A Day with a Conservator


Since February 2018, I have been working at the Wallace Collection as an Assistant Conservator of Frames & Gilt-Wood. No two days working within the museum’s Conservation Department are ever quite the same.

Following my graduation in Conservation Studies in 2014, I have been drawn to working within a museum. I was thrilled to take up this position at the Wallace Collection with its unique history and renowned experts in Conservation.

08:00 – 10:00

My first responsibility is often to assist my colleagues with any scheduled object moves such as re-hanging paintings or repositioning historic furniture or artworks. These are done on request of the Curatorial staff – or at other times by visiting scholars – and are always an early start so as to complete the moves before the museum opens to the public!

10:00 – 11:00

Much of my work schedule is dedicated to conserving the Collection’s many picture frames. My work-plan is inextricably linked with that of the Collection’s paintings conservation programme, which we do not do in-house.

As well as offering a safe housing for a painting, a frame must look the part and complement the painting within. Therefore, treatment proposals, deadlines and findings are discussed with both the Curator of Paintings and the external Paintings Conservator.

11:00 – 13:00

The favourite part of my work is undoubtedly undertaking the ‘hands-on’ treatment of objects. As a conservator, it is important to consider the individuality of each object that comes into the studio.

As I undertake any new conservation treatment, I first consult the accumulated documentation pertaining to the object. In the best-case scenarios, I will find a conservation report with images, documenting previous treatments and a history of how or where the painting and frame have been displayed. The meticulous way in which conservators are required to document their interventions has only been commonplace since the 1970s-1980s. With hundreds of frames in the Collection, a great many have unfortunately not been conserved or documented.

In this case, close examination of the object is all the more important. Picture frames have generally undergone numerous modifications and redecoration regimes, and much of this can be discerned by the trained eye. Examining the back of the picture frame as well as the gilding and edges on its face, I gather information which in turn informs a treatment proposal for the object.

13:00 – 14:00

On occasion I give free ‘Brief Encounter’ gallery talks in order to share insights into my work at the museum. I explain the technological and stylistic developments of the picture frame, conservation issues surrounding frames, and give insight into my daily work.

I enjoy answering questions from the general public regarding my work at the Wallace Collection or about conservation generally. It is a broad subject and it is very rewarding to be able to spotlight the profession.

14:00 – 16:30

In the afternoons, I am currently focussed on the Venetian Views conservation project which is a multi-year project to conserve and clean all of our Venetian view paintings and their frames. As well as consolidating, cleaning and re-incorporating losses to the surface decoration of the frames, many have required the construction and fitting of new inner-frames.

Using a fantastic resource from the collection’s archive – glass plate negatives of photographs of the galleries captured in 1888 by John Thomson, a well-known London photographer of the time – my conservator colleague and I have been able to decipher and identify the type of ornamentation that had once decorated the original inner frames and were removed at the beginning of the 20th century to glaze the paintings. Frame by frame, we are working to restore the original design and appearance of the framed paintings.

16:30 – 17:00

Although most staff and indeed all visitors will leave the Wallace Collection as it closes, we often work into the night to host an array of private functions. On these evenings, my final duty will be to assist in the placement of signage or object protectors, to ensure that no artwork is damaged during the event. The Events Department work closely with the Conservation Department to ensure the safety of the Collection at all times.

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