In anticipation of Night in the Museum coming to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in November, the Museum’s conservation team has been preparing a selection of works from Birmingham’s collection, which have been selected by exhibition curator Ryan Gander, for display alongside works from the Arts Council collection.
Whilst some of these selected works are currently on public display elsewhere in the galleries, others are at present housed in the Museum’s various stores.
Before any object goes on display in the Museum, a condition assessment is carried out by a conservator in order to ensure that it can be displayed safely, and to assess whether any interventive conservation treatment is required.
One of the works selected for display in the exhibition is the oil on canvas ‘Abstract’ by George Elmslie Owen (1938).
As part of the condition assessment, it was noted that the frame of the work had suffered a number of minor losses and cracks to the surface – most likely as a result of the wooden frame expanding and contracting in response to rises and falls in the local atmospheric humidity at a different rate to the gesso, gold leaf and paint layers covering it - resulting in some areas of gilding/paint lifting and flaking.
The decision was taken that the surface of the frame should be consolidated before going on display in order to limit the possibility of any further deterioration from occurring; and that any areas where the white gesso layer was conspicuously visible where the gilding/paint had been lost should be re-touched.
The treatment was enthusiastically undertaken by conservation intern Emma as part of her placement within the department.
Areas where surface layers were lifting or flaking were consolidated by introducing an acrylic resin behind the gilt/paint layers, before applying a gentle pressure. Where losses had occurred, an acrylic-based filler was used to return an even surface. Fills and areas of exposed gesso were then in-painted to match the surrounding surfaces.
While this was a relatively minor interventive treatment, it has improved the stability and visual appearance of the frame, ensuring that it is looking its best and will be stable and secure during its time on display.
Another of the artworks from the Museum’s stores which was worked on for Night in the Museum was Sir Jacob Epstein’s portrait of his daughter, ‘Kitty’.
Cleaning this bronze sculpture entailed the removal of a previously applied protective coating which had become dusty and dirty. Once cleaned, a new layer of wax was applied over the surface of the work - in order to protect the metal from future dust, moisture, and corrosion whilst it is on display - and gently polished.
Before she goes on display alongside the Arts Council Collection, Kitty will also receive a newly revamped plinth.
Night in the Museum is at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery from 26 November 2016 until 12 February 2017 and will be free to visit.