Art for More than Art's Sake
Just after New Year, when Sydney was recovering from its festivities, Government House turned over a new page in its conservation calendar.
For a few weeks the House resembled something out of a construction kit crossed with a ‘Cluedo’ art mystery as painters and conservators worked tirelessly to restore both the Main Hall of the House and its heritage portraits to their full glory in readiness for the year ahead.
In the Sitting Room with the Conservators
As part of the regular maintenance schedule for the art collection, several portraits of former Governors of New South Wales came down from their lofty heights in the Main Hall to undergo painstaking conservation by Sandi and Lucy from David Stein & Co Conservation of Fine Art, one of Australia’s largest and most eminent painting conservation studios.
The work involved preventative, structural and aesthetic treatment processes.
After taking the portraits out of their frames and brushing off the dust, the paintings were cleared of built-up layers of grime after years of being located within an historic open house.
Using pH-adjusted water-based solutions, acrylic putty to fill divets and scratches, conservation-graded adhesives and synthetic conservation paint, Sandi and Lucy described the level of conservation as remedial and an important part of conserving the State-significant collection.
Receiving ‘the treatment’ in the Sitting Room were Governors Phillip, Bourke and Belmore. Governor Lachlan Macquarie had been ‘transported’(!) to the David Stein studios along with Sir Hercules Robinson for more specialised service.
One of the benefits of the conservation treatment is re-varnishing which can return colours to their original vibrancy. For this, the conservators use a modern synthetic resin varnish which mimics the look of artists’ natural resin varnish. Look out for Governor Bourke’s newly enriched ruby red dress uniform when you are next in the House!
Conservation always holds the possibility of an exciting discovery or a mystery … and to their delight the conservators have already uncovered one … a set of curious markings with the initials PG in the corner of the Governor Phillip portrait, a copy of the original portrait painted by Francis Wheatley, housed in the National Portrait Gallery, London.
All Governors can rest assured they were in safe hands as Sandi and Lucy both hold Masters of Cultural Materials Conservation degrees.
In the Main Hall with the Painters
While our past Governors spent time in remediation, painter Steve and his tradesman Shane went to work on high scaffolds in the Main Hall, repairing cracks in the Main Hall ceiling, sealing and re-painting the Hall in the original colours, and touching up the flaking gold-leaf filigree surrounding the chandelier in the Main Hall.
Not an easy task with ceiling heights from 7.8 metres to 12.6 metres!
Fortunately, Steve has over 40 years of expertise working within historic houses having previously worked with the Historic Houses Trust and Sydney Living Museums at Vaucluse House, Elizabeth Bay House, Susannah Place, Hyde Park Barracks, The Mint, Seidler House and the Justice and Police Museum.