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Conserving the Walker’s Wright of Derby portraits

21 June 2007 by Sam

conservators working on 2 paintings

Everyone has been talking about the two new exhibitions at the Walker, Out of this World and Unnatural selection. However, for the staff at the National Conservation Centre, those shows are so last week. Paintings conservators David Crombie and Rebecca Kench are already preparing paintings for the Walker’s next big exhibition about Joseph Wright of Derby, which opens in the autumn.
 
I popped in today to see them conserving two of the Walker’s portraits by the artist, of Fleetwood Hesketh and his wife Frances Hesketh. You can see a Filckr slideshow of the partly-conserved paintings here.

David updated me on the progress so far:


 ”When these paintings were hanging in the gallery they appeared to be in good condition, apart from their slightly discoloured varnish. However nobody expected how discoloured the varnish and dirt layers would turn out to be.   Once the varnish and dirt were removed, we could see the bold areas of colour and Wright’s distinct subtle purples that were somewhat obscured until now. It’s remarkable just how bright the paintings really are.
 
The yellowing of the varnish is a result of the gradual oxidation and degradation of natural resin varnishes over time. Underneath, the original paint is generally in very good condition and these portraits are good examples of a sound oil painting technique. Wright painted them in a very consistent manner and didn’t use any particularly radical techniques, unlike Sir Joshua Reynolds for example, who could be more experimental. 

One interesting thing that we noticed in another portrait being lent to the exhibition from a local collection is that the lady in the painting appears to be wearing a similar blue material wrap and wristband to the ones worn by Frances Hesketh in the Walker’s portrait. The wrap is even tied in a similar way at the front. This may mean that they were studio props given to sitters by Wright. However, we’ll have to check to confirm this when the loan painting comes in and we can examine them properly together.”

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