British picture restorers, 1600-1950 - N
An online resource, launched in 2009, selectively updated twice yearly. Last updated August 2019. Contributions are welcome, to Jacob Simon at [email protected].
*John C. Nairn 1869-1900, John C. Nairn & Sons 1901-1910, John C. Nairn & Son 1911-1931. At 8 Hamilton Row, Dublin 1869-1873, 51 Denzille St, Merrion Square 1874-1914 (also at no.52 by 1884), 13 Westland Row by 1910-1931. Picture restorers, by c.1884 also agents for artists.
John Campbell Nairn (1831-1913), a leading Dublin picture restorer, was the son of George Nairn (1799-1850), animal and portrait painter, and his wife Celia Campbell (1791-1857), also an artist. By his first marriage, to Ellen Carr, John Campbell Nairn had several children, including George Ivor Nairn, who trained as a painter before joining the British Army. These and the following biographical details come from a family tree supplied by George Nairn, George Ivor Nairn’s grandson, following publicity in 1995 concerning a time capsule found at the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford (see below). By his second marriage, to his housekeeper, Johanne Byrne, John Campbell Nairn had further children, apparently including Robert Nairn, who was active in his father’s business as a picture restorer (see below).
John C. Nairn & Son’s trade card described the business as picture cleaners and restorers (to the National Gallery, Dublin, added in manuscript) and claimed forty years practical experience. The business gave 3 Duck Lane, Soho, the premises of the picture liners, William Morrill & Son (qv), as its London address, and Garfield Chambers, 42 Royal Avenue as its Belfast address. It offered to line pictures, to transfer them from the original panel or canvas to new canvas and to clean and restore old engravings and mezzotints. For a partial list of clients, see below.
Following John C. Nairn’s death in 1913, it was advertised that the business, ‘John C. Nairn & Son’, would be continued by his son William Joseph Nairn (b.1880) at 13 Westland Row but not at 51-52 Denzille St (Freemans Journal 4 February 1914).
Restoration work: John C. Nairn & Son cleaned and restored portraits in the Mansion House and the City Hall, Dublin, in 1897 (Belfast News-Letter 8 March 1897). John C. Nairn & Son’s undated trade card (see above) listed as clients the Marquis of Downshire, Hillsborough Castle; Lord Arthur W. Hill, MP, London; Earl Kilmorey, Mourne Park, Newry; Lord O’Neill, Shane’s Castle, Antrim; Earl of Gosford, Gosford Castle, Markethill; Sir James Haslett, MP, Belfast; Sir Samuel Black, Glen Ebor, Strandtown; The President, Queen’s College, Belfast; Major H.S. M’Clintock, Kilwarlin House, Hillsborough; Sir Thomas Farrell, PRHA; and the secretary and the keeper of the Royal Hibernian Academy, and several others.
Robert J. Nairn (b.c.1876) was responsible for restoring the ceiling paintings in the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford, 1899-1901. He left a time capsule above the paintings, containing newspapers, photographs and a note, now housed in the Bodleian Library (University Archives, ST 50, see Oxford University Gazette, vol.125, 23 February 1995). The note is reproduced at www.oxfordpreservation.org.uk. He was working for John C. Nairn & Son as subcontractors to William Morrill & Son. He produced a detailed report of his work, which was published in The Sheldonian Theatre (copy in University Archives, ST 35) and, as ‘Notes of Observations during its Restoration, 1899-1901 by Mr R.J. Nairn’, in The Architect & Contract Reporter, 6 June 1902, pp.369-72.
Nairn also cleaned and restored James Thornhill’s chapel ceiling painting at the Queen’s College, Oxford in 1900, as is apparent from an annotated photograph in the Sheldonian time capsule, and undertook work for the Ashmolean Museum, 1904 (Ashmolean Report, 1904).
Added August 2019
National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh. National Gallery of Scotland, opened 1859; Scottish National Portrait Gallery, opened 1889; Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, opened 1960.
The National Gallery of Scotland, now the Scottish National Gallery, holds the collections of a number of precursors: the Royal Institution (founded 1819, see section 2), the Royal Scottish Academy (founded 1826, much of the collection transferred to National Gallery 1910, excepting Diploma works) and the Royal Association for the Promotion of the Fine Arts in Scotland (established 1834, dissolved and collection transferred 1897). It also held the Torrie collection on loan from Edinburgh University until much was returned in 1954 (see section 1). Parts of the Gallery’s own collection have been transferred to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, which together form the National Galleries of Scotland.
The National Gallery’s building was begun in 1850. Its galleries opened to the public in 1859. Parts of the premises were used by the Royal Scottish Academy until it moved to the adjoining building, formerly housing the Royal Institution, under the terms of a parliamentary order in 1910. Administratively the National Gallery came under the aegis of the Board of Trustees for Fisheries, Manufactures and Improvements in Scotland, a government department known as the Board of Manufactures, until 1907 when the Gallery received its own Board of Trustees. In 2011 the National Gallery of Scotland was renamed the Scottish National Gallery. This history of picture restoration is in six sections:
- The Torrie Collection
- The Royal Institution, 1819-59
- The National Gallery of Scotland and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery to 1914
- The 1920s and 1930s and the role of Stanley Cursiter
- A conservation department: The Woolford years, 1940 to 1970
- The last fifty years
Certain themes emerge in this two hundred year history:
- the choice in the 19th century between using artist-restorers or carvers and gilders offering picture restoration.
- the cautious approach of the trustees to treating 19th-century British works painted with unsound materials, as became increasingly apparent in the 1860s and 1870s
- a widening range of restorers following the foundation of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery
- thinning out of the displays at the National Gallery in the 1890s to remove second rate pictures and those in poor condition
- a move in the 1920s and 1930s to employing professional picture restorers whether based in London, The Hague (an unusual choice) or Edinburgh
- growing interest in the role of science in the examination of pictures in the 1930s
- the employment of a picture restorer in house in the 1940s, the establishment of a conservation department and the recognition of the professional status of conservators
- the introduction of air conditioning in the galleries and stores from the 1970s
- the establishment of a collection centre at Granton in the early 2000s
In the following account, ‘Annual Report’ refers to the sequence of published annual reports from 1907. ‘NG’ refers to documents in the National Records of Scotland relating to the Royal Institution, the Board of Manufactures and the National Galleries of Scotland. Trustee meeting minutes, letter books, financial records, online newspapers and papers relating to a few individual restorers have been examined in compiling this history but few individual picture files.
1. The Torrie Collection
The University of Edinburgh had long held a collection of portraits which needed repair from time to time. Lauchlan McLean was employed on Henry Raeburn’s recommendation to clean portraits in the library in 1801 and the carver and gilder, Adam Elder, repaired pictures in 1816 (Duncan Macmillan, The Torrie Collection, 1983, p.4). For Elder, see British picture framemakers on this website.
The Torrie collection of Dutch and some Italian paintings, together with a few remarkable sculptures, came to the University of Edinburgh in 1836. It takes its name from Sir James Erskine, 3rd Baronet of Torrie (1772-1825), who formed his collection in the last 20 years of his life. Little is known of its early care beyond Erskine’s payment to George Simpson of £18.18s in 1820 for cleaning, lining and repairing a picture ‘in very bad condition’, the Veronese studio Venus and Adonis (Duncan Macmillan, A Catalogue of the Torrie Collection, 2004, p.30) and his correspondence with William Pizzetta on cleaning and framing pictures in 1823, including the Guido Reni copy, Ecce Homo, and Hendrick ten Oever’s Canal Landscape with Figures Bathing, then given to Cuyp (National Gallery of Scotland archive, Torrie file, transcripts). For Simpson, a leading London picture dealer and restorer, and Pizzetta, a lesser London restorer, see British picture restorers on this website.
The collection came to the university following the death of Sir James’s brother, John, in 1836. The university found it difficult to show the collection effectively and an agreement was reached in 1845 that the pictures should be shown as an entity in the Royal Institution building so that ‘they might be better seen and better preserved’, according to the then Lord Provost (The Scotsman, 4 June 1845). The collection passed with that of the Institution to the new National Gallery of Scotland where it was shown from 1859. In 1954 most of the collection was returned to the university and is now in the care of the Talbot Rice Gallery, which opened in 1975. The Torrie collection’s conservation history is touched on below, especially the treatment of many of the pictures by Charles O’Neil in the late 1840s and by Martin de Wild in the 1930s. See also Colin Thompson, Pictures for Scotland. The National Gallery of Scotland and its collection: a study of changing attitude to painting since the 1820s, 1972, p.44; Emily L. Moore and Andrew Smith (eds), The Torrie Collection, Talbot Rice Gallery, 2017.
2. The Royal Institution, 1819-59
The Institution for the Encouragement of the Fine Arts in Scotland was founded in 1819 and received its royal charter in 1827. It held loan exhibitions of old and modern masters, somewhat along the lines of the British Institution in London. From 1826 the Institution was housed in new purpose-built galleries (now housing the Royal Scottish Academy). Also from 1826, the Institution began to build up a collection of paintings that eventually formed the nucleus of the holdings of the National Gallery of Scotland (the paintings mentioned here now belong to the Gallery). For a history of the Institution, see Colin Thompson, Pictures for Scotland, 1972, pp.20-39.
In maintaining the collection the choice lay between seeking the services of a local firm of carvers and gilders who would also restore pictures, or of an artist or picture dealer who had taken up restoration. Early in the Royal Institution’s history, the Edinburgh carver and gilder, John Fraser, received a modest payment for ‘repairing pictures’, in March 1826 (National Records of Scotland, NG3/5/20/8). However, it was to the leading Edinburgh framemakers and picture restorers, William Chalmers & Son, that the Institution turned for care of the pictures lent to its annual exhibitions and for framing and restoration of pictures in its own collection, so much so that from June 1829 the Chalmers business, already picture cleaners to the Scottish Academy, was authorised to adopt the title, ‘Picture Cleaners to the Royal Institution for the Encouragement of the Fine Arts in Scotland’ (NG3/1/1, minute book, p.255, information from Helen Smailes; see also NG3/4/11/14 for the business’s letter of application). For Chalmers & Son, see British picture framemakers on this website.
Chalmers framed an early acquisition, the Jacopo Bassano workshop Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple for £6.9s in 1826 and also cleaned and varnished the picture for £1.11s.6d, a charge which would indicate surface cleaning rather than varnish removal (NG3/5/15/22). Rather more challenging was a gift to the Institution, Jacob More’s large Mount Vesuvius, which Chalmers described as ‘a more arduous task’ than anticipated, involving filling up ‘no less than 280 holes in the painting’, at a cost of £7 in 1829 (NG3/4/11/15, NG3/5/24/6). There was ongoing occasional work.
In 1836 a new manager for the collection, Charles Heath Wilson, called on Chalmers for a series of modest housekeeping repairs, largely varnishing work, costing £11.6s.6d (NG3/5/38/6). In 1840, Chalmers cleaned and treated for worm a ‘Titian’ Venus and Adonis for £3.7s (NG3/5/41/22). When the Chalmers business closed later that year, not long before the death of William Chalmers (?1756-1842), the Royal Institution had to turn elsewhere. It employed the artist and picture restorer, George William Novice, in December 1840 to clean, restore and varnish Bacchus and Ariadne, probably the panel painting now described as Netherlandish (inv.78), at a cost of £10, a charge indicating considerable work (NG3/5/41/43). For Novice, see British picture restorers on this website.
There were occasional damages to pictures in exhibitions or in the Institution’s collection (NG3/1/1, pp.451-2, 458-8). When in 1846 one of the major works in the collection, Gian Battista Tiepolo’s large Finding of Moses, was ‘seriously injured’ (NG3/1/1, p.458), estimates for its repair were supplied by three restorers: George William Novice at £7 for repairs excluding lining, Bruce & Macdonald, carvers and gilders, at £20 but including lining (NG3/4/22/4, 5), and Charles O’Neil, a London dealer who was in Edinburgh to value the Torrie collection, who offered to repair the painting at his own expense. O’Neil had in 1834 donated a ‘Ribera’ Martyrdom of St Sebastian to the Royal Institution (NG3/4/15/6; inv.84). His offer to repair the Tiepolo was accepted but with the lining work being done by the Edinburgh restorer, James Walker for £12 (NG3/2/1, NG3/5/50/31). Walker went on to repair the Royal Institution’s large modern copy of Raphael’s Transfiguration for £13 in 1847 (NG3/5/50/31). O’Neil’s gesture appears to have paid off handsomely since in February 1848 he was paid the considerable sum of £154 for lining and cleaning 22 pictures from the Torrie collection, the cost being shared with the Board of Manufactures, and in June that year a further £85 for lining and cleaning the three great Genoese Van Dycks in the collection (NG1/1/38, pp.317- 9, 323, 339; NG3/2/1). For O’Neil and Walker, see British picture restorers on this website.
There was an occasional need to restore sculpture and works on paper. In 1827 the Edinburgh sculptors and marble cutters, Wallace & Whyte, worked on a statue of Lord Erskine and on casts of the Elgin marbles, possibly those supplied by Matthew Mazzoni to the Board of Manufacturers for the Trustees’ Academy (NG3/5/21/26). This business advertised in 1827 that it would contract for the furnishing of lodgings with marbles, for monuments, coats of arms, founts, and sculpture work of any kind in marble or freestone (National Records of Scotland, GD113/5/387); it went on to repair and clean marbles etc in the Torrie collection in 1846/7 (NG3/4/22/18/2). A large drawing by Hugh William Williams was cleaned and pasted into its frame by Chalmers & Son in 1834 and drawings by Guercino were repaired in 1843 by the Edinburgh bookbinders and stationers, Orrock & Romanes (NG3/5/36, NG3/5/46). For Orrock & Romanes, see Scottish Book Trade Index - National Library of Scotland.
In 1859 the Royal Institution’s collection was put on public display in the newly built National Gallery of Scotland, together with pictures from the Torrie collection.
The above account, first published in March 2018, draws on records in the National Records of Scotland: the Board of Manufactures, NG1/1 minute books, and the Royal Institution, NG3/1 minute book, NG3/2 cash book, NG3/3 letter book (copy letters out), NG3/4 correspondence (letters in), NG3/5 bills, accounts etc.
3. The National Gallery of Scotland, 1859-1914, and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, 1889-1914
The National Gallery had by necessity a close working relationship with the Royal Scottish Academy with which it shared a building and, in part, a collection. The Gallery’s early curators were required to be artists who were Academicians. The curatorship was not a full-time post, ‘the duties being light’ according to one commentator (W.M. Gilbert, ‘Robert Gibb, R.S.A.’, Art Journal, 1897, p.28). The National Gallery and, later, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery were administered by the Board of Manufactures until 1907. Picture restoration was not without controversy on occasion. This may have led the board to take a cautious approach, preferring occasional preventative measures, and only intervening when unavoidable. As earlier in the century, the choice of restorer lay between employing an artist or a firm of carvers and gilders or on one occasion house decorators.
The first curator was the landscape and historical painter, William Borthwick Johnstone, RSA (1804-68), appointed in February 1858. A report on certain pictures was prepared for him by the portrait painter and picture restorer, James Douglas (1810-88) in February the following year, a month before the Gallery formally opened (NG6/7/4/2). Douglas recommended that a split panel, Simon Kick’s Soldiers at Cards, should be ‘buttoned on the back’. The panel, then attributed to Jan Le Ducq, formed part of the Torrie collection. Douglas features in the Royal Scottish Academy minutes, as ‘the picture cleaner employed by the National Gallery’, when he lined and restored John Graham’s large canvas, The Disobedient Prophet, for the Academy for £12 on acquisition in 1859 (RSA minutes, 7 and 18 April 1859, information from Robin H. Rodger). Other pictures were relined or revarnished for the National Gallery. John Thomson’s Bruce’s Castle of Turnberry, painted for the Royal Institution in 1828, was treated by filling and retouching over the cracks according to one observer, who wrote presciently that this restoration was unlikely to be successful for more than a few years, placing the blame on the ‘too free use of magilp and asphaltum’ employed by artists to make a good first appearance (The Scotsman, 2 April 1859). Other 19th-century pictures were suffering from cracking, according to Johnstone’s annual reports in 1862 and 1863. James Stark’s small panel, Gowbarrow Park, had to be restored in 1864 and William Lizars’ much cracked panel, A Scotch Wedding in 1866 (NG6/1/3). For Johnstone, see Galastro 2018 in Sources below. For Douglas, see www.douglashistory.co.uk/history/james_douglas2.htm.
Regulations for day-to-day care of the collection were formulated in 1861. The attendants were restricted to dusting pictures and wiping or rubbing the picture surface with cotton or a silk handkerchief excepting in the case of the varnish on a picture chilling and then only with the personal superintendence of Johnstone as curator (NG6/3/1, pp.97-101). Occasionally problem pictures were glazed for protection. John Taylor & Son supplied glass for this purpose in 1860 (NG1/1/42, 4 June 1860). This business continued to provide services towards the maintenance of the Gallery’s furnishings and fittings over the next 60 years. For Taylor & Son, see British artists' suppliers on this website.
An unusual responsibility was the Tassie gems, a vast collection of more than 20,000 items, mainly moulds and impressions of gems, but also coins and medals, from the collection of James Tassie, 18th-century master of medallion portraits in paste. It was bequeathed by his nephew, William Tassie in 1860. The seal engraver, Henry Laing (1803-83), once apprenticed to William Tassie, was brought in to clean the collection, which was in a very dirty state. He was paid 10 shillings a day and his daughter was to assist him at a rate of about 12 shillings a week. The work cost £16.14s in total (NG1/1/42, 12 & 26 March, 28 May 1861). The collection is now with the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.
Johnstone was succeeded as curator in 1868 by another artist, the history painter and antiquarian, James Drummond, RSA (1816-77). In his annual report in 1871 he drew attention to the state of William Etty’s large and bituminous Judith and Holofernes triptych, owned by the Royal Scottish Academy, while claiming that the works of art belonging to the Board of Manufactures were in good condition and those in the Torrie collection were in excellent condition, as were the modern Scottish pictures deposited by the Royal Association for the Promotion of the Fine Arts (NG6/7/9/2). In 1872 and 1873 he drew attention to cracking in Horatio McCulloch’s recently acquired Lowland River (NG6/1/3), a picture which continued to give trouble. James Douglas continued to be employed to restore pictures, in particular a loan from Lord Clinton, Guido Reni’s Virgin and Child, which was repaired in 1872 (NG6/1/3, NG6/7/32). This was the year that Douglas moved south to Surrey and he is not found again as a picture restorer in Edinburgh. In 1874 Drummond himself was to make some repairs to Edwin Landseer’s damaged Rent-day in the Wilderness (NG1/1/45, pp.128-9) and in 1876 Bonnar & Carfrae were paid for varnishing pictures (NG1/7/16). These Edinburgh house painters, gilders and decorators occasionally worked on pictures for the National Gallery over the next few years until the partnership was dissolved in 1884 (see below).
Drummond was followed as curator in 1877 by another artist, William Fettes Douglas, RSA (1822-91), who held the position until 1882, when he was elected President of the Royal Scottish Academy. On becoming curator he prepared an interim report on the condition of the Gallery’s collection (NG6/7/9/6). He found that the old masters were generally in a sound and satisfactory condition, as were pictures painted within the last 20 years. On the other hand works executed during the previous 40 years were in ‘a more or less shakey condition’, in particular George Harvey’s Columbus (inv.80), where the materials with which the picture was executed were ‘running into distortion’; this bituminous picture was subsequently written off. He drew attention to the cracking in Henry Howard’s Venus Carrying off Ascanius, a picture that remains cracked to this day. The National Gallery in London faced similar problems with 19th-century bituminous British paintings. Douglas also drew attention to Gainsborough’s full length Mrs Graham as another picture suffering from cracking which would benefit from relining.
The Gallery’s Arrangement Committee, appointed by the trustees to look at matters in detail, was cautious in instigating restoration work (NG1/1/46, p.159, for example). The Committee was more willing to experiment with preventative measures such as protecting large pictures from direct sunlight by movable silk curtains, starting with John Graham’s The Disobedient Prophet in 1879 (Royal Scottish Academy). The following year other works belonging to the Academy were so protected, five by William Etty and also David Roberts’s View of Rome, the curtains being made by John Brydon & Sons (NG1/1/46, pp.273, 340). In 1881 Brydon & Sons supplied movable shades or curtains to the Gallery’s cupolas to cut out sunlight at source, apparently at a cost of £85.14s (NG1/1/46, p.382, NG1/7/17).
Bonnar & Carfrae were paid £3.8s for repairing pictures in 1880 and the very significant sum of £200 for renewing, reducing and repairing frames in the National Gallery and the Academy, 1881-2 (NG1/7/17, p.108). The idea of reducing frames in size was partly designed to create more space for hanging pictures (NG1/1/46, p.273).
The animal painter, Gourlay Steell, RSA (1819-94), served as curator from 1882 until his death in 1894. The Gallery had long been cautious about treating McCulloch’s badly cracked Lowland River but the picture was reportedly successfully restored following a determined approach by the donor’s nephew in 1887, offering to pay for its restoration (NG1/1/48, p.486, NG1/1/49, p.91). Picture cleaning was rarely without controversy. In 1889 a well-informed but anonymous correspondent, describing himself as an old habitué of the Gallery, recommended that a logbook recording picture restoration should be kept for future reference (The Scotsman, 19 July 1889). He thought O’Neil’s treatment forty years previously of the Van Dycks (see section 2 above) had been deadening and that David Teniers’ panel in the Torrie collection, Peasants playing Skittles, had lost its clear silvery tone. He claimed that Watteau’s Fête Champêtre had been excessively rubbed in cleaning so revealing the artist’s first pose for the standing cavalier (this picture had been bequeathed in 1861; its paint surface is now described as unusually well preserved). Other unsympathetically treated pictures, he thought, included Gainsborough’s Mrs Graham, McCulloch’s Lowland River and Alexander Nasmyth’s Stirling Castle. His letter encouraged another anonymous correspondent to claim that it was not necessarily the case that the Royal Scottish Academicians appointed as curators ‘understood how to properly preserve and restore pictures’ (The Scotsman, 23 July 1889).
The restorer now used for routine work on the collections was Doig & McKechnie (from 1895 Doig, Wilson & Wheatley), Edinburgh picture dealers, carvers and gilders, picture restorers and printsellers, for whom see British picture framemakers on this website (where their earlier work for one of the board’s trustees, Lord Lothian, is described). They were paid 10s in 1885 for modest repairs to pictures attributed to De Heem (NG1/7/17, p.224). They restored David Scott’s Paracelsus Lecturing on the Elixir Vitae on acquisition in 1887 and Horatio McCulloch’s accidentally damaged Landscape, Evening, and two small genre subjects by Alexander Carse in 1888 (NG1/1/48, p.430; NG1/1/49, pp.177-8, 192, 210). At the same time Doig & McKechnie provided glass to protect a few vulnerable pictures (NG1/1/48, p.455; NG1/1/49, p.189; NG1/1/50, p.410; NG1/7/18, pp.102, 263). They continued to work for the National Gallery and the Portrait Gallery, being paid for repairing and glazing unspecified pictures and frames, 1888-1905 and subsequently (NG1/7/18, accounts; NG1/37/1-3, cash books). Doig also worked for the Royal Scottish Academy.
The Scottish National Portrait Gallery was founded in 1882 and opened in a purpose-built gallery on Queen Street in 1889, accommodation which it shared with the Museum of Antiquities and, until 1907, the Royal Geographical Society. The first curator, the energetic antiquarian and art critic, John Miller Gray (1850-94), held office from 1884 until his early death ten years later. In 1888 in the run up to the opening, Gray proposed that certain portraits should be relined or restored (NG1/1/49, p.128), specifically six portraits belonging to the Museum of Antiquities and three full-lengths of George II, George III and Queen Charlotte recently acquired for the Portrait Gallery, which it was proposed to send to Doig & McKechnie. In 1889 various plaster busts were repaired by Leopoldo Arrighi, who also made casts from Tassie medallions (NG1/7/17), while Moxon & Carfrae, successor business to Bonnar & Carfrae, were paid for bronzing busts at the Portrait Gallery in 1890 (NG1/7/18). Also in March 1890 preparations were made for fitting out the upper galleries, with estimates from several businesses: Moxon & Carfrae for washing and painting busts from the antique, Doig & McKechnie for more than 400 stained pine frames with bronze gilt mounts for display of engravings from the Watson and other collections, and R. Shillinglaw & Son for cabinets, portfolios and pigeon-hole cases (NG1/1/50, pp.91-2). Both Moxon & Carfrae and Shillinglaw carried out other work on the new building (see Scottish National Portrait Gallery - Joe Rock's Research Pages). For Arrighi, see British bronze sculpture founders and plaster figure makers on this website. For the Portrait Gallery, see Duncan Thomson, A History of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, 2011.
The reforms of the 1890s: At the request of the Board of Manufactures, a report was prepared in 1893 on the National Gallery’s collection and display (Report by National Gallery Committee, January 1894, example at NG6/7/16/4). The majority report, by Sir George Reid, PRSA, and John Ritchie Findlay, owner of The Scotsman newspaper, noted how some paintings in the collection, owing to the unsound technical methods employed by the artists, were in a more or less decayed state, in part attributing this deterioration to the overheating of the galleries in the past, from the use of gaslight and from dust and smoke. The committee recommended that decayed pictures, together with copies and other doubtful works should be removed from display to enhance the exhibition of paintings of greater value. Further, the use of gaslight should be discontinued, the temperature in the galleries needed to be better regulated and carpeting discontinued. Small marbles, bronzes and wax models needed to be displayed in cases and the more valuable pictures protected by glass. For an account of the debates concerning gas lighting with an illustration showing gas lights at the National Gallery, see Swinney 1999 in Sources below.
The Edinburgh painter of military scenes, Robert Gibb, RSA (1845-1932), was appointed in 1895 as curator, the youngest to date, and continued in post until 1907. The changes recommended by the 1894 report were put into effect in 1896-7. The collection was thinned out, the carpeting replaced by a parquet floor and the galleries redecorated and rehung, re-opening in May 1897 (The Scotsman, 8 May 1897). The pictures were washed with tepid water and dried with a silken cloth, and ‘every picture of any consequence’ was glazed, according to The Scotsman. Robert Gibb later recalled that the pictures had been inspected with a view to their being cleaned, where necessary, and varnished (Report, 1903, para. 582, see below). Doig, Wilson & Wheatley (see above) were paid more than £146 for repairing and renovating pictures in 1897, their largest charge in many years (NG1/37/2). Such was the extent of work that another leading Edinburgh firm, Aitken Dott & Son, was brought in, receiving more than £182 for work on the collection and a further £39.5s for cleaning and repairing pictures belonging to the Royal Scottish Academy. The following year Doig, Wilson & Wheatley received £6 for renovating and repairing Henry Raeburn’s recently acquired Mrs Campbell of Ballimore (NG1/37/2). For Aitken Dott & Son, see British picture framemakers on this website.
Another picture restorer, the Edinburgh artist, Charles Halkerston (1828-99), was paid for repairing Allan Ramsay’s Jean-Jacques Rousseau, among others, for £4.11s in 1891 and restored three portraits for the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in 1893, James IV and James V for £6.6s and the recently acquired anonymous Alexander Robertson of Struan (‘The Poet Chief) for £2.17s.6d (NG1/1/50, p.231, NG1/37/1). He also treated George Harvey’s large Quitting the Manse for the National Gallery in 1898 (NG6/3/2, p.28). This picture, then fifty years old, was suffering from bituminous cracking which is visible to this day. For Halkerston, see British picture restorers on this website. Halkerston was the great-uncle of Harry Woolford (see below).
Halkerston had been approached by the Royal Scottish Academy as early as 1889. He treated various of the Academy’s pictures which now belong to the National Gallery including ‘slightly cleaning, moistening and varnishing’ the three large paintings which make up William Etty’s Judith triptych, for which he was paid £15.15s in 1891, with similar work to David Roberts’ View of Rome for £3.10s (RSA vouchers 1891 bundle 3, information from Robin H. Rodger).
After Halkerston’s death, his nephews Henry and Charles Woolford were paid £23.17s for cutting down and repairing two portraits by Henry Raeburn for the National Gallery in 1900, Alexander Bonar and Mrs Alexander Bonar (NG1/37/1); they were cut down because the figures and backgrounds were painted by another hand according to the Gallery’s 1914 catalogue. At some time after 1909 another Raeburn, Robert Montgomery, was also cut down and in 1926 George Reid’s George Hope (Thomson 2011, p.84).
From 1894 the Board of Manufactures published an annual report on the National Galleries of Scotland but the only mention of collection care comes in 1903 when 12 pictures were listed as being protected by glass.
In 1903 a report by a departmental committee into the administration of the Board of Manufactures was published. In evidence to the committee, Gibb had drawn attention to the unsatisfactory conditions of works in store where oil paintings were at risk from the extreme temperature variations and watercolour drawings from dampness (Report, 1903, para. 650). Sir George Reid, a member of the 1893 committee, recorded that the Royal Scottish Academy inspected its pictures on display at the National Gallery annually and took any necessary action to care for them (para. 464). The 1903 report is available at https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008590958.
A series of reforms ensued. In 1907, the post of curator under the Board of Manufactures was re-designated as director under a board of trustees. The first director was the Scottish art historian and critic, James Caw (1864-1950), who had joined the Scottish National Portrait Gallery as a young man in 1895. He served until 1930 and was knighted in 1931. There is scant mention of picture restoration in the minutes of trustee meetings until 1924 although payments to Doig, Wilson & Wheatley and Aitken Dott & Son continue, for example to Dott in 1910 for unspecified repairs at the National Gallery and the Portrait Gallery and in 1912 for ‘general repair work’ at the National Gallery (NG5/10/1, 2). The specialist London firm, Halsey & Davison, was paid £14.3s.6d in 1912 for mounts for the National Gallery (NG5/10/2). Very occasionally sculpture features. When Onslow Ford’s plaster bust of Arthur Balfour was damaged in 1913, Caw was instructed to piece the bust together but to obtain a new cast if necessary. He was also asked to reconsider the fixing of busts in the galleries (Trustees’ minutes, 8 October 1913).
Caw provided access to the collection from 1911 for the Edinburgh chemist, Prof. A.P. Laurie, Principal of Heriot-Watt College and Professor of chemistry to the Royal Academy, to take special photographs and to examine pictures in the years before the First World War (A.P. Laurie, Pictures and Politics. A Book of Reminiscences, 1934, p.103 etc). Laurie’s results feature in his book, The Pigments and Mediums of the Old Masters, published in 1914, where he singled out Watteau’s Fêtes Venitiennes in the National Gallery as his first experiment in “microphotography of brushwork” (The Pigments and Mediums of the Old Masters, 1914, p.176). For Laurie, see British picture restorers on this website.
Caw produced a report for Glasgow University on the care of individual pictures in the Hunterian Museum in 1913, with work being carried out by a Belgian refugee restorer, Emile Rombouts, in 1916 (The Scotsman, 15 January 1926).
The above account draws on Board of Manufactures records in the National Records of Scotland, NG1/1 minute books to 1907, NG1/7 copy annual reports and accounts to 1894, and published reports 1894-1907, NG1/37 cash books 1891-1905, NG6/1/3 curators annual reports 1860-73, NG6/3 Board orders concerning National Gallery 1851-1907, NG6/7 miscellaneous papers 1857-94. For the period since 1907, see National Records of Scotland, NG5/10 letter books 1908-27, and National Gallery of Scotland archive, Trustees minutes.
4. The 1920s and 1930s and the role of Stanley Cursiter
During the First World War the more valuable pictures from the collection were stored in the basement of the Royal Scottish Academy. The Portrait Gallery had already closed in March 1914, for fireproofing work and remained closed until 1922, when in the face of refusal from the Treasury to provide funds the trustees expressed their willingness to reopen even with the old steam heating system where it was ‘not uncommon during the winter months to find the glass of pictures steamed, and the surface of unglazed pictures wet with condensed moisture’ (Thomson 2011 p.36), a problem that was partly resolved by a move to hot water radiators.
The National Gallery’s approach to picture restoration moved away from employing one of the long-established Edinburgh firms of carvers and gilders to obtaining the services of a specialist picture restorer, whether in London, The Hague (highly original as an approach) or Edinburgh (for British portraits in the 1930s).
Quite how far large post-war payments to Aitken Dott & Son and Doig, Wilson & Wheatley in March 1919 and July 1920 related to work on restoring the collection remains to be investigated (NG5/10/8). Picture restoration was first noted in trustee meeting minutes in 1924 and did not feature in published annual reports until 1928. Goya’s rather damaged painted tapestry cartoon, El medico, was treated by W. Holder & Sons, restorers to the National Gallery in London, in 1923-4 at a cost of £48.14s (Trustees’ minutes, 16 January 1924; NG5/10/10). Holder’s also revarnished etc a picture by Poussin for £20 and subsequently cleaned a newly acquired Emilian Madonna and Child with Saints for £12.12s (inv.1634, then attr. Scaletti, see NG5/10/10). For Holder’s, see British picture restorers on this website.
The artist, Stanley Cursiter, RSA (1887-1976), was appointed keeper of the National Galleries of Scotland in August 1925, later serving as director, 1930-48. Cursiter was a remarkable and ingenious man, who faced up to current problems and identified future needs, including promoting the idea of a gallery of modern art and the need for air conditioning. There was a fire in an adjacent building to the Portrait Gallery in 1927 and Cursiter brought his technical ability to the subsequent remodelling of the Gallery, including improvements to the heating and ventilation system, so achieving some control over humidity levels, according to his later autobiography (Looking Back: A Book of Reminiscences, 1974, p.21).
Cursiter encouraged James Caw to get certain pictures restored, using the Gallery’s boardroom as a temporary restoration workshop, according to his autobiography (Looking Back, p.21). The Edinburgh firm, Doig, Wilson & Wheatley, long used by the Gallery, was called on to reline Gainsborough’s full-length Mrs Graham on the premises in 1926, following inspection by the firm’s Thomas Wilson. The work was not deemed satisfactory and it may be that this was the large picture where an accident with a relining iron in the paste lining process led to damage which Cusiter himself chose to repair (Looking Back, pp.22-3). George Morrill of the London firm, William Morrill & Son, specialist liners to the London National Galllery, was invited to examine the picture and then relined it in winter 1927-8. However, Doig, Wilson & Wheatley did successfully line another large picture, Jacopo Bassano’s large Adoration of the Kings in 1927. The firm also paste lined Jacob van Ruisdael’s Banks of a River in 1929 although Cursiter later reported that the treatment had not been altogether successful (National Gallery of Scotland archive, De Wild file, ‘Memorandum on the position with regard to the restoration of the Torrie Bequest pictures’, May 1938). See Trustees’ minutes, 16 March, 19 October 1927, 18 January 1928, 16 January 1929. For Morrill, see British picture restorers on this website.
Stanley Cursiter and Martin de Wild: Cursiter’s mixed experience with paste lining led him to seek ‘better and more scientific methods’ (Looking Back, p.22) and so, it would seem, to investigate the wax lining process, which had been pioneered in Holland. He had seen a large group portrait by Frans Hals at Haarlem, which had been cleaned by the De Wild family of picture restorers (Looking Back, p.22). It may be that Prof. A.P. Laurie, who was known to James Caw (see above), encouraged the Gallery to get in touch directly with the De Wilds, whose work he had illustrated in an article in 1925 (‘The preservation and cleaning of pictures’, Connoisseur, vol.73, 1925, pp.131-7). It was the son, Martin de Wild (1899-1969), who responded to the National Gallery’s approach in October 1926. He was invited to Edinburgh the following spring to inspect the condition of Dutch pictures in the collection (Trustees’ minutes, 20 October 1926, 15 June 1927; James Caw, The Scotsman, 21 August 1928). In his report in May 1927 on 75 Dutch and Flemish paintings De Wild put forward certain overarching ideas about picture restoration and identified what work would be advisable on individual pictures (National Gallery of Scotland archive, De Wild file). This was the beginning of an enduring and productive professional relationship. Over the years De Wild treated many works for the Gallery, including paintings by Frans Hals, Rembrandt and Vermeer. For De Wild, see British picture restorers on this website.
De Wild’s first great success came in 1928. At his suggestion a panel painting by Frans Hals was x-rayed at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, revealing a partly over-painted image which matched an early engraving. He then cleaned the picture at Knoedler’s in London in July 1928 in front of both Caw and Cursiter, leading to its identification as Hals’s long-lost Verdonck, thanks, he said, to a diagnosis made by purely scientific methods. The process was treated as an illustrated case study in his book, The Scientific Examination of Pictures, translated and published in English in 1929.
There was caution in Edinburgh about embracing the Dutch wax lining process. Lord Crawford was consulted in February 1928 as was Sir Charles Holmes; Crawford was former chairman of trustees and Holmes director at the National Gallery in London. Crawford provided Caw with a letter recommending the De Wilds, claiming, ‘The father [Derix] I may say is a very remarkable man, the son [Martin] still being more of the abstract scientist’ (RKD, Netherlands Institute for Art History, The Hague, copy letter, information from Michiel Franken). Crawford had been using the De Wilds for his own collection from as early as 1922. In the event it was decided not to send Jacob van Ruysdael’s Landscape to Holland for treatment (Trustees’ Minutes, 12 March 1928). But both Caw and Cursiter visited the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam in April 1929, along with W.G. Constable from the London National Gallery, to examine the wax relining process, and in particular the lining by Willem Greebe at the Rijksmuseum of a picture from the Edinburgh collection, Pieter van Bloemen’s Roman Ruins (inv.1014, then attr. Asselijn; Trustees’ minutes, 19 June 1929; information from Esther van Duijn on Greebe’s role). They went on to inspect the wax lining process as carried out by Martin de Wild.
Martin de Wild worked on the collection over the next ten years, generally charging between £20 and £80 a picture. In 1929 he cleaned and restored Rembrandt’s A Woman in Bed, then known as Hendrickje Stoffels, at Knoedler’s (RKD, letters, 1 February, 14, 15 March 1929, see https://rkd.nl/en/explore/images/22236, technical documentation). He gave it a toned varnish so that the difference after cleaning would ‘not be too striking at the same time giving a sufficient effect’. Cursiter even provided a sample of the tone he was seeking (letter, 14 March 1929). In 1932 at the time of an exhibition at the Rijksmuseum, De Wild again treated the picture, removing the canvas from the supporting panel and relining and revarnishing with ‘only the slightest tone in the varnish’ (RKD, letter, 30 September 1932; full report by Cursiter; The Scotsman, 1 August 1933). Later De Wild compared his treatment to the rather raw result of the London National Gallery’s cleaning of Velazquez’s full-length Philip IV, asking, ‘What would have happened if Hendrickje did not have a soothing toned varnish’ and referring to ‘a certain policy of cleaning, which we both have always followed’. How far De Wild used a toned varnish on Edinburgh pictures remains to be established. He claimed in 1937 that ‘Pictures as a rule should be treated such that they have in no way a “cleaned” appearance when rehung and the less is said about them the better.’
In the mid-1930s Cursiter had pictures shipped from Leith to Rotterdam each year for De Wild to treat at The Hague. The following account is substantially based on their exchanges, which were necessarily by letter (NG6/7/24). On occasion they discussed approaches to restoration. In August 1934 Cursiter told him, ‘I always have a feeling at the back of my mind that if a picture is four hundred years old it should retain something of the character which its age should give it. For instance, with my Botticelli, the few fragments of paint which are missing along the top edge and the slight damage in the darks of the tunic do not to my mind detract from the picture but rather add to it in suggesting the picture’s age’. Sadly both Cursiter and De Wild were mistaken about this Portrait of a Young Man, a recent purchase (Gallery archive, inv.1792 file, De Wild report). Pigment analysis by Helmut Ruhemann in 1951 led to the conclusion that the picture was a fairly recent copy of an original in the Louvre (Hugh Brigstocke, Italian and Spanish Paintings in the National Gallery of Scotland, 1993, p.42; The Scotsman, 18 and 23 May 2005).
De Wild reported very fully on his progress on the Vermeer, Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, in three letters to Cursiter in the course of November 1935. ‘The varnish is of a rather tough structure, but dissolves slowly in a very lenient solvent, so that the whole layer can be removed without any aggressive action to the paint. There are in the top figure various tonalities, that were completely hidden and which are now revealed’, adding that the signature was absolutely genuine (6 November). ‘So far about one half of the picture is cleaned, namely the left side and the figure come out in a beautiful manner with many details in the colour scheme... Have you ever noticed that the left hand of Christ shows a pentamenti on the fore finger?’ (10 November). ‘I have now finished the cleaning of the Vermeer and have started to restore the missing fragments, which you will notice on the enclosed reproduction. Of course these are not the only spots to be retouched, here and there also very small scratches occur like there are on any old picture but on a whole the painting is in a very good state... The various pentamenti are not much disturbing, although I am covering a few just slightly, that they do not show too much but are still visible.’ (17 November).
De Wild was a proponent of wax-resin linings, a method much used in the Netherlands. It was embraced at the National Gallery of Scotland and more cautiously at the London National Gallery in the 1930s. Cursiter published an article with Dr Harold Plenderleith from the British Museum on wax relining in 1934 in Technical Studies in the Field of the Fine Arts (vol.3, pp.90-113). In 1936 Cursiter and De Wild discussed research on relining mediums using wax and resin in different proportions (NG6/7/24). The two men published several articles on wax relining in Technical Studies, most particularly in 1937, with a series of 13 illustrations of Hendrick ten Oever’s Canal Landscape with Figures Bathing, a picture from the Torrie collection that De Wild had lined using a 40% resin, 60% bees wax mixture (vol.5, pp.157-78). A further article in 1939 illustrated the use of an electric tool, described as a dentist’s fraiser, in removing the old lining from another Torrie picture, Della Vecchia’s Young Noble and Lady (vol.7, p.191).
Unlike most commercial restorers of his day, De Wild was well equipped to employ scientific techniques in the examination of pictures. In 1930 he used x-rays and chemical analysis to confirm that The Haybinders, purchased as by Jean François Millet in 1924, was not by the artist and as a result it was returned to the dealer from whom it had been acquired (NG5/2/35, report, 14 July 1930; The Times, 4 February 1935, letter to editor from Cursiter). De Wild carried out a scientific examination in 1931 that downgraded two other recent acquisitions, Still Life: Souvenirs, purchased as by Edouard Manet but now described as by an imitator and The Entombment, then called Eugene Delacroix but now catalogued as French 19th century (inv.1618, 1667; see NG6/7/24, De Wild invoice, 7 September 1931). As a result both works were excluded from the next edition of the Gallery’s catalogue, published in 1936.
These were not the only pictures subject to scrutiny. That De Wild failed to spot the fake Botticelli has already been mentioned. On a happier note, at the request of the collector, Alexander Maitland, a lender to the Gallery, Cursiter arranged for Van Gogh’s Orchard in Blossom to be sent to De Wild for testing in 1937, before Maitland would decide on purchasing the picture. ‘Van Gogh Genuine Age Tests Entirely Convincing’, De Wild telegraphed in June that year and the picture eventually came to the Gallery as part of the Maitland gift in 1960 (NG6/7/24). At some stage De Wild also verified the age of a paint sample from Van Gogh’s Olive Trees (Stanley Cursiter, The Scotsman, 28 February 1949). Cursiter’s nervousness was understandable in the light of the trial of Otto Wacker in Germany in 1932 for faking Van Gogh’s work, a trial at which De Wild played a key part in presenting scientific evidence relating to the pigments used.
Many of the pictures treated by De Wild were from the Torrie collection, long on loan to the Gallery. In 1931 De Wild’s treatment of two pictures in the collection, described as by Rembrandt, a panel Landscape (inv.69) and a canvas Wooded Scene (inv.68), led to their reattribution to Hercules Seghers and to Jan Lievens respectively (The Scotsman, 25 July 1931; see also Duncan Macmillan, A Catalogue of the Torrie Collection, 2004, pp.21, 39).
A list of further Torrie pictures needing treatment was drawn up in 1934 (NG6/7/23). The four pictures requiring immediate attention, the Veronese studio Venus and Adonis, Van de Velde’s Boats in a Calm, Hobbema’s Woody Landscape and Teniers’ Peasants playing at Skittles, cost £200 to restore (NG6/7/24). They were the subject of detailed treatment reports by De Wild. The two canvases were relined in wax and both panels cradled or re-cradled. De Wild described cradling as ‘a safe remedy against further movement of the wood’ (the accepted wisdom of the day). An x-ray of the Hobbema revealed with remarkable clarity that part of the picture had been painted over an earlier still life composition. A further seven Torrie pictures were sent over to Holland in 1935, two more in 1936, four in 1937 and eight in 1938, before the threat of war put an end to this remarkable programme. In the 1937 consignment De Wild found that both Adam Frans van der Meulen’s A Cavalcade and a Dutch Seapiece (inv.27) had previously been relined in Edinburgh in 1847, according to old inscriptions, work which must have been done by or for Charles O’Neil for the Royal Institution (see section 2). Almost all the Torrie pictures were returned to Edinburgh University in 1954 and 1983.
If few of the Torrie pictures are still with the National Gallery, various paintings from another collection that De Wild worked on in the 1930s, the Bridgewater House pictures, came to the Gallery on loan from the Duke of Sutherland in 1945/46. These include the set of Poussin Sacraments which De Wild treated in 1934-5 and Rembrandt’s Young Woman with Flowers in her Hair, among eight pictures which he restored in 1937-8 (NG6/7/24). De Wild corresponded with Cursiter in 1935 about Titian’s two great canvases, Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto, which had been wax lined and cleaned by S. Kennedy North only two years previously. He observed that large blisters had appeared between the original and lining canvases, leading to distortions in the paint surface, which he discussed with Francis Thompson of Chatsworth, curatorial adviser for the Bridgewater pictures (NG6/7/24, 6 November 1935, 3 January 1936). De Wild continued to work on the collection as late as the 1960s (see section 5; see also Van Duijn 2003 in Sources below).
De Wild kept in touch with Cursiter during and after the Second World War and visited Edinburgh in 1946 (NG6/7/25).
Other pre-war restoration work and preventative care: De Wild was not the only restorer employed by Cursiter in the 1930s. Doig, Wilson & Wheatley wax lined the central canvas of William Etty’s large Judith and Holofernes triptych under Cursiter’s supervision in 1932 (Trustees’ minutes, 21 March 1932) and treated three pictures from the Torrie collection in 1936: two ruin scenes attributed to Giovanni Ghisolfi and Adam Pynacker’s Forest Glade (National Gallery of Scotland archive, De Wild file, ‘Torrie Bequest. Pictures requiring immediate attention’).This was perhaps the last significant restoration work given to one of the traditional commercial firms in Edinburgh.
Increasingly Cursiter turned to the Edinburgh-born artist, Harry Woolford (1905-99), great-nephew of Charles Halkerston (see above). Woolford worked as a restorer for the National Galleries as well as for many leading private and institutional collections. For Woolford, see British picture restorers on this website; see Sources below for his notebooks.
At the National Galleries Woolford mainly treated British pictures, especially portraits (Woolford notebook, NGSC A1/3). For the National Gallery in 1933 he lined David Martin’s Lady Steuart of Allanton and cleaned and retouched William Allan’s The Black Dwarf. In 1935 he treated eleven pictures among which Jacopo Tintoretto’s Head of a Bearded Man was lined and restored, in 1936 eight pictures including double lining J.T. Seton’s William Fullerton and Capt. Ninian Lowis, in 1937 four pictures including an unidentified Allan Ramsay portrait, in 1938 five pictures and in 1939 twelve pictures including cleaning and restoring Henry Raeburn’s Mrs Scott Moncrieff. For the Portrait Gallery, among other pictures, in 1933 he removed the varnish and revarnished the Van Dyck studio/copy full-lengths, King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria and in 1934 lined and surface cleaned Raeburn’s Niel Gow. Woolford’s subsequent work is discussed in section 5.
Atmospheric conditions were increasingly a matter of concern for public collections, including the National Gallery of Scotland. Cursiter attended a museum conference on the subject in London in the early 1930s. Always an ingenious man, he contributed actively to discussions with colleagues in London on the effects of humidity on pictures (see Oddy 2001 p.169 in Sources below). At his initiative in 1935, three humidity meters were installed in the National Gallery, revealing an extreme annual variation between 35% and 90%, with the highest readings recorded in autumn (The Scotsman, 7 February 1936; Stanley Cursiter, ‘Control of air in cases and frames’, Technical Studies in the Field of the Fine Arts, vol. 5, 1936, pp.109-16). The damaging sulphur content in the atmosphere was also measured, revealing that the figure was half that of London during the winter although much the same in summer. In warm moist weather in autumn 1938, it was observed how pictures lined with wax resin were much less susceptible to hanging loosely on their stretchers than those lined with a glue or glue paste adhesive, highlighting an advantage of wax as a non-hygroscopic adhesive. Cursiter identified the solution to these problems as controlling temperature and humidity which would come through air-conditioning the Gallery and its store (Annual Report, 1938).
This is the context for the rehousing of Hugo van der Goes’s Trinity altarpiece in air-tight frames in 1935, so achieving stable humidity for the panels, as reported in The Scotsman (7 February 1936) and in an illustrated account in Technical Studies (cited above). Minor restoration of these panels, on loan from the Royal collection, was put in hand under the direction of Kenneth Clark as Surveyor of the King’s Picture.
The above account draws on National Records of Scotland, NG6/7/23-24, De Wild files; National Gallery of Scotland archives: Trustees’ minutes from 1907; published annual reports; De Wild file (‘Report on the state of Dutch pictures by De Wild’); Harry Woolford notebooks (NGSC A1/1-11). See also Van Duijn 2003 in Sources below.
5. A conservation department: The Woolford years, 1940 to 1970
The war years: Harry Woolford was appointed as technical assistant at the National Galleries of Scotland in late 1940 to carry out restoration work for both the National Gallery and the Portrait Gallery for the duration of the Second World War, initially at £4 a week (Trustees’ minutes, November 1940). He worked in an attic space at the Portrait Gallery (Duncan Thomson, A History of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, 2011, pp.38-9).
Woolford’s first major task was to supervise the evacuation of the collections during the war to several large country houses in the Borders (John Dick, ‘Harry Woolford’, obituary,The Scotsman, 11 September 1999). Pictures were stored at Fairnilee, near Galashiels (home of Lady Craigmyle), The Glen (Lord Glenconnar), Manderston, Duns (Major Bailie) and Glen Ormiston near Innerleithen (Lady Thorburn). Pictures were also stored for a time at Leithen Lodge (Sir George Miller-Cunningham) and Winton Castle (Mr Ogilvie), but the conditions at some venues proved unsatisfactory (The Scotsman, 19 July 1945, ‘How Scotland’s Pictures were Safeguarded’).
During the war years, Woolford’s work focused on the national collection. He produced exemplary reports, picture by picture, occasionally with photographs attached (Woolford notebook, A1/4). He usually specified his solvent mix and gave the source of his varnish, including mastic and copal from Winsor & Newton, but fairly early on he specified his mastic as ‘own make’.
A few illustrative examples are given here. For the National Gallery, in 1941 Bernardo Castello’s Adoration of the Shepherds (cleaned using Acetone 50: Turps 50, and retouched, cradle replaced [the picture was then on panel], varnished with mastic and finished with damar). In 1942 Giovanni Battista Tiepolo’s sketch, The Meeting of Anthony and Cleopatra (obscure and yellow varnish removed using Toluene 50: Meths 50 to reveal paint in good condition except a few edge blemishes; work fumigated with thymol; old lining loose and removed to reveal inscriptions and markings on reverse; ‘normal relining procedure’, using wax 60: resin 40 plus Venice turpentine; revarnished with own make mastic and finished with Winsor & Newton copal).
For the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, in 1942 Mather Brown’s unlined Alexander Wedderburn, Earl of Rosslyn (relined, slightly cleaned, varnished with own make mastic and finished with Winsor & Newton copal) and in 1943 Alphonse Legros’s unlined Thomas Carlyle (‘laid down on new canvas’, restretched on own stretcher, loose paint fixed, revarnished).
The National Gallery remained partly open for much of the war with a series of temporary exhibitions. Towards the close of war Cursiter mounted a display of cleaned pictures, as he explained in The Scotsman (12 April 1945). David Wilkie’s Sheepwashing had had its thick layer of very yellow varnish removed in 1944. The process of cleaning the heavily repainted panel, Bacchus and Ariadne, once attributed to Sebastiano del Piombo, had revealed a Flemish work (inv.78) (very probably the picture cleaned by George Novice a century before). Marcus Gheeraerts’s Tom Derry at the Portrait Gallery, previously thought to represent Viscount Stormont, had had later additions removed, revealing a fine portrait dated 1614
The late 1940s and 1950s: Stanley Cursiter retired in 1948. One of his last acts was to set up a new studio for Harry Woolford in 1947, as appears from his correspondence with De Wild (NG6/7/25). He was succeeded as director by Ellis Waterhouse, 1949-52, followed by David Baxandall until 1970. Woolford was for many years picture restorer at the National Galleries of Scotland. The post was established on a temporary basis after the war and combined with that of Keeper until 1953 (Trustees’ minutes, 5 January 1953).
In 1949 Woolford was given the title Chief Restorer and at this point he seems to have given up most private work. The entries in his record of work for the National Gallery and the Portrait Gallery, 1948-66 (Woolford notebook, A1/6), are relatively brief, especially from 1954, and it is probable that his full records survive in individual picture files. Woolford’s work is also listed in appendices to the Gallery’s annual reports from 1949 and in Trustees’ minutes. In employing Woolford, as an artist who became a specialist picture restorer, the National Gallery was in step with practice elsewhere outside London as, for example, in Liverpool.
Woolford’s work for the National Gallery in the late 1940s and 1950s is listed here very selectively. In 1949 cleaning and lining John Constable’s Vale of Dedham and cleaning and relining Raeburn’s Rev. Robert Walker skating. In 1950 cleaning Tiepolo’s Finding of Moses, work done in situ on account of its huge size (it had been lined a century before by James Walker). In 1951 cleaning and relining Veronese’s Mars and Venus, so recovering it from an almost invisible condition, also removing discoloured varnish from two Wilkies, Pitlessie Fair and The Irish Whiskey Still. In 1952 cleaning and repairing Van Dyck’s Lomellini Family and cleaning and relining Ter Bruggen’s Beheading of St John, revealing a signature so changing the attribution from Domenico Fetti. In 1953 treating two full-lengths by Gainsborough: removing deeply discoloured varnish from Mrs Graham and, for the Portrait Gallery wax relining, cleaning and restoring a recent acquisition, John 4th Duke of Argyll. In 1954 removing heavily yellowed varnish and extensive repainting from Zurbaran’s large Immaculate Conception, the first time it had been cleaned since acquisition in 1859. In 1956-7 removing yellow varnish and repaints, and wax-resin lining Velazquez’s recently acquired Old Woman Cooking Eggs, uncovering the date 1618. In 1957 cleaning six pictures by Corot, much obscured by discoloured varnish, including lining four of them. In 1958 cleaning Veronese’s large St Anthony Abbot with Kneeling Donor, part of a fragmented altarpiece, revealing part of a figure of St Michael. In 1959 fixing flaking paint and surface cleaning Turner’s Somer hill, Tunbridge, rather than full cleaning in view of Turner’s technique (Trustees’ minutes, 20 January 1960).
For the Portrait Gallery in the 1950s, Woolford treated many historical portraits including two works by George Romney, Major-Gen. James Stuart in 1956 and John McArthur in 1957, and three works by Raeburn, John Rennie in 1957, Alexander Dalzel in 1958 and Gen. Robert Melville in 1959. Work on the collection at the Portrait Gallery has generally proved more straightforward than on the old masters of the Scottish National Gallery.
Woolford also had responsibility for sculpture and works on paper, which are briefly mentioned here. Several sculptures, both bronze and marble, suffered damage by visitors or in transit, 1949-52. There was an extensive programme over the decades of cleaning prints and drawings, with occasional treatment for mildew, and remounting to standard sizes, as noted summarily in annual reports. It remains to be established who carried out the work and when it was brought in house.
The Gallery’s x-ray equipment was used by Stephen Rees-Jones, radiographer at the Courtauld Institute, to take x-rays from more than 20 pictures in 1959 with valuable results. He also provided training for Gallery staff. He returned in 1970 to supervise the production of complete x-ray mosaics and infra-red images of the Hugo van der Goes Trinity altarpiece panels (Annual Reports, 1959, 1970).
The 1960s: Woolford conducted a rewarding study visit to Italian restoration workshops in Milan, Florence, Rome and Naples in 1960, and visited studios in Holland in 1963, facilitated by Martin de Wild (Trustees’ minutes, 21 June 1960, 18 June 1963). In 1960 Woolford reported on the new vacuum table which he thought would facilitate lining modern paintings but had no clear advantage over normal methods for older works (Trustees’ minutes, 25 October 1960). In 1962 the Gallery’s studio was made available to Martin de Wild to allow him to reline Titian’s Allegory of the Three Ages of Man on loan from the Sutherland collection (Trustees’ minutes, 30 October 1962).
For the National Gallery in the 1960s, Woolford’s work is selectively listed here. In 1960 cleaning, lining and restoring Claude’s newly acquired Apollo and the Muses, revealing a signature and date and a picture in near perfect condition, with another Claude, the Sutherland Moses and the Burning Bush treated the following year (Annual Reports, 1960, 1961). In 1962 cleaning and restoring the Torrie collection Jacob van Ruisdael Banks of a River, uncovering the signature and date 1649. In 1964 cleaning and restoring Jacopo Bassano’s large Adoration of the Kings, last treated in 1927, a lengthy job owing to extensive small damages (Annual Report, 1964). In 1966 cleaning and restoring Rembrandt’s A Woman in Bed, last treated in 1932. In 1967 treating Quinten Massys’s problematic panel, Portrait of a Man, and Andrea del Sarto’s rather damaged panel, the newly acquired Self-portrait (now thought to depict Becuccio Bicchieraio), which proved to be a time consuming task. In contrast, Woolford drew attention to the complete absence of damage, fillings and repaint in Watteau’s Fête Venitiennes (Trustees’ minutes, 16 January 1968). In 1968 William Etty’s problematic outsize Judith and Holofernes, relined in 1932, was mothballed by placing it on a roller (Trustees’ minutes, 25 June 1968).
For the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, which opened in 1960, there was relatively little to do at first beyond housekeeping but in the later 1960s modern pictures began to be lined including Ferdinand Leger’s Femme et nature morte in 1967 and Emil Nolde’s Head and Graham Sutherland’s Western Hills in 1968. To these can be added Van Gogh’s Olive Trees in 1970 and Camille Pissarro’s The Marne at Chennevières in 1973 at the Scottish National Gallery (Annual reports; Trustees’ minutes, 25 June 1968).
With Woolford’s retirement in sight, he was asked to examine the restoration work carried out by Ian Hodkinson for the University of Edinburgh (Trustees’ minutes, 31 October 1967). But in 1968, arrangements were made for him to train John Dick, the Gallery’s senior museum assistant, as a restorer (Trustees’ minutes, 25 June 1968). Additional studio space was made available at 17 Ainslie Place in 1969 to accommodate Dick (Trustees’ minutes, 17 June 1969). Woolford retired at the age of 65 in 1970 but indicated his willingness to continue to work half-time thereafter (Trustees’ minutes, 21 October 1969). His successor, John Dick, characterised Woolford in an obituary as ‘a traditionalist in practice and in his materials’.
The above account draws on National Gallery of Scotland archives: Trustees’ minutes from 1907; Harry Woolford notebooks (NGSC A1/4 & 6), as well as published annual reports.
6. The last fifty years
Recent years are not the main focus of this history but are treated here summarily. There have been four directors, Hugh Scrutton (1971-77), Colin Thompson (1977-84), Sir Timothy Clifford (1984-2006) and Sir John Leighton (from 2006). There have been three keepers of conservation, John Dick (until 1999), Michael Gallagher (1999-2005) and Jacqueline Ridge (from 2006). For a profile of Gallagher, see the interview by Sharon McCord, ‘Under the Surface’, Museums Journal, vol.104, 2004, p.20. Lesley Stevenson is senior paintings conservator. Painting conservators have included the late Donald Forbes (1952-2006) (The Scotsman, 2 February 2007). As director, Colin Thompson articulated the Gallery’s approach to the treatment of pictures in ‘Seeing is not Believing’, a publication which accompanied a display in 1982: ‘The modern principle of restoration, which is to restore paintings as nearly as possible to their original appearance, is now so generally accepted that it is surprising to realise that the concept is barely more than fifty years old’.
Many works in the collections were lined in the 1970s and 1980s, as is apparent from successive annual reports. It remains to be ascertained quite how the more cautious approach engendered by the Greenwich conference on lining techniques in 1974 impacted on practice in Edinburgh but it is worth noting that the first mention of strip lining in annual reports occurs that year.
John Dick spent three profitable months in 1978 working under John Brealey at the Metropolitan Museum in New York (Annual Report, 1978). Brealey had restored the so-called ‘Ruskin Madonna’, the Verrocchio Virgin adoring the Christ Child, before its acquisition by the National Gallery of Scotland in 1975, so Dick was already aware of his work. Dick later contributed to an initiative involving curators in local authority and other non-national museums, involving one-day seminars in the care and handling of pictures for curators and private owners of important paintings, conducted by the conservation departments of the National Galleries and Glasgow Museum and Art Galleries (Annual Report, 1979). Dick undertook some work for the Royal Scottish Academy in the 1970s and led a team of National Gallery conservators to provide initial help to the staff of Perth Museum and Art Gallery when its stores were flooded in 1993 (information from Robin H. Rodger).
A few works are singled out here as exemplars of conservation work since 1970. Nicolas Poussin’s newly acquired panel, The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine, was cleaned on acquisition in 1973, removing the old deeply discoloured varnish and restorations, with a complete x-ray mosaic showing up alterations (Annual Report, 1974). Robert Herdman’s Evening Thoughts was cleaned in 1976, so changing the old attribution, which was based on a false Tom Faed ‘signature’ (Annual Report, 1976). Frederick Church’s large Niagara Falls, a rare American painting in the collection, was cleaned and lined in 1977 after many years in store (Annual Report, 1977). More unusually William Hole’s wall paintings in oil on canvas in the Portrait Gallery’s central courtyard were cleaned in situ in 1984 (and have since been cleaned again). Some information on more recent conservation work can be found online, e.g., Lesley Stevenson, Preparing Guthrie's 'Oban' and Paterson's 'Edinburgh from Craigleith' for display, December 2018.
Increasingly exhibition loans, whether in or out, have placed demands on the conservation department but have also offered opportunities. To take one example, when the loan of Joshua Reynolds’ masterpiece, The Ladies Waldegrave, was agreed in 1984 for the Reynolds exhibition in London and Paris, the yellowed varnish and darkened retouchings led to the picture being cleaned. Despite concerns over the difficulty of treating this artist’s pictures, the varnish proved safe to remove but some of the paint, notably in the crimson curtain, was vulnerable to solvent action and required careful treatment. The frail unlined canvas was given support by stretching a secondary canvas beneath rather than relined (‘The Ladies Waldegrave by Reynolds, just cleaned by John Dick’, National Galleries of Scotland News, autumn 1986).
John Dick ensured that there was time for research in depth on the collection, in particular employing technical examination to understand the painting materials of two leading Scottish portrait painters, Allan Ramsay and Henry Raeburn (National Galleries of Scotland Review 1991-1993, p.25; see also John Dick, ‘Raeburn’s Methods and Materials’, in Duncan Thomson, Raeburn: The Art of Sir Henry Raeburn 1756-1823, 1997, pp.39-45).
More recently, Benjamin West’s huge unlined canvas, The Death of the Stag, was cleaned and restored by Michael Gallagher, in public in the National Gallery in 2004, and was used as a way of presenting painting conservation to a wider audience (see Michael Gallagher, ‘The artist’s technique and the conservation of the painting’, in Duncan Thomson (ed.), Benjamin West and The Death of the Stag, 2009, pp.20-31). The removal of discoloured natural resin varnish and later repaints covering the entire sky greatly improved the painting’s appearance. Cleaning revealed pinhead losses, the results of frequent rolling and unrolling of this large canvas; cleaning also revealed a pronounced pattern of darkening of the paint following the horizontal warp threads, a phenomenon tackled by careful retouching in a few conspicuous areas.
In 1972 the air conditioning of the National Gallery building meant that protective glass could progressively be removed from pictures. In 1984 the conservation department moved into the former science wing of John Watson’s School, the home of the Gallery of Modern Art, where more extensive premises allowed larger pictures to be treated safely. Storage was moved off site in the 1990s but not without problem. A store at Beaverhall, containing many items from the Eduardo Paolozzi archive was flooded in 2000 but largely rescued through a vacuum freeze-drying programme (Àngels Arribas, ‘Cold Comfort: Flood recovery project of the Eduardo Paolozzi Archive’, The Conservator, no.26, 2002, pp.3-13). Since then the modern stores at Granton, opening in 2002, have proved a great advantage in collection care. Further expansion is planned. The Granton Art Centre is located within the National Museums Collection Centre site. For an online feature, see Crystal Bennes, What’s in store at the National Galleries of Scotland? | Apollo Magazine, 2016.
The National Galleries of Scotland’s Conservation and Care Policy is available online as a pdf.
Sources not cited in full above, in chronological order: Andrew Oddy, ‘The three wise men and the 60:60 rule’, in Andrew Oddy and Sandra Smith (eds), Past Practice – Future Prospect, British Museum Occasional Paper No.145, 2001, pp.167-70.
Geoffrey Swinney, ‘Gas lighting in British museums and galleries, with particular reference to the Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art’, Museum Management and Curatorship, vol.18, 1999, pp.113-43.
Esther van Duijn, Goltzius, De Wild en Van Bohemen; drie namen, één schilderij. Onderzoek naar de restauratiegeschiedenis van Jupiter & Antiope (1612) van H. Goltzius, naar aanleiding van de restauratie van het schilderij, conservation thesis, 2003, p.39.
Anne Galastro, ‘‘The arduous and responsible duty of arranging, classifying, and hanging…’: William Borthwick Johnstone and the nascent Scottish National Gallery’, Journal of Art Historiography, 1 June 2018, vol.18, at https://arthistoriography.wordpress.com/18-jun-18/ .
Acknowledgements: In Holland Esther van Duijn and Michiel Franklin provided information on Martin de Wild. At the National Galleries of Scotland Jacqueline Ridge gave access to the Woolford archive, Kerry Horsburgh and Amy Kerr to De Wild and other documents, and Helen Smailes to information on certain restorers as well as on Benjamin West’s The Death of the Stag. At the Royal Scottish Academy Robin H. Rodger provided detailed researched information on the crossover between the Academy and the National Gallery. To all the above this account is much indebted.
Alexander Nicholls (c.1823/24-1880) was described by Andrew Tuer in 1882 as the factotum of the more celebrated Edward Evans (qv), print dealer, cleaner and restorer in the Strand, for whom he appears to have worked from the age of about sixteen in 1839 or 1840 until Evans closed his business in 1864. In censuses, Nicholls was listed as age 17 in 1841, age 35 in 1861 and age 41 in 1871, variously described as born in Westminster or Lambeth. He was living with his mother Frances in Lambeth in 1841 and in 1861, when described as a shopman at a printseller, presumably the Evans business. He married Mary Ann Law in 1868 in the Newington district. In 1871 he was living with his wife at 38 Aldred Road, Walworth. He died in 1880, age given as 56, in Kennington Park, leaving a personal estate worth under £300. His prints were sold after his death by Sotheby’s in two sales on 9 February and 12 July 1881.
Nicholls was listed in London directories as a printseller in 1868, and also as a print and book cleaner from 1869. Nicholls’ business card, dated in manuscript 4 November 1865, provides further details: ‘A. Nicholls, Assistant upwards of 26 years to Messrs. Evans, of the Strand, Print and Book Cleaner, Print Splitter & Re-layer of India Proofs, 27 Lucas Road, Kennington Park. S. Engravings and Drawings Inlaid and Mounted. Ink & Stains taken out of prints & books’ (National Portrait Gallery records, NPG7/1/2/3/5). He supplied engravings to the National Portrait Gallery in 1872 (Duplicates of Accounts, vo.1, p.88).
Sources: Andrew White Tuer, Bartolozzi and his Works, vol.1, n.d but 1882, p.93.
Added March 2019
William Nixon by 1830-1835, Nixon & Son by 1837, Eliza Nixon by 1839, Charles Nixon by 1843-1862. At 5 Navigation St, Birmingham 1830-1841, 109½ New St by 1843-1847, 85 New St by 1849-1850, 10 Steelhouse Lane 1850-1862. Carver and gilder, picture and glass frame manufacturer, picture dealer and restorer.
Charles Nixon (b. c.1811/16) was a leading carver, gilder and picture dealer in mid-19th century Birmingham. It was probably William Nixon, presumably his father, who began the business. In 1850 Charles claimed that the business had been established in 1820. This was when he advertised, as a carver and gilder, picture and glass frame manufacture, that his business had relocated from 85 New St to 10 Steelhouse Lane, opposite the Polytechnic Institution (Aris’s Birmingham Gazette 24 June 1850).
In census records Charles Nixon can be found in 1841 in Navigation St with his wife Sarah, in 1851 in Steelhouse Lane as a carver and gilder, age 35, with his wife Sarah and daughter Violetta, and in 1861 at the same address, now as a picture framemaker, age 50, born in Bath, with his wife and daughter.
Nixon was made bankrupt three times, firstly in 1849 as a glass and picture framemaker, secondly in 1862 as a carver, gilder and picture framemaker and thirdly in 1865, again as a carver, gilder and picture framemaker (London Gazette 10 August 1849, 3 October 1862, 30 January 1866). A sale of his pictures and drawings, picture frames and mouldings, etc, took place after his bankruptcy in 1862 (Aris’s Birmingham Gazette 18 October 1862).
Work as a picture framer, dealer and restorer: Charles Nixon was employed by the leading Birmingham collector, Joseph Gillot, from 1847 until 1860 (Chapel 2008, see Sources below). It is likely that Nixon is the man who left the impressed mark, C. NIXON/ PICTURE LINER, on the stretcher of David Cox’s Sketch from Nature, 1847 (Bonhams, 4 July 2017, lot 14). In 1856 he advertised as a picture restorer, offering upwards of 300 ancient and modern paintings for sale, which he stated that he had purchased from the Tong Castle and others sales (Birmingham Journal 17 May 1856).
Sources: Jeannie Chapel, ‘The Papers of Joseph Gillott (1799–1872)’, online appendix, p.7, Journal of the History of Collections, 2008, vol.20, pp.37-84
Joseph Francis Nollekens (1702-48) was sometimes known as 'old' Nollekens, to distinguish him from his better-known son,Joseph Nollekens the sculptor. He came to England in 1733. According to George Vertue, writing following his death in 1748, ‘Nollekens’ was born in Antwerp and educated in painting by his father and then when he came to England he worked with his fellow countryman, Peter Tillemans. As a Catholic, he married Mary Ann Lesack or Lesacque at the Sardinian embassy, 3 May 1733, and their children were baptised at the chapel of the Venetian ambassador: John Joseph in 1735, Joseph 1737, Maria Joanna Sophia 1739, James 1741 and Thomas Charles 1745 (National Archives, C 112/183, Chancery, Master Rose's Exhibits). His children are probably the subject of a pair of his small children's portraits, one dating to 1745 (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven).
Nollekens lived in Dean St, near Soho Square, from 1737 to 1748 (Survey of London, vol.33, St Anne Soho, 1966, p.135, available online at www.british-history.ac.uk). He died at his house, leaving behind a widow and children (Vertue vol.3, p.137; London Evening Post 21 January 1748). His collection of prints, books of prints, and drawings was sold in 1751 (London Daily Advertiser and Literary Gazette 4 November 1751).
Nollekens was extensively employed at Wanstead by Richard Child, Earl Tylney of Castlemaine. In 1742, he submitted a bill for cleaning and mending pictures for the Howard family (Sotheby's, English Literature and History, 16 December 1996 lot 102). ‘Noliken’ is recorded as a buyer at a picture sale in 1744 (‘Sale catalogues of the principal collections of pictures..., 1711-1759’, vol.2, ms, V&A National Art Library, 86.OO.19).
Sources: Vertue vol.3, p.137; Croft-Murray 1970 p.249; M.J.H. Liversidge, 'An Elusive Minor Master: J.F. Nollekens and the Conversation Piece', Apollo, vol.95, 1972, pp.34-41. For abbreviations, see Resources and bibliography.
Updated March 2018
Stanley Kennedy North, 47 Bassett Road, London W10 by 1923-1926 or later, 31 Ladbroke Grove by 1931-1942. Artist and picture restorer.
Stanley North (1887-1942) is said to have been the son of a London omnibus driver. He was recorded as an art student, born in Devizes and living in Fulham in the 1911 census. Later that year, he married Vera Rawnsley in the Kensington district; she would subsequently marry Clifford Bax. He was known as Stanley Kennedy North following his second marriage in December 1920 to Helen Dorothy Kennedy (1889-1975). He was a man of wide-ranging talents and colourful character with many connections. His interests included interior decorative painting and folk music. For an entertaining account of Stanley North’s life, see his grandson, Richard D. North’s website at www.richarddnorth.com/archive/elders_betters/stanley_kennedy_north.asp. For his second wife, see Hilary Clare, ‘Madam’, Abbey Chronicle, no.6, September 1990, accessed at ‘Madam’ - Hilary Clare (EJO Society). Stanley Kennedy North of 31 Ladbroke Grove died in June 1942, leaving effects worth £970.
North published a number of technical and popular papers on restoration, including 'Old Masters: Their Scientific Preservation', International Studio, August 1930, pp.22-5, ‘The Framing of Valuable Large Pictures’, Burlington Magazine, vol.61, 1932, pp.12-13, and 'Pictures are not only Art', The Nineteenth Century and After, vol.122, July 1937.
North was occasionally in contact with the National Gallery. In 1929 he received permission to x-ray the Wilton diptych on the premises (National Galley archive, NG1/10, p.97). He was paid £10.10s in December 1930 for a ‘micological’ examination of G.F. Watts’s Life’s Illusions (Tate) and £25 in November 1931 for an unspecified x-ray (NG13/1/11). In December 1931 North contacted the Gallery’s director, Augustus Daniel, to express alarm concerning the Kenwood pictures but Daniel’s diary note makes it clear that he had no high opinion of North and his theories of restoration (National Library of Scotland, Acc.9769, 97/42, 9 December 1931).
Restoration work: North was entrusted by C.H. Collins Baker, Surveyor of the Royal Collection, to work on pictures in the Royal Collection but his largely untried and expensive methods led to difficulties, with King George V sceptical about North’s approach (Millar 1977 p.209). Among works in the Royal Collection, North cleaned Duccio’s tryptych in or after 1930 (Shearman 1983 p.94) and relined the Mantegna cartoons at Hampton Court, 1931-4, using a wax adhesive (Lloyd 2002 p.46; see also Andrew Martindale, The Triumphs of Caesar by Andrea Mantegna in the collection of Her Majesty the Queen at Hampton Court, 1979, pp.119-22).
North’s work at Petworth, where he cleaned three paintings by Turner in the 1920s, was seen as so disastrous that Lord Leconfield decreed that no further pictures should be touched in his lifetime (Blunt 1979 p.119).
North treated some pictures in the collection of the Duke of Sutherland, including wax lining Titian’s Venus Rising from the Sea in 1931 (National Gallery of Scotland) and x-raying, wax lining and cleaning Titian’s Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto in 1933 (National Gallery and National Gallery of Scotland; see S. Kennedy North, ‘Titian’s Venus at Bridgwater House’ and ‘The Bridgewater Titians II’, Burlington Magazine, vol.60, 1932, pp.58-63 and vol.62, 1933, pp.10-16; Humfrey 2004 pp.95, 160).
For Samuel Courtauld, North cleaned Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère and Renoir’s La Loge (both Courtauld Institute of Art; see The Times 26 September 1934); his work on the latter was subsequently criticised by Kenneth Clark, who implied in 1939 that he had overcleaned the man’s head when discussing further cleaning by Helmut Ruhemann (qv) (British Library, Add.MS 52434 f.18).
North was responsible for conserving watercolours by John Sell Cotman in the collections of Russell J. Colman, 1934-7 (now Norwich Castle Museum) and S.D. Kitson (The Times 19 September 1936, 6 July 1937, see also Miklós Rajnai, John Sell Cotman, 1782-1842: early drawings (1798-1812) in Norwich Castle Museum, 1979, p.36 etc). The following information has kindly been provided by Rose Miller, May 2012, from museum conservation records. North lined various paintings now in Norwich Castle Museum, using his patent metal stretcher, including Cotman’s The Silent Stream in c.1935 (also transferring the painting from board to canvas), and Moreton Hall, The Judgement of Midas and The Waterfall in 1936-7. He framed The Beggar Boy with an unattached trellis support across the back, a technique he used on the Colman collection watercolours; the date of this work is unrecorded but it was presumably at the time that he attempted removal of a full size drawing of Cotman’s The Judgement of Midas from the reverse, but destroyed it in the process. He declined to treat View from Yarmouth Bridge for the Colmans, writing in 1939 that he could not solve the problems with the painting, only do something to preserve it.
Sources: Obituary, The Times 23 January 1942. For abbreviations, see Resources and bibliography.
Peter Norton, ‘the eminent connoisseur in pictures and other works of art’, as he was described in 1834 (Morning Chronicle 6 January 1834), was a leading collector and dealer and also an occasional picture restorer.
Peter Norton (c.1782-1868) came from a well-known Bristol family. John Sell Cotman drew portraits of ten members of the family in 1800 (Sotheby’s 30 November 1978 lot 50), including Peter Norton I (1729-1813), Peter Norton II (1755-1832) and, treated here, Peter Norton III. The latter was baptised in Bristol in 1782, the son of James and Sarah Norton, also depicted by Cotman. It is difficult to be sure which ‘P. Norton’ was the subject of portraits by William Haines, H.W. Pickersgill and E.H. Baily, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1809, 1817 and 1823 respectively.
Peter Norton III’s only child, Adelaide, married William Manson at St George Hanover Square in 1840 (Morning Post 25 September 1840). For many years he owned or occupied both 22 and 25 Soho Square. In census records he can be found in 1841 at 22 Soho Square, as a picture dealer, age 58, and in 1851 and 1861 at 25 Soho Square, described in 1851 as a proprietor of houses, born in Bristol, unmarried but with his sister and niece, and in 1861 as a picture dealer, by now age 78. He died in November 1868, age 86, described as late of 25 Soho Square, leaving effects of under £30,000, a considerable sum; his will and three codicils were proved by two of his executors, his nephew, John Norton, architect of 24 Old Bond St, and Joseph Townsend of Bristol.
Activities as a dealer and restorer: ‘Mr P. Norton’, presumably Peter Norton, went to the carver and gilder, John Smith (see British picture framemakers), for new picture frames, frame repairs and some pictures and a drawing, 1814-9 (V&A National Art Library, John Smith ledgers, 86.CC.1). He is possibly the Peter Norton, gentleman, found at 8 New Inn, Middle Temple, 1818-20, and before that described as a tea dealer from Gloucestershire in 1812. He offered pictures at auction on occasion, including on 20 March 1823, in 1842 and 1849 (Lugt 16532, 19219). In 1857 he unsuccessfully offered a portrait of Nat Lee by Dobson, together with a Reynolds self-portrait, to the newly founded National Portrait Gallery (National Portrait Gallery archive, volume ‘Offers 1857 to 1864’). Following his death in November 1868, four sales of his collection of more than 2000 pictures and other objects were held by Christie’s in January and February 1869, with a final sale in February 1870.
In 1824 Hugh Irvine, nephew of the dealer, James Irvine of Rome, recommended Norton at 22 Soho Square as a picture cleaner to Sir William Gordon Cumming for the collection at Altyre (National Library of Scotland, Gordon Cumming of Altyre papers, dep.175, section II, box 162(2), information from Helen Smailes). Irvine described Norton as a restorer whom he had employed frequently and had always found him to work well and to be moderate in his charges, adding that he had just successfully cleaned six pictures belonging to Marischal College in Aberdeen.
Added January 2017
George William Novice. In London: 4 Hawick Place, Vauxhall 1825, London Road 1827, 27 Lant St, Borough 1828, 41 Lant St 1830, 2/3 Edward St, Vauxhall Road 1833. In Edinburgh from 1833/34: 1 Blenheim St 1834, 20 Cumberland St 1837-1838, 18 Cumberland St 1839-1846, 1 Windsor St 1847-1849, 3 Comely Green Crescent 1849-1856, 10 North St Andrew St 1857-1867, 2 Malta Green Place 1869-1873. Artist, picture cleaner and author.
George William Novice (1805-73) comes from a family of obscure artists, originally from Kent. He was born 9 December 1805 and baptised at St George the Martyr, Southwark, the son of William Novice and his wife Ann Harriet, née Twelves, and the grandson of George Novice. His father was described as a cabinet maker at the birth of son Henry in 1808 but as a painter at the birth of daughter Caroline in 1810, and indeed he began exhibiting at the Royal Academy from an address in Bermondsey in 1809. George William Novice exhibited genre pictures in London, 1824-33, and at the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh, 1834-71. An example of his work is Pigeons at a Dovecot, 1823 (Calke Abbey, Derbyshire, National Trust).
Novice moved to Edinburgh in 1833 or 1834. He can be found in Edinburgh Post Office directories as an artist from 1847 but as a picture restorer in Slater’s directory for 1861 (National Library of Scotland, Scottish Post Office directories). He married Isabella Pate on 1 January 1847 at St Mary’s, Edinburgh (see www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/). He published Frauds and follies in picture dealing, etc. A poem in 1859 and Lights in art: A review of ancient and modern pictures, by an artist in 1865, with an appendix, Critical remarks on the present state, treatment, and preservation of oil paintings (accessed through Google books), with a 2nd edition in 1874.
Novice can be found in Edinburgh census records, always with his wife Isabella, in 1851 at 3 Comely Green Crescent as an artist restoring old pictures, age 45, born England, in 1861 at 10 North St Andrew St as an artist, age 55, and in 1871 at 2 Malta Green Place as an artist restoring old pictures, age 65, born London. He died at 2 Malta Green Place in 1873, his age given as 67, his wife named as Isabella Pate and his mother as Harriet Twelves.
As a picture restorer, he cleaned, restored and varnished a Netherlandish panel, Bacchus and Ariadne (National Gallery of Scotland), then owned by the Royal Institution of Scotland, for £10 in 1840 (National Records of Scotland, NG3/5/43). He was in correspondence with the Royal Institution in 1847 (NG3/4/22, not seen).
Updated January 2017
Frank Nowlan, 187 Euston Road, London 1866-1870, 10 Parliament St, Dublin 1871-1872, 115 Grafton St, Dublin 1874, 17 Soho Square, London 1872-1898, 8 Percy St, Tottenham Court Road 1899-1919, home The Elms, London Road, Cheam, Surrey by 1881-1911 or later. Artist and restorer of miniatures, drawings and works of art.
Frank Nowlan (1835-1919) was born in or near Dublin in 1835. He is said to have settled in London in 1857 and to have studied at Leigh’s School of Art and the Langham School of Art. He was recorded in the 1861 census as a miniature painter, age 24, lodging at 49 Warren St and as an artist in subsequent censuses. He married Susanna Haxley in 1861 at St Pancras Old Church. In the 1871 census they were living at 187 Euston Road and in 1881 at the Elms, London Road, Cheam, his age given as 43, with three daughters. One of the daughters, Carlotta, exhibited at the Royal Academy, 1894-1900. By 1907, Nowlan was described as ‘the well-known expert’ by the director of the National Portrait Gallery in a report to his trustees concerning a disputed drawing (Trustees’ minutes, 7 February 1907). He appears as an artist painter, with his wife Susanna, as having been married 49 years, still living at the Elms, in the 1911 census. He died in 1919 at the age of 84 in the Epsom district, leaving effects worth £449. Several of his works were included in a posthumous sale held at Forster’s on 23 July 1919 (The Times 21 July 1919).
Nowlan exhibited in various exhibitions in London and Dublin from 1866 to 1916. He was listed as an artist from 1882 to 1915 in Post Office London trade directories. He is said to have been patronised by the Royal Family and he is also said to have invented the unforgeable cheque. He gave his portrait, drawn by Frederick Walker at Leigh’s School in 1858, to the British Museum in 1911 (British Museum collection database).
In 1958 the National Portrait Gallery was offered two miniatures, one of Frank Nowlan by his daughter Pauline, the other by him of his other daughter, Carlotta, but they were declined as not of sufficient importance (National Portrait Gallery, Trustees’minutes, 17 April 1958, p.314).
Restoration work: Nowlan restored a drawing for the British Museum in 1899, Bernard Orley’s The Parable of Dives and Lazarus (A.E. Popham, Catalogue of Drawings by Dutch and Flemish Artists… in the British Museum, vol.5, 1932, p.34). The same year, he donated a print by Edward Burne-Jones, apparently the artist's only known lithograph (British Museum, 1899,0706.1, information from Sheila O'Connell). He repaired a Cooper miniature for the Fitzwilliam Museum in 1900 (Fitzwilliam Museum Library, Management Syndicate minutes, 1 May 1900). He undertook extensive work on miniatures at the Wallace Collection, 1901-10, at a cost of some £165 in all (Wallace Collection Archives, AR2/50Q; see also Graham Reynolds, Wallace Collection Catalogue of Miniatures, 1980, p.28). He was described in 1922 by D.S. MacColl, Director of the Wallace Collection, as the ‘well-known miniature restorer’ (Burlington Magazine, vol.40, 1922, p.234).
Nowlan undertook occasional restoration work for the National Portrait Gallery, 1901-17, on pastels, drawings, wax medallions and miniatures, including renovating William James Müller’s miniature Self-portrait in 1902 for £1.1s, restoring Ozias Humphry’s pastel, 3rd Earl Stanhope, for £4.4s in 1904, and cleaning James Deville’s plaster head, William Blake, for £2.15s in 1919 (National Portrait Gallery records, Duplicates of Accounts, vols 5 to 8). He also repaired and copied George Romney's pastel, William Cowper, in 1905, shortly before its acquisition by the National Portrait Gallery (see Ingamells 2004 pp.127-8 and n.12).
For the leading collector, George Salting, Nowlan restored miniatures, 1900-7, including a Cooper in 1900 for £2.2s and a Cosway for £7.7s in 1907 (Guildhall Library, Salting bills, MS 19473/1).
Sources: Daphne Foskett, A Dictionary of British Miniature Painters, 1972, p.425.