Cornfields and Confessions: the conservation of two works in the Usher Gallery

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 by Dawn Heywood  | Category: Art News 

The treatment of two paintings in the Usher Gallery collection was carried out by an Accredited fine art conservator, Hirst Conservation in Lincolnshire.  The conservation treatment has generously been funded by the Friends of Lincoln Museums and Art Gallery (FLMAG).

The works were selected for conservation as they are displayed frequently in the Usher Gallery, and both required consolidation and cleaning.

The first work is Mowers by George Clausen R.A., painted in 1891. It depicts three mowers in a hayfield, and Clausen has beautifully depicted the long grass, the wild flowers and the movement of the scythe as it swishes from side to side.  Clausen was particularly interested in depicting movement, and often incorporated activities such as ploughing, reaping and mowing into his paintings.

The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 1892 and received excellent reviews; it was a watershed moment for Clausen.  He was most concerned with the accuracy of the stance of the mowers and their scything action, and ten years later published an article in the Magazine of Art with a diagram showing the feet positions of a typical mower and the arc of a scythe (see image above).

Over the years the vivid colour palette used by Clausen had become muted by the discolouration of the varnish layer.  Drying cracks were also evident, an inherent defect of Clausen's painting technique, where the upper glazes dried more quickly than the more thickly applied paint layer beneath.  When compared to other works by Clausen at an exhibition held at the Fine Art Society in 2012, the difference in appearance was immediately apparent, and an assessment of the work was carried out on its return to Lincoln, and in readiness for an opportunity for conservation treatment.

This opportunity arose at the end of last year when FLMAG had funds to pay for treatment.  The painting was removed from its frame, and the conservator removed accumulated dust and dirt from both sides of the painting, using a soft-bristled brush and vacuum extraction at source.  The degraded varnish was removed using small cotton swabs and acetone.  The  drying cracks were not filled but their appearance was reduced with watercolours, taking care not to encroach over the paint layers.  Finally the frame was cleaned and re-touched. 

The treatment has revealed the vibrancy of the original colours, and the vitality of the movement of the mowers and the scythe cutting through the corn now shouts out from the painting.  A stunning painting has been transformed.

The second painting is Un Aveu by William Tom Warrener.  This was painted by Warrener whilst in Paris and first exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Français in 1887. The following year it was exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, as A Confession, when it narrowly missed being selected for the Chantrey Bequest, but was ineligible due to it being painted outside of England. The painting was exhibited in Lincoln in 1890 at the annual arts exhibition held by the Lincoln School of Art.

As one of Warrener's earlier works it displays a more academic style, which was to transform into an Impressionistic style following the time he spent in Paris and at Grez-sur-Loing.

This work had a few small areas of flaking paint, which required consolidation to prevent further paint loss.  The painting was otherwise in good condition.  Following consolidation, the minor paint losses were filled and retouched, and the surface was cleaned.  It is with peace of mind the painting can be displayed again following the consolidation.


We would like to thank the Friends of Lincoln Museums and Art Gallery for their generosity in funding the conservation treatment, and their continued support of the Usher Gallery, The Collection and the Museum of Lincolnshire Life.  Thanks also to Hirst Conservation for completing the conservation treatment and for permission to reproduce the images of treatment.

The two works are now on display in the Usher Gallery.

Details of paintings:
George Clausen (1852 - 1944)
Oil on canvas, 1891
LCNUG : 1927/1893
Purchased from The Fine Art Society, 1949

William Tom Warrener (1861 - 1934)
Un Aveu
Oil on canvas, c.1887
LCNUG : 1976/151
Gift from the Friends of Lincoln Museums and Art Gallery, 1974


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