 1855 and Mrs Thomas Combe’s bequest of Pre-Raphaelite pictures in 1894.
Work on paintings at the University Galleries between 1845 and the amalgamation as the Ashmolean Museum in 1908 falls into three main phases: the continued employment of the Wyatt business in Oxford for framing, hanging and restoring pictures, 1845-63, the concerted campaign in 1867 employing the London restorer, Henry Merritt (qv), on the recommendation of George Richmond (qv), and a further round of work in 1889-91, using another London restorer, William Dyer (qv), on the advice of the National Gallery.
At the outset, the University Galleries used James Wyatt & Son, mainly for routine work. This business again cleaned and repaired the seven large copies of the Raphael Cartoons for £2.10s each in setting them up in the new gallery in 1845. Much of their work was in framing but in 1859 they also varnished the recently acquired copy in oils of Raphael’s fresco, Jupiter and Cupid for 12s, and again cleaned and varnished Bardwell’s Earl and Countess of Pomfret, among other work, for £1.15s, and in 1862 again treated Batoni’s David Garrick (Ashmolean Museum, Dept of Western Art, receipted bills, hereinafter cited as WA, receipted bills). James Wyatt senr was a benefactor of the University Galleries, donating Roubiliac’s modello for Handel’s Westminster Abbey monument in 1848 (Penny 1992 p.153).
It was not until 1866 that the subject of picture restoration occurs in the Minutes of the Curators of the University Galleries, who were chaired by Henry Liddell, dean of Christ Church (Ashmolean Museum, AMS 41). Advice was then sought from two royal academicians, the leading portrait painter, George Richmond (1809-96), well-known to Liddell, and the new director of the National Gallery, William Boxall (1800-79). On Richmond’s recommendation and under his direction, London-based but Oxford-born Henry Merritt (1822-77) was employed to clean the pictures and James Henry Chance (1810-1902) to repair the frames, both well known to Richmond from previous campaigns, notably in the restoration of the early panel portrait of King Richard II in Westminster Abbey, where Richmond had played a leading part himself. For Chance, see British picture framemakers on this website.
Immediately the first batch of pictures arrived at Merritt’s studio in January 1867, Richmond inspected them and, in an unusual step, began restoring some of the pictures himself, as he recorded in his diary (photocopy, National Portrait Gallery Library). ‘At Merritts, worked on a large Benozzo Gozzoli…, fine but wholly injured by cracking & dirt &c…’, he wrote on 12 January (this was Uccello’s Hunt in a Forest). ‘Restored the Lorenzo di Credi for Oxford’ (17 January). ‘Worked on the little Giotto all day’ (19 January). ‘Worked on the Gainsboro all day, getting off asphaltum glaze’ (21 January). ‘All this time working on Oxford pictures’ (22 January). ‘At Merritts, still restoring’ (28 January).
Merritt charged £176 in July and a further £96.3s in November 1867. Chance’s costs for framing were greater at over £207 in July and a further £200 in November (WA, receipted bills). Among many other pictures, Merritt treated Uccello’s Hunt in a Forest for £10, Bronzino’s Giovanni de Medici for £10, Agnolo di Domenico’s SS Bartholomew and Julian at £7, Edward Penny’s Death of General Wolfe and Marquis of Granby giving Alms at £4.10s each and Joshua Reynolds’ Mrs Meyrick at £3.10s, to mention some of the more expensive work. Merritt was instructed by Richmond to have certain pictures lined, as indicated in his bill, which included a charge of £25 for ‘parquetting, transferring & lining… panels & canvases as required’. This work was presumably subcontracted, apparently to the Morrill family (qv), specialists liners (see Norman 2009 p.23; further documentation remains to be traced). Merritt went on to advise at Christ Church in 1869-70. As to Richmond, he was given the distinction of an honorary doctorate (DCL) in 1867 and he continued his connection with the University Galleries for many years, notably as a trustee of the Eldon Fund for the care of the collection of Italian drawings.
There was a further campaign of restoration in 1889 and again the advice of the National Gallery was sought, on this occasion through the keeper, Charles Locke Eastlake, who recommended the London picture restorer, William Dyer (1821-96). He had already worked for the Ashmolean Museum (see section 3). His initial work at the University Galleries included treating Bronzino’s Giovanni de Medici at £8 and Agnolo di Domenico’s SS Bartholomew and Julian at £6, both previously restored by Merritt but now blistering, and the Florentine portrait, Baccio Orlandino. In 1891, among other work totalling £44.7s.6d, Dyer cleaned and varnished Joshua Reynolds’ full-length Duke of Grafton for £10 and lined Reynolds’ James Paine and his son for £4, both pictures previously treated by Wyatt for the Bodleian.
Dublin-based Robert J. Nairn (qv, b. c.1876), who had restored the Sheldonian Theatre ceiling paintings, 1899-1901, and worked at the Queen’s College, Oxford, in 1900, provided an estimate for treating several works for the University Galleries, 16 July 1902, including a panel in the John Chambers bequest, Portrait of a Lady, attributed to Paul van Somer, which he cleaned, repaired and parquetted in 1904 (Report, 1904; Ashmolean Museum, WA, Letters, 1900-1908, 1902 no.9 and 1903 no.24).
From 1908 the University Galleries were redesignated as the Ashmolean Museum in its new incarnation (see section 4).
The old Ashmolean Museum, 1675-1908
The importance of ventilation as a preventative measure in collection care at the original Ashmolean Museum was highlighted both by the founding benefactor, Elias Ashmole, in 1675 (referring to chimneys ‘to keep those things aired that will stand in need of it’) and by his friend John Aubrey in 1691 (‘let the pictures hang reclining from the walls; otherwise the salt, and the saltpetre in the walls will rot the Canvess.’). This and some of the following details derive from Mark Norman’s account (Norman 2009), supplemented by reference to the minutes of the Board of Visitors of the Ashmolean Museum, the Ashmolean’s annual report and the keeper’s accounts (cited as Minutes, Report and Accounts, see Sources below).
In the 18th century, several restorers were employed. Thomas Wildgoose treated pictures in the Ashmolean Museum and elsewhere in 1701/2 (see section 1). The Ashmolean paid for ‘refreshing and guilding pictures’ for 17s.6d in 1729-30, and for Richard Withington’s work in ‘new backing cleaning & mending the pictures & frames of King Charles & King James’ for £1.1s in 1732, and for ‘cleaning and blacking the frames and varnishing 81 painted pictures on ye stair case of different sizes’ for £10.2s.6d in 1733, reckoned at 2s.6d each (Ashmolean Museum, AMS 5/12, AMS 5/14 containing Withington’s bill). A generation later, ‘Mr Griffin, Portrait Painter’, was paid the large sum of £32.19s for cleaning etc an unspecified number of pictures in 1775/6 (University Archives, WPβ 22/2, Vice-Chancellor’s accounts; see also Norman 2009 p.22). For Withington and Griffin, see section 1.
Some of the paintings were cleaned, repaired and varnished by J. Wyatt & Son during the keepership of Philip Duncan, whose accounts are available until 1846 (not seen by the present author, but see Ovenell 1986 p.209, where the business of J. Wyatt & Son is confused with the local builders, G. Wyatt & Son). The lack of references to the care of paintings in the Ashmolean in the 19th century has led Mark Norman to suggest that little was done until 1882 (Norman 2009 p.22). Then some 60 to 70 works in store in the Clarendon Buildings for twenty years were brought back, cleaned and hung in the upper room and on the stairs (Ovenell 1986 p.247, referring to the University Chest; accounts not seen by the present author). This work was perhaps undertaken by James Wyatt, who had cleaned the Flemish school, Battle of Pavia, from Ashmole’s collection for £4.9s in 1870/1 and whose executors were paid for hanging pictures in 1883 (see Accounts, AM 70). However, a letter of September 1883 from a member of the Ashmolean staff, expressly stating that nothing had yet been done towards cleaning or restoring the collection, would suggest that the work was carried out subsequently (National Portrait Gallery records, Trustees’ meeting correspondence, meeting of 20 November 1883).
But increasingly it was to London that the old Ashmolean looked for restorers. William Dyer (qv), who later worked for the University Galleries, inspected the collection and was paid £8.12s.6d for cleaning pictures in 1885 (Accounts, AM 70; Minutes, AM 71/2 p.25b). He relined, cleaned and varnished three Tradescant pictures in about 1890, including the copy after Van Dyck, Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, as a boy, and portraits by unknown artists of Edward, Earl of Manchester and Elizabeth Woodville (Arthur MacGregor (ed.), Tradescant's Rarities: Essays on the Foundation of the Ashmolean Museum, 1683, 1983, pp.304 n.84, 307 nn.110, 113, quoting C.F. Bell’s entries of 1898 in AMS 22, nos 1, 33, 34; this dating for Dyer’s work remains to be verified from original accounts).
There was a further burst of activity to deal with the serious condition of the Tradescant pictures once the contents of the old Ashmolean had been transferred to a new building adjoining the University Galleries in Beaumont St in 1894. Horace Buttery the elder (qv, 1846-1900) was invited to inspect the collection in 1896. The opinion was then sought of Lionel Cust, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, who thought Buttery’s estimate very high, and Prof. A.H. Church at the Royal Academy, whose preventative conservation advice echoed that of Ashmole, Aubrey and King but also focussed on the need to control light, temperature and humidity (AMS 22). Both men thought that the collection needed urgent attention. A grant of £400 was obtained from university funds for cleaning and repairing the pictures by a competent expert, who was to be recommended by Sir Edward Poynter, President of the Royal Academy and Director of the National Gallery (Report, 1896; Minutes, AM 71/1, pp.102, 108, 109). Horace Buttery was already known to Poynter through his work at the National Gallery. This process of seeking external advice confirmed the choice of Buttery as restorer, who agreed to reduce his estimate from £294 to £270. His work on cleaning and repairing the collection was completed by October 1897 when discussion moved on to the question of protecting pictures by glazing (Report, 1897; Minutes, AM 71/1, p.140).
4. Conservation of paintings from 1908
From 1908, the University Galleries and the Ashmolean were brought together as one museum. Under Charles F. Bell (1871-1966), first keeper of fine art in the combined institution, an active approach to the care of the collection was taken. Bell was instrumental in seeing a new heating and ventilation system installed in 1909-10, so dealing with the problem of hot water pipes causing serious damage to pictures and drawings (Norman 2001 p.162). The treatment of paintings is discussed in this section and of works on paper and sculpture in sections 5 and 6. The sequence of receipted bills kept by the Dept of Western Art provide a fairly complete record of restoration work on the collection under Bell (keeper until 1931), Kenneth Clark (keeper 1931-33) and Karl Parker (keeper 1934-62).
In 1910 in an act of housekeeping, thirty canvases belonging to the ‘ancient collection’ of the Bodleian Gallery, mostly copies or allegorical figures, ‘greatly decayed and the frames and stretchers… completely worm-eaten’, were taken off their stretchers, rolled on cylinders and sealed up (Report, 1910; apparently including a series of Cardinal and Theological Virtues, eventually conserved 2001-7).
In the years to 1950 various restorers were employed on structural and panel work (see Dept of Western Art, receipted bills, cited here as WA, receipted bills). Matthew W. Webb restored an Early Tuscan triptych for £25 in 1922. William Morrill & Son (qv) undertook structural work, reducing to size Charles Alexander’s portrait, C.D.E. Fortnum, for £3.3s in 1928-9, and adding canvas round the edges and slightly cleaning and restoring Antonio Bellucci’s huge canvas, The Family of Darius before Alexander, for £95 in 1929, as well as treating works by Jordaens and Van Dyck for a further £72. J.H. Cooke & Sons (qv) cleaned and restored two works linked to Rubens for £11 in 1937 and Abbott’s Naval Officer for £4 in 1938, and parquetted, cleaned, restored and framed a pair of Flemish panels for £23 in 1939. William Drown (qv) treated pictures on occasion from 1934, including cleaning, lining and restoring a Northern European Truth presenting a Mirror to the Vanities (as now identified, A653) for £12 in 1939, cradling the panel of Palma Vecchio’s Holy Family for £16 in 1942 and treating G.B. Panini’s Roman Capriccio in 1946 (Report, 1946, p.36).
But the three leading picture restorers who played the most significant role were Ayerst Hooker Buttery (1868-1929, Horace Buttery’s assistant, who had changed his surname from Hooker to Buttery), Ayerst’s son, the younger Horace Buttery (1902-62) and a restorer from Vienna, Sebastian Isepp (1884-1954).
Ayerst Hooker Buttery (qv) treated several pictures from 1909 onwards, mainly 17th- and 18th-century paintings, both English and continental, including Tilly Kettle’s Mrs Drewry Ottley and Richard Wilson’s River Po in 1909-10, Venetian 18th-century paintings in 1912 and 1914, two early Veronese panels, parquetted in 1917, and Pieter Neefs’ Interior of Antwerp Cathedral for £31.10s in 1923 (Ashmolean Museum, annual reports, and WA, Letters 1909-1920). He was also a benefactor of the Ashmolean, giving a number of Dutch, English and Italian works.
His son, Horace Buttery (qv), treated numerous paintings, 1926-38 and 1945-55 (Ashmolean reports and receipted bills; Buttery daybooks, Hamilton Kerr Institute). Buttery’s work included joining, buttoning, and restoring joints on A Woman seated beside a Table, attributed to Simon Kick for £14.14s (1926), laying blisters, cleaning and restoring Giovanni di Paolo’s The Baptism of Christ for £9.9s (1929), lining, cleaning and restoring Gaspard Dughet’s View of Tivoli for £19.19s (1929), lining, cleaning and restoring Canaletto’s A View in Venice, ‘in a very bad state of preservation’ for £25.4s and, unusually, a further £4.7s for before and after photography (1930), treating woodworm, laying blisters, cleaning and restoring Piero di Cosimo’s Forest Fire for £21 (1933), repairing a panel split, cleaning and restoring Agnolo Bronzino’s Giovanni de' Medici for £15.15s (1934; twice previously treated, see above), and lining, cleaning and restoring Joshua Reynolds’s Duke of Grafton for £59.17s (1934; twice previously treated, see above). Buttery closed his studio in 1940 for the duration of the war.
C.F. Bell's nervousness over lining paintings is apparent from the way Buttery went about reassuring him in 1929 on Dughet’s View of Tivoli: ‘I too dislike relining pictures – and unless absolutely necessary I avoid it if possible… Believe me I would be the first person to keep a picture from being re lined – Don’t worry about it. I assure you it is necessary.’ (WA, Letters, 14 August 1929).
The presence of the talented immigrant restorer, Sebastian Isepp (qv), in wartime Oxford provided the Ashmolean with the opportunity to employ him on a freelance basis to carry out urgent work on the spot from 1942 (Report, 1942). Over the next 12 years until his death in December 1954, Isepp worked extensively on the collection, so much so that it was reported that ‘almost every picture of note among the earlier Italians (and many more besides)’ had passed through his hands (Report, 1954; see also Norman 2009 p.23). He undertook extensive work on Palma Vecchio’s damaged panel, Santa Conversazione, 1942-4, and treated many other Italian paintings for the Ashmolean after the war, as well as some northern school works, as is described in more detail in the entry for Isepp in this online resource.
In 1944 the need for an in-house picture restorer was identified in a report on the Ashmolean’s post-war requirements: ‘The growth of the collection has made it desirable… for a skilled part-time restorer to be credited to the Department of Fine Art and to have his studio on the premises’ (Minutes, AM 71/4, 27 January 1944, ‘Memorandum of application to the University Grants Committee’). However this was not followed up in the face of the greater needs of the drawings and prints collection (see section 5). Nevertheless following the war a special grant was allocated for picture restoration. Horace Buttery continued to work for the museum occasionally over the next ten years, for example restoring Millais’s Return of the Dove to the Ark in 1945 and Filippo Lippi’s The Meeting at the Golden Gate in 1955 (Mark Norman, ‘Paintings conservation and the Ashmolean’, The Ashmolean, no.55, 2008, p.27). However, increasingly the Ashmolean preferred Sebastian Isepp and, following his death in 1954, another Viennese-trained restorer, Joseph Deliss (qv).
Developments since 1950 are not the main focus of this history but are summarised here from the Ashmolean’s annual reports. Glass was removed from many of the pictures in 1955, presumably as the result of cleaner air rather than air conditioning. A varnishing room was set up within the Ashmolean in 1961 so that pictures would no longer need to be moved to London for revarnishing and other minor work. It was not until 1989 that conservation staff were listed alongside curatorial staff in the museum’s reports. A survey of the Ashmolean’s painting conservation needs and priorities was carried out by Oxford Conservation in 1993, concluding that two full-time permanent painting conservators were needed. A unified museum-wide Conservation Department was created in 1999 and assumed responsibility for the paintings conservation budget in 2001. The Ashmolean appointed its first painting conservator to the staff, Jevon Thistlewood, in 2007. Two conservation galleries were included in the rebuilt sequence of public galleries, 2009, and new studios and laboratories provided on the top floor. For developments in preventative conservation, see Mark Norman, “Keep those things aired that will stand in need of it”, c.2015, available as a standalone at https://cdn.axa.com/axa-art.pdf .
Many external restorers worked for the Ashmolean as is apparent from its annual reports Following Sebastian Isepp’s death in 1954, the Viennese restorer, Joseph Deliss (1917-69), came to the fore. The museum had first used him in 1952 and employed him extensively on a freelance basis, 1954-68. Since his death in 1969 the Ashmolean has used many painting conservators. Those who treated particularly important pictures or who worked for the museum over an extended period of time include John Hargrave (1969-77/8), Herbert Lank (1969-81/2), Miss Nancy Stocker (1969/70-81/2), Jim Dimond (sometimes with Julia Nagle) for conservation of works for display and preventative conservation (1994/5-2005/6) and Ruth Bubb for loan checks and a variety of other work (1995/6-2006/7).
In addition, the Ashmolean has used Mrs Marcelle Young (1966-8), Max Deliss, son of Joseph Deliss (1969-70), John Brealey (qv, 1971/2-73/4), John Essex, liner (1974/5), Mrs Jane Wyatt (1971/2-80/1), Hon. T.R. Lindsay (1976/7-83/4), Duncan Drown (1978/9-80/1), Mrs Sarah Walden (1979/80), Robert Shepherd (1980/1), Simon Bobak, liner (1980/1), Miss Jacqueline Pouncey (1981/2), Alec Cobbe (1982/3-86/7), Lucy Dynevor (1982/3-88/9), Laurence Morrocco (1984/5), Miss Candy Kuhl (1987/8-90/1), Oxford Conservation (1991/2-93/4), Warwick MacCallum (1994/5-95/6) and Richard Hobbs (1995/6).
The National Gallery’s conservation department has played a significant role in meeting the Ashmolean’s conservation needs from the 1980s onwards, especially in treating early panel paintings, such as the Uccello in 1994/5, and in providing specialist advice. Among individual members of National Gallery conservation staff, Kenneth Malcolm treated several significant works as well as surveying the Pre-Raphaelite collection (1978/9-86/7) while more recently David Bomford, Larry Keith and Jill Dunkerton have carried out work. The Ashmolean has on occasion turned to the Hamilton Kerr Institute or its staff, using Ian Mclure (1982/3-83/4) and the Institute (1984/5-2001/2). It has also used the Courtauld Institute conservation department for technical analysis of important works from at least 1971/2 and it has provided work for its students who have treated some lesser paintings including a series of Cardinal and Theological Virtues, 1999/2000-2007/8.
5.Treatment of prints and drawings
One of the earliest records for the treatment of works on paper is a payment of £20 to the leading London print mounter and framemaker, Joseph Hogarth, for repairing, mounting, framing and glazing five unspecified drawings in velvet and oak frames for the Bodleian Library in 1862, with further payments to Hogarth for cleaning and mounting work in 1863/4 and 1865 (Library Records, b.46, b.3, b.47 item 35). For Hogarth, see British picture framemakers on this website.
Of great importance was the collection of works on paper in the University Galleries, and in particular the Raphael and Michelangelo drawings from Thomas Lawrence’s collection, which arrived in 1845, and the early German, Dutch and Flemish prints and drawings from Francis Douce’s bequest, transferred from the Bodleian in 1863 (there were other gifts, see Whiteley 1997 p.621). The former print dealer, William Smith took many of the Douce prints off their old mounts in 1869, washing and mending some of them and arranging for William May Scott (c.1822-1912), the British Museum’s mounter of prints and drawings, to stamp them in 1869 and 1871, including a large number of early German prints (National Portrait Gallery records, NPG7/1/1/4/2/8, letter from Smith to George Scharf, 14 November 1869). Further mounting work was carried out by P. & D. Colnaghi & Co, who mounted 1800 old engravings, 1871-3, for some £61 (WA, receipted bills).
The Keeper of the University Galleries, the engraver Joseph Fisher (1795-1890), was given specific instructions in 1887, by which time he had reached the great age of 91 for a serving member of staff, not to restore drawings or pictures in his care without permission from the Curators, as members of the governing committee were termed (WA, Letters and Papers, 1887-1899). In his response Fisher apologised for any offence and explained that he had had many drawings to restore: ‘my method is to keep faithfully to the original line, repeating it with washes of the same colour very lightly’, an approach which by then was out of keeping with the developing professionalism of paper restoration.
The Curators of the University Galleries came to realise that the collection needed special attention following a discussion in 1885 on the fading of the Raphael drawings (Minutes, AMS 41). They commissioned a report from the Deputy Keeper, Alexander MacDonald (1839-1921), on the condition of the drawings, which he described as suffering from fading, blackening of highlights and brown spots caused by damp. In 1887 advice was taken from Sidney Colvin (1845-1927), Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum, leading to preventative measures to deal with damp conditions and to avoid unnecessary exposure to light.
Oxford has had a long working relationship with the British Museum. In 1887, it was decided to send the Raphael and Michelangelo drawings there for mounting and treatment by ‘skilled workmen’ in the Prints and Drawings department, a programme which was completed in 1891. As Sidney Colvin explained, the work was not undertaken on British Museum premises but at the mounters’ own houses, to his exact directions as to what to do in each case (WA, Letters, 16 November 1887). At least some of the Michelangelo drawings were placed between thin sheets of gelatine in 1890 for protection, as recommended by Colvin. The work was done by William Clay (qv, c.1833-1911 or later) and his son Frederick (1856-1915), specialist mounters at the British Museum. Their bills were certified by Colvin and amounted to some £174 over three years. The Raphael and Michelangelo drawings were ‘restored and repaired,… guarded & mounted in… sunk mounts’ and lettered with catalogue references at a cost of 12s a drawing (WA, receipted bills, Eldon Fund). Some double sided drawings were given ‘swing backs’ for an extra 2s a drawing and a few were placed between gelatine sheets to protect them at an additional 3s each.
Not everything on paper went to the British Museum. Some Rembrandt etchings and other prints were mounted in Oxford by William Innes (successor to James Wyatt) and by Ansell, Davis & Co, 1888-90, while Mrs Lydia Preston Burke & Co (‘L.P. Burke & Co’, qv), London mounters and framemakers, mounted various drawings including many by Claude and Ostade, 1892-6 (WA, receipted bills). Mounting board was acquired from F. & S. Turnbull & Co, 1893, while solander cases and portfolios, etc, were made by N.F. Henley (qv), 1893-6. Both these businesses came on the recommendation of the British Museum (for Turnbull, see British artists' suppliers on this website).
There is a gap in the sequence of bills at the turn of the century but it would seem likely that it was to the British Museum that prints in the Douce collection were sent to be placed in sunk mounts, 1899-1901 (Reports, 1899-1901; see also Minutes, 18 March 1898, for a report by T.W. Jackson, an influential Visitor to the University Galleries). Certainly in 1905 it was the by-now-aged William Clay who charged for preparing and mounting drawings by Durer, Leonardo da Vinci, Correggio etc, and for special mounts, at £14.12s (WA, Letters, receipted bills). At Christ Church, the other Oxford old master drawings collection, it was Robert Guéraut (qv) who took on the task of mounting drawings with mixed success, 1897-1903.
The Ashmolean Museum, as the University Galleries became in 1908, continued to send mounting and cleaning work to the British Museum during the keepership of C.F. Bell, a man of high standards and sometimes difficult to please. In 1909 it was reported that some of the Raphael and Michelangelo drawings needed remounting, despite having been ‘mounted in accordance with the best advice procurable twenty years ago’ (Report, 1909). Some drawings had suffered ‘perforation’, apparently as a consequence of ‘drum-mounting’ (Minutes, 3 June 1909). As a result, 83 double-sided sheets were sent to the British Museum to be remounted by ‘a new process between sheets of transparent gelatine’.
Work on the collection features regularly in the Ashmolean’s reports: mounting old master drawings (1910-12), cleaning and remounting Rembrandt etchings (1914), mounting British drawings and old master etchings (1915-16), cleaning and relaying the mounted series of Douce prints (1919 and 1921), mounting studies by David Cox (1920), and a more restricted programme in the 1920s, focusing mainly on recent acquisitions.
Most work went to British Museum staff, working in a freelance capacity, but H.J. Hatfield & Sons, suppliers of specialist framing devices for displaying drawings, treated a Claude drawing for blemishes and mounted drawings by Rembrandt, Ostade, etc, 1910 (WA, Letters 1909-1920). For Hatfield, see British bronze sculpture founders on this website. Through the British Museum, after Clay’s retirement work was handled firstly by Stanley Littlejohn (qv) and then by William Woodcock (Letters 1909-1920). Bell was so dissatisfied with Littlejohn that he threatened legal action, as spelt out in the entry for Littlejohn in this resource. By contrast, his relationship with Woodcock, who cleaned drawings from 1910, was effusive: ‘I think that you have done wonders with the two Durers’, he wrote (November 1910), ‘the Holbein is wonderfully improved’ (December 1910), and ‘I am particularly delighted with the wonderful thing you have made of the Guardi’ (December 1911).
Woodcock died in 1921 and it was his wife who submitted a final invoice to the Ashmolean. It was Woodcock’s successor at the British Museum, J.R. England (qv) who carried out most mounting work in a freelance capacity from 1921 until 1937 (WA, receipted bills, 2 March 1921 and thereafter). England mounted prints and drawings and sometimes supplied solander boxes and mounting boards, but he appears not to have undertaken much repair work. He mounted prints from the Douce collection and more than 700 German woodcuts and also English drawings and watercolours (1921-2), numerous drawings by Cotman and his school (1923), a few old master drawings as well as prints (1924) and numerous drawings by Malchair, the majority laid down in two folio volumes (1925 and subsequently). Work slowed in the late 1920s and 1930s but included mounting drawings by Burne-Jones and etchings by Ottavio Leoni (1926-7) and Turner’s Liber Studiorum prints (1927).
Under Kenneth Clark as keeper from 1931 routine mounting was undertaken by Oxford firms, at first by Ryman & Co Ltd and then from the mid-1930s under Karl Parker as keeper increasingly by Alden & Co Ltd, with some inlaying work into volumes done by A. Maltby & Son in the 1940s. The pace of reported work appears to have slowed but included mounting drawings from the Douce collection, 1934-6, as well as certain sheets by Raphael and Michelangelo. Interestingly it was during the Second World War that the treatment of drawings went beyond mounting work to include cleaning and repair, as carried out by the German immigrant paper restorer, Arthur Bruno Drescher (1895-1986) of Maida Vale, London, including cleaning John Frederick Lewis’s Proclamation of Don Carlos (1941), repairing Tintoretto’s Man crouching on the Ground (1943-4) and repairing Guercino’s St Jerome (1945) (WA, receipted bills). The continuing focus of mounting work was on acquisitions but for a few years from 1944 work was limited by the difficulty in sourcing satisfactory mounting boards (Reports, 1944, 1947).
Toward the end of the war the Ashmolean began to identify future priorities. At first, in 1944, it was thought that a part-time picture restorer was the priority (see section 4). But two years later the need for a mounter for drawings and prints had come to the forefront: there was ‘an ever increasing quantity of mounting work to be done owing to the rapid growth of the collection’, making ‘the practice of paying for piece-work done outside the Museum entirely uneconomical. A small initial outlay… for equipment would be necessary and the salary required for a competent man would be at least £300-400 per annum’ (Minutes, AM 71/4, 31 January 1946, ‘Memorandum on Future Needs’, report to the University Council).
In 1948 the appointment of a full-time mounter for prints and drawings to the staff, the Polish-born Wladyslaw Jan Florczyk (1910-85), transformed the mounting process (Report, 1948). Within a year the museum was able to report his progress on numerous recent and wartime gifts and on the Ruskin collection. He worked on the premises on a wide range of mounting work until his retirement in 1975 but most paper conservation work seems to have been carried out elsewhere. Four portrait miniatures were sent to the V&A for treatment of mildew by H.A.O. Clark in 1949 (Report, 1949; WA, receipted bills, 4 December 1949), but little else was reported on in the 1950s.
Developments since 1950 are not the main focus of this history but are summarised here. Doreen Lewisohn (1916-2000) undertook work on various drawings, 1963-72/3, rather as she did for the Fitzwilliam Museum. The Ashmolean continued to turn for advice to the British Museum. Eric Harding treated six Michelangelo and three Raphael drawing at the British Museum in 1969 and 1970, removing old inlay supports, de-acidifying and then placing between perspex and remounting. Harding continued to treat works, sometimes with his colleagues at the British Museum, Miss Ann Leane and Mrs Gillian Roy, until 1975/6. In particular, Harding’s treatment of Lodovico Carracci’s Birth of St John the Baptist was described as a triumph (Report, 1972/3).
Following Florczyk’s retirement as mounter in 1975, Miss Judith Chantry (qv, 1943-99) was appointed to the wider role of paper conservator and mounter, obviating the need to rely on the British Museum for so much work. Specialists were still called in from time to time, including Jane McAusland who treated cartoons by Edward Burne-Jones, 1986/7-88/9. A new paper conservation studio opened in 1985 and was replaced in 2004. Paper conservation remains an important part of the work of the Ashmolean.
6. Treatment of sculpture
Some mention is made here of the treatment of European sculpture, a patchily documented activity. At the Bodleian, after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, the ‘Kings Picture’, presumably Hubert le Sueur’s bust of King Charles I, was treated by an unknown craftsmen who was paid 12s.6d for ‘polishing ye rust’ from it and setting it up again in the library (Library Records, e.8, f.159v). At much the same time, in the year 1660/1, ‘Mr Jackson’, i.e. the Oxford stone carver, John Jackson (c.1602-63), was paid ‘for clensing and polishing ye white Greeke Marble Antiquities given by Mr Selden’, presumably the marble reliefs and inscriptions received from John Selden’s executors in 1659 (Vice-Chancellor’s accounts for 1660/1, see Colvin 2008 pp.560-1, and Donna Kurtz, The Reception of Classical Art in Britain: an Oxford story of plaster casts from the antique, 2000, p.46).
In some senses, the history of sculpture conservation at Oxford, even into the 20th century, is the history of the treatment of the Arundel marbles. In 1668/9 following the gift to Oxford of the Greek and other inscribed stones from the Arundel marbles, Mr Bird, i.e. the Oxford mason, William Byrd (1624-1690?), was paid some £24 for his work on the collection, including ‘repairing and setting up the remainder of the Marbles given by my Lord Howard and Mr. Selden’ in the enclosure walls of the Sheldonian Theatre (University Archives, WPβ 21/5, Vice-Chancellor’s accounts). In 1669 John Evelyn successfully recommended that the marbles should be protected from injury by planting a holly hedge in front of them, a most unusual example of preventative conservation (see Kurtz, as above, p.47).
‘Ransford’, probably the Oxford carver, Charles Ransford (d.c.1737), was paid £2.10s for mending statues and skeletons in 1714/15, perhaps when the marbles were moved to the Picture Gallery, while ‘Townsend the Mason’, probably John Townesend IV (d.1784) of the family of Oxford masons, received the considerable sum of £63.16s for attending to the Pomfret statues from the Arundel collection on their arrival in Oxford in 1755 (University Archives, WPβ 22/1, Vice-Chancellor’s accounts), many of which had previously been heavily restored by the visiting Italian sculptor, Giovanni Battista Guelfi, c.1721 (Roscoe 2009 p.560; see also Mark Norman, ‘“Mistresses with great smooth marbly limbs”‘, The Ashmolean, no.40, 2001, pp.6-8).
In the mid-19th century, the Oxford sculptor and terracotta maker, Thomas Grimsley (1800-75), worked at the University Galleries in 1849, removing and repairing unspecified statues for £2.13s.6d, and at the Library in 1863, cleaning marble busts, stone floors, etc, and repainting the lettering on marble pedestals for £5.8s, also repairing the arm of the Fighting Gladiator for £1.10s (Ashmolean Museum, WA, receipted bills; Bodleian Library, Library Records, b.46).
As the university’s collections of sculpture and three-dimensional objects expanded and diversified over the course of the 19th century, the old system of relying on local carvers and masons for repairs came to be replaced by the employment of talented in-house staff or of specialist repairers from London.
At the University Galleries, Thomas Jones, Sir Francis Chantrey’s assistant, was paid more than £93 in 1844 for 15 week’s work in repairing plaster models from Chantrey’s studio that had been damaged in transit of the gift to Oxford (Whiteley 1997 p.617, quoting WA, Letters and Papers, 1844). Then in 1847-8, P.A. Valentini, a figure maker from London, was paid £29 to restore casts after the antique, most expensively a Laocoon group for £6.10s; new casts of hands and arms and a quiver, supplied by the better-known London figure maker, William Scoular (1796-1854), were paid for in 1848 (Penny 1992 p.xxviii, quoting WA, receipted bills). George Wyatt & Son charged for repairing and moving figures in 1867 when the Chantrey plasters were removed from the main gallery (WA, receipted bills; see also Penny 1992 p.xxxii).
At the Ashmolean Museum, George Augustus Rowell (1804-92), underkeeper, cabinet-maker and meteorologist, worked for the museum for many years. Among other diverse duties he cleaned some of the Arundel marbles for £9.6s.1d on their transfer in 1862 and treated classical marbles from the Hyde Clarke collection following their gift in 1866 (Ovenell 1986 pp.222-3; Norman 2001 p.163). The stonemason, Jonathan Hind (c.1841-1910), was employed in 1887 to take to pieces, repair and mount the sculpture and inscriptions belonging to the University and was then taken on to the staff part-time from 1891 to clean marbles and casts and to repair damaged casts, until he was dismissed in 1909 (Draft Reports by the Keeper of the University Galleries, in WA, Letters and Papers 1887-1899; Minutes, AM 71/2, p.59g).
As to other collections at the Ashmolean, William Talbot Ready (1857-1914), London-based and with close connections to the British Museum, undertook a few repairs to antiquities in 1890 (‘Accounts’, AM 70). One member or another of the Ready family received payments, generally for new acquisitions but also for making casts, from 1879 to 1898 (AM 70, minute book; AM 36/1, bank account book). It was a craftsman who had trained under William Talbot Ready, namely William Henry Young (b.1872), who joined the Ashmolean staff as a restorer in 1900, cleaning and mending objects such as vases and bronzes and making plaster casts of seals and gems. In the 1901 and 1911 censuses he called himself a ‘plastic art restorer’. In 1905 a new workroom was completed, which Mark Norman has described as the Ashmolean’s first custom-built laboratory. Young was based in the Antiquities department but also worked for the Western Art department from at least 1924 to 1935, as his headed invoices show. These invoices would suggest that he undertook work on a freelance basis, giving the Ashmolean Museum as his address and describing himself as a ‘Formator, Electrotypist & Restorer’, even going so far as to give his trademark as ’NEOS’, or ‘new’ in Greek (WA, receipted bills).
In 1926 Young took part in a concerted campaign on the Arundel marbles to remove 17th and 18th-century marble additions from the original sculptures, a process described as ‘decapitation’ by the then Antiquities Keeper. His work for the Western Art department initially focussed on making wire stands for maiolica and tiles but by 1933, now with Kenneth Clark as keeper, his remit was extended to include mounting bronzes, small repairs and cleaning and colouring a terracotta bust of Ruskin (WA, receipted bills). He retired in 1937, to be succeeded by Vincent R. Rickard. For Young, see Mark Norman, ‘The first conservator at the Ashmolean’, The Ashmolean, no.50, 2006, pp.16-8.
Except for occasional minor payments to Vincent Rickard there are very few references to the restoration of European sculpture in the Ashmolean’s sequence of receipted bills and annual reports until the late 1950s. The paintings restorer, Joseph Deliss, removed later paint from an Italian renaissance stucco relief in 1957. But from the early 1960s there is much more published information on sculpture conservation. It was generally conservators in other departments of the museum that undertook the work: from Antiquities, Miss A.C. Western (1961-71/2), Miss D.K. Salmon (1962/3), Mrs Kathleen Kimber (1967-89), C.P. Bartram (1969), Miss Rachel Kenward (1985/6-88) and Mark Norman (from 1989), from the Cast Gallery, Mohammed Saleh, and from Eastern Art, David Armitage (1975/6-93/4). In the mid-1990s some work was put out house to Giudici-Martin Sculpture Conservation. The dates given here are for work on European sculpture, taken from the museum’s reports and from Penny 1992 vol.1, pp.35, 121, 199, 234, vol.3, pp. 40, 97, 144, 178. For Kimber’s work as a conservator in the Antiquities department, 1954-95, see Mark Norman in The Ashmolean, no.29, 1995, p.4.
When the Jordanian conservator Mohammed Saleh retired in 1993, it was said that arguably he had had more effect on the physical appearance of a major part of the museum's collection than any other member of staff, having cleaned the entire collection of the Cast Gallery since his appointment in 1960 (Report, 1992/3, p.59). He had trained under the two Prescotts, father and son, moulders at the British Museum (see Donna Kurtz (ed.), Bernard Ashmole, 1894-1988: an autobiography, 1994, p.140). At the Ashmolean, in addition to his work in the Cast Gallery, he treated Italian terracottas, lead medallions, bronzes from the Fortnum and other collections, and plaster busts by Francis Chantrey between 1962 and 1986. Of the Chantreys, Nicholas Penny has described how Saleh ‘laboriously scraped off not only the [later] stone-coloured paint but the original layer of darkened shellac’, leaving an unsightly stained surface (Penny 1992 p.214). This is a demonstration of the very particular problems posed by conservation of sculpture and in the case of plaster casts similar difficulties have been faced elsewhere, e.g. with the Flaxman collection at University College London (see Eckart Marchand, 'The Flaxman Gallery at University College London and its History', in David Bindman (ed.), John Flaxman 1755-1826: Master of the Purest Line, 2003, pp.36-43). The Ashmolean Chantrey collection was treated in this radical way despite advice to the contrary from the National Portrait Gallery and the British Museum; its recent treatment has been more benign (M.G. Sullivan, Sir Francis Chantrey and the Ashmolean Museum, 2014, pp.44, 49).
I am indebted to Jon Whiteley, Alison Roberts and Jevon Thistlewood at the Ashmolean, to Dana Josephson and Mike Webb at the Bodleian, to the research of the late Jim Brister at the Bodleian, and to Annette Peach for advice on Oxford archives. For the Ashmolean Museum in its various formations, see Mark Norman, ‘The history of conservation in the Ashmolean’, The Ashmolean, no.56, spring 2009, pp.21-3, cited here as Norman 2009; see also his ‘Paintings conservation and the Ashmolean’, The Ashmolean, no.55, summer 2008, p.27. For developments in preventative conservation, see Mark Norman, ‘Keep those things aired that will stand in need of it’, the development of preventative conservation in the Ashmolean Museum’, c.2015, available as a standalone at https://cdn.axa.com/axa-art.pdf .
‘University Archives’ refers to university records housed at the Bodleian Library; these include the Vice-Chancellor’s account books, 1666-1803 (WPβ 21/5, 21/6, 22/1 and 22/2), each covering a range of years, including some expenditure on the Bodleian, the Ashmolean and other institutions. Practice varied over the years as to what was recorded and paid centrally and what locally.
Bodleian ‘Library Records’ are in the care of the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. For the Library’s expenditure, see bill books, 1613-1865 (Library Records, b.36-b.46, kindly drawn to my attention by Dana Josephson) and annual accounts, 1676-1813 (Library Records, c.29). For the 1903-7 restoration campaign, apart from the reports of the Committee on Bodleian Pictures, published in the University Gazette and independently, there are many papers in the Bodleian Library records, not consulted for this online resource. For the Bodleian’s painted frieze, see J.N.L. Myres, ‘The painted frieze in the Picture Gallery’, and E.C. Rouse, ‘The repair of the painted frieze in the Picture Gallery’, Bodleian Library Record, vol.3, 1951, pp.82-91, 201-7; J.N.L. Myres and E.C. Rouse, ‘Further notes on the painted frieze in the Picture Gallery’, Bodleian Library Record, vol.5, 1956, pp.290-308.
For payments to Wildgoose, see University Archives, WPβ 21/6, Vice-Chancellor’s accounts; for other payments, Library Records, c.29, ff.24v, 34v, 45v, 50v; for the painted frieze, D.W. Rannie, ed., ‘Remarks and Collections of Thomas Hearne’, vols 5 and 7, Oxford Historical Society, vol.42, 1901, p.135, vol.48, 1906, p.59. For payments to Witherington, also recorded as Withington or Withrington, see University Archives, NW/3/5a, bills and receipts, and Library Records, c.29, ff.52v, 57v, 60v, 67v; for his apprenticeship in 1710, see Malcolm Graham (ed.), ‘Oxford City Apprentices 1697-1800’, Oxford Historical Society, vol.31, 1987, entry 661, also 987; for his death, see London Evening Post 14 August 1740, accessed through 'The art world in Britain 1660 to 1735,' at http://artworld.york.ac.uk. For Speakman’s will, proved in 1736, see John Griffiths, An Index to wills proved in the court of the Chancellor of the University of Oxford, 1862, p.58. For proving other wills, those of Withington, Ransford and Buckingham, see D.M. Barratt et al., Index to the Probate Records of the Courts of the Bishop and Archdeacon of Oxford 1733-1857 and of the Oxfordshire Peculiars 1547-1856, Oxfordshire Record Society, vol.61, 1997.
At the Sheldonian Theatre, note that James Dallaway’s edition of Horace Walpole, Anecdotes of Painting in England, vol.3, 1827, p.16n, attributes the 1762 restoration of the ceiling paintings to Edward Penny but there is no payment evidence to support this.
For the University Galleries, see Minutes of the Curators of the University Galleries, 1845-94, especially pp.41, 43 (Ashmolean Museum, Dept of Western Art, AMS 41), receipted bills, 1845-1908, and Letters 1900-1908 (Ashmolean Museum, Dept of Western Art, kindly drawn to my attention by Jon Whiteley).
For the Ashmolean Museum, see early accounts of museum visitor income and mainly summary expenditure, 1684-1804 (Ashmolean Museum, Antiquities Dept, AMS 5, AMS 6), published annual reports (from 1897, reports of the Ashmolean Museum and the University Galleries were combined), minutes of the Visitors of the Ashmolean Museum, with keeper’s and then visitors’ accounts, 1870-94 (University Archives, AM 70), minutes of the Visitors of the Ashmolean Museum, 1894-1986, held jointly with Curators/Visitors of the University Galleries, 1894-1908 (University Archives, AM 71), museum bank account book, 1886-98 (University Archives, AM 36/1), Dept of Western Art (later Fine Art), receipted bills and accounts, 1908-50 (cited as WA, receipted bills), Dept of Western Art, Letters, 1908-36 (cited as WA, Letters), Horace Buttery’s ‘Report and Estimate for repair of pictures in the Ashmolean Museum’, with associated correspondence, 1896-7 (Ashmolean Museum, Dept of Western Art, inserted in AMS 22).
Found a mistake? Have some extra information? Please contact Jacob Simon at [email protected].
Read our latest news and have your say.
Identify our Silhouettes
Join enthusiastic contributors who have already identified 155 sitters.
Tell us more about our Silvy sitters
Help us identify the sitters who visited Camille Silvy’s photographic studio during the 1860s.