museums and galleries n
A Victorian treasure finally preserved n
This Victorian masterpiece measuring 3m by 4.5m is one of the largest oil paintings in Manchester and, despite the best efforts of generations of restorers, it has languished unseen for over one hundred and fifty years – until now where it can be seen at Manchester Art Gallery. ‘The Sirens’ was exhibited at the Royal Academy of Art in 1837. It was bought unseen for £250 by Daniel Grant, a Mancunian cotton merchant. Soon after, Grant gave the painting to his brother William, who in 1839 presented it to Manchester Art Gallery. Sadly the painting began to decay soon after it was completed due to Etty’s experimental painting techniques and he had to be recalled to repaint lost pieces that had fallen away. In 1857 it was exhibited in the Art Treasures of the United Kingdom at Old Trafford in Manchester and soon after was put into long term storage, as its condition was too poor for it to be displayed any longer. Since then several attempts have been made to consolidate the painting to prevent further deterioration. In the 1980’s the painting was brought out of storage and cleared of discoloured varnishes and old restorations. Due to Gallery commitments the project was put on hold and the painting was returned to storage. When conservation staff examined it in 2003, they realised that if nothing was done, Etty’s masterpiece would soon be beyond repair. Finally in 2005, with funding from the Esmee Fairburn Foundation and Axa Art Insurance, the campaign to rescue ‘The Sirens and Ulysses’ was launched. Julia Dalzell ACR FBAPCR was employed by Manchester City Galleries to lead this ambitious conservation project, to conserve and stabilise the painting ready for its restoration phase that was to take place in the Gallery, also coinciding with the Art Treasures Exhibition in 2007.
“It was a project not for the faint hearted!” said Julia. “The painting was lying face down on the table having a 1930’s glue lining removed when I arrived. 13.5 square metres, that in itself took over a year to complete! It then had to be turned over before it could be re-lined, but paint and ground layers had become detached from the canvas support. A melinex envelope was created around it and with the air vacuumed out of the ‘parcel’ it was turned over. Timing of the project was crucial and had to be meticulously planned to fit in with the busy schedule of the Gallery”. q
Museums and Galleries