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British picture restorers, 1600-1950 - I

An online resource, launched in 2009, selectively updated twice yearly. Last updated August 2019. Contributions are welcome, to Jacob Simon at [email protected].

Introduction Resources and bibliography

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Updated September 2018
Sebastian Isepp,
Vienna to 1938, England from 1938, 4 Akenside Road, London NW3 1938-1940, Bognor Regis 1939-1940, 121 Abbey Foregate, Shrewsbury 1940-1941, interned 1940, 7 Bevington Road, Oxford 1941-1945, 37 Steeles Road, Hampstead, London NW3 1945-1954. Artist and picture restorer.

The activities of the artist and picture restorer, Sebastian Isepp(1884-1954), have been explored by Nicholas Penny, to whom this account is indebted. Isepp was born in Carinthia in Austria, the son of an innkeeper. He studied as an artist in Vienna, exhibiting paintings at the Vienna Secession from 1905. He turned to picture restoration in the early 1920s, restoring pictures at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna from about 1925 and taking up the position of restorer in 1927 (Runeberg 2005 p.348; Isepp CV, National Archives, HO 405/24656). With Johannes Wilde, he established in 1930 one of the first European museum laboratories for studying paintings using x-rays and other analytical methods. Isepp was appointed chief restorer by Wilde in 1936 but emigrated to England in September 1938 to escape persecution due to the fact that his wife was Jewish. His approach to cleaning and restoring pictures was a relatively conservative one.

Count Seilern, himself a refugee from Austria, had employed Isepp in Vienna in the 1920s, and continued to do so in London (see foreword to his catalogue, Italian Paintings and Drawings at 56 Princes Gate, 1959). He offered to pay for him to work on the collection of the National Gallery, with the agreement of Kenneth Clark, following its evacuation to Wales at the beginning of the Second World War (National Gallery archive, NG1/11 p.384). Isepp was described by Clark as 'unlike the average restorer, a man of education and good taste'. He is said to have signed the works he restored with a miniscule red motorcycle. He was interned from July to September 1940 (Tate archive, TGA 8812/1/4/182) and moved to Oxford in 1941. In 1945 Isepp settled in Hampstead, taking British citizenship in 1947. His 1951 portrait by Oskar Kokoschka, a fellow student at the Academy in Vienna, is on loan to the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nüremberg. He died in December 1954. 

Clearly Isepp established a considerable reputation for he was one of two immigrant restorers identified by the Earl of Crawford, a trustee of various museums, in a letter of 1944 to James Mann, Keeper of the Wallace Collection, concerning the insistence of the newly founded Association of British Picture Restorers that members be British-born subjects, ‘I object on principle to this dead set against foreigners, particularly when the foreigners include such men as Yssep and Ruheman, who in their way are I suppose streets ahead of any English restorer’ (National Archives, AR1/244).

Restoration work: In Vienna Isepp worked for the gallery of the Prince Liechtenstein, the Harrach and Czernin galleries and the National Gallery in Budapest, as well for the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Isepp CV, National Archives, HO 405/24656). 

In Oxford, Isepp worked on a freelance basis for Bodleian Library and the Ashmolean Museum. At the Bodleian he arranged to clean and restore the portrait of Lord Burghley seated on his mule (Annual Report of the Curators of the Bodleian Library, 1938, p.26, accessed through Google Book Search). At the Ashmolean he became a friend of the keeper, Karl Parker, and at his death Parker reported of Isepp that ‘almost every picture of note among the earlier Italians (and many more besides) have passed through his hands’ (Ashmolean Museum, Report 1954). Isepp undertook extensive work on Palma Vecchio’s damaged panel, Santa Conversazione, 1942-4, and on other paintings during the war years including Pieter Codde’s Portrait of a Cavalier, 1942, and Tintoretto’s Portrait of a Man, 1943. His bills, the earliest of which so far located dates to 1945, provide minimal information on work undertaken. See also Morwenna Blewett, ‘Sebastian Isepp: Painting Restorer, London & Oxford’, Ashmolean Magazine, no.71, 2016, pp.34-5.

Isepp cleaned many Italian paintings for the Ashmolean after the war including Pinturicchio’s Portrait of a Young Man, Bicci di Lorenzo’s Miracle of St Nicholas and Marco Zoppo’s St Paul, 1946, various new accessions, 1947, Canaletto’s Puppet-show on the Piazzetta and Francesco dei Franceschi’s panels, St Catherine and Mary Magdalene, 1948, Jacopo Bassano’s Christ disputing with the Doctors, 1949 (also relined), Davide Ghirlandajo’s panel, SS Bartholomew and Julian, 1949-50, Giovanni Caroto’s panel, The Crucifixion, 1950-1, Altobello Meloni’s panels, Tobias and the Angel and St Helena, 1952, and Pompeo Batoni’s David Garrick, 1953. He also treated northern school works, including cleaning and reducing to true size Rubens’s sketch on panel, St Augustine, 1948, relining and surface cleaning two Van Dyck portrait sketches for the group, Magistrates of Brussels, 1952, cleaning Michiel Sweerts’ Portrait of a Sculptor, 1953, and surface cleaning Van Dyck’s Deposition, 1953-4. He also treated pictures at Christ Church, including Lorenzo Lotto’s Supper at Emmaus (Byam Shaw 1967 p.13). 

Isepp continued to work for the National Gallery occasionally after the war. However, when he cleaned Rubens’s Conversion of St Bavo, the Director adversely compared his work to that of Ruhemann (qv) on Rubens’s Apotheosis of William the Silent, pointing out to the Gallery’s Trustees in March 1946 that the picture had not been as fully cleaned as that treated by Ruhemann, specifically criticising the fact that some dirty patches had been left in the whites (Penny 2004 p.371, see also National Gallery archive, NG1/12 p.139). Isepp also cleaned Michael Pacher’s Virgin and Child enthroned in 1948-9 (National Gallery Technical Bulletin, vol.21, 2000, p.18, n.9) and two or probably three of the four Veronese Allegories of Love, as recorded at the National Gallery Trustees’ meeting in July 1949 (National Gallery archive, NG1/12 p.275, reference from NG notes file).

In the post-war period, Isepp also worked for the Tate Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Royal Collection and for municipal and private collections. For the Tate, Isepp cleaned Turner’s Windsor (no.486), 1948, for £35, and Gainsborough’s Musidora, 1948-9, where ‘extensive overpainting’ was authorised for removal (Tate archive, TG 18/1/1/1, TG 18/1/1/4). For the Victoria and Albert Museum, he cleaned various old master paintings, 1948-51, including several Italian Renaissance furnishing pictures, Tintoretto’s Self-portrait as a young man and Philips Koninck’s A Dutch Landscape (Victoria and Albert Museum archive, MA/I/I316). At Apsley House, he cleaned Correggio’s The Agony in the Garden in 1949, Claudio Coello’s St Catherine of Alexandria, G.P. Panini’s A Festival in the Piazza di Spagna, Guido Reni’s St Joseph and Jusepe de Ribera’s St James the Great and St John the Baptist in 1950, Jean Peyron’s Athenian Girls drawing Lots and Jan Victors’ A Village Scene in 1951, as well as two works associated with Bernardino Luini (Kauffmann 1982 pp.44, 48, 90, 105, 108, 118, 121, 149). 

Isepp undertook work at Petworth in the early 1950s, including cleaning Titian’s Man in a black plumed hat and the Annunciation with a donor attributed to Rogier van der Weyden (Blunt 1979 pp.119-22). In 1949 he cleaned Sebastiano Ricci's Finding of Moses (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, see Hoff 1973 p.126). He also cleaned Caravaggio’s Concert of Youths (Metropolitan Museum, New York), when it was first discovered (see Burlington Magazine, vol.94, 1952, p.3).

Sources: Nicholas Penny, National Gallery Catalogues: The 16th century Italian Paintings, volume I, Paintings from Bergamo, Brescia and Cremona, 2004, pp.370-1; C.M. Kauffmann, Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, vol.1, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, pp.14, 25, 107, 110, 115, 164, 272, 281, 304; Karl Parker, ‘Sebastian Isepp: A Personal Appreciation’, Burlington Magazine, vol.97, 1955, p.20; Runeberg 2005 pp.348-50, 354, 361-2. For abbreviations, see Resources and bibliography.

Edwin William Izod 1872-1896, E.W. Izod & Son 1897-1898,Izod & Co 1899-1915 (advertising as Izod & Son 1908-1910). At 64 Albany St, Regent’s Park, London 1872-1888, 220 Great Portland St 1889-1909, 20 and 22 Maddox St, Bond St 1909-1913, 6 Maddox St 1910, 124 New Bond St 1914-1915. Picture restorers and dealers.

In an advertisement in 1910, Izod & Son claimed that the business had been established in 1790 (The Year’s Art 1910, p.32). While there were members of the Izod family trading in London in the mid-19th century, for instance, James Izod, who was an auctioneer of pictures and furniture in the 1840s and 1850s, earlier references to the family’s involvement in picture dealing and restoration have not been traced.

Edwin William Izod (1837-1905), the son of James and Hannah Izod, was born in January 1837 and christened at St Mary Newington. He apparently married twice, firstly in 1858 in the Newington district and then in 1861 to Susan Gray in the Marylebone district. In the 1881 census Edwin W. Izod, age 43, born in Newington, was living at 64 Albany St with his wife Susan and six children, including his young sons, Edwin, George and Percy, ages 18, 16 and 8 respectively. In 1891 the family was living in Fulham Road, including a son Joseph, a picture restorer, age 26 (presumably George Joseph Izod). Edwin Izod traded in partnership with his son, George for two years until the partnership was dissolved in December 1897 (London Gazette 7 January 1898). In the 1901 census Edwin Izod was recorded at 4 Colosseum Terrace, Regents Park, as a retired art dealer. He died age 68 in 1905 in the Fulham district, leaving effects worth £1938 and bequests to his wife Susan Ann Izod and the residue to be divided between George, Arthur James and Percy Izod (information from Nina Jenkins, June 2013).

His second son George Izod (1865-1928?), apparently born in the Pancras district in 1865, was listed in the 1901 census at 19 Marylebone High St as a picture dealer and employer, age 35, born in London, and in 1911 in Paddington, age 47, as a picture restorer and employer. Commonly known as Joseph Izod, expert picture restorer, and trading as Joseph Izod & Co, he was made bankrupt in 1912 (London Gazette 26 March 1912, The Times 20 February 1912). In the court proceedings, he stated that he had been employed from boyhood in his father’s business as an artist and picture restorer, that he was taken into partnership in 1894 and in 1901 took over the business from his father, and that he was successful until about four years previously when he became involved in litigation at considerable cost, leaving him unable to pay the rent on the Great Portland St premises, with a consequent sale of his stock under a distress for rent order (see National Archives, B9/753).

His application for a discharge from the bankruptcy order was refused in 1914, partly on the grounds of his ‘unjustifiable extravagance in living’ (London Gazette 2 January 1914). He is probably the individual by the name George Joseph Izod who died in Brighton, age 64, in 1928 (The Times 13 August 1928).

Restoration work: The Izod family’s activities as restorers are not well documented.James Baker Pyne used ‘Mr Izod’ to line his painting, Casamicciola, in 1867 (see Pyne’s Picture manuscript memoranda, item 700, V&A National Art Library, MSL/1947/1563).

In 1903 Whistler requested the art dealer, William Marchant, to ensure that Izod himself attended to problems with varnish on his Arrangement in Brown and Black: Portrait of Miss Rosa Corder, saying, ‘I hear on all sides that your man Izod is really the very best and most capable in London’ (The Correspondence of James Mcneill Whistler at www.whistler.arts.gla.ac.uk, see Whistler Correspondence: JW to William Marchant, 22 February 1903 [03054]).

Messrs Izod & Son advertised the cleaning of old pictures in The Year’s Art 1910, p.32, referring to their work in restoring Rubens’s ceiling paintings in the Banqueting House, Whitehall, as described in The Times, 21 December 1907. At the Banqueting House Izod & Co worked as a subcontractor for the decorators White, Allom & Co, subject to an order issued in January 1907, specifying the exact week when each panel had to be completed (information from Simon Padfield, August 2009). The retouching was undertaken by ‘Hahn’ and ‘Cooke’, presumably Charles Hahn (qv) and Joseph Cooke (qv) (Martin 2005 p.125, n.127, also referring to Izod’s report on the cleaning process).

The business advertised other recent commissions: the Painted Hall at Burley-on-the-Hill, Rutland, the Angelica Kauffmann ceiling at Rousham Hall, Oxfordshire, and work at Hampton Court (Art Prices Current 1908-9, c.1910, p.vi).

Found a mistake? Have some extra information? Please contact Jacob Simon at [email protected].

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