The conservation of a seventeenth century painting found in tattered pieces is nearing completion at Bruce Castle Museum in Tottenham.
The painting, a view of Bruce Castle from 1686, was found wrapped in a parcel in the Museum's storeroom in 1993. The fragments had been stacked and layered with tissue paper in a clumsy attempt at preservation. The painting was stabilised to prevent further deterioration but the costly process of full conservation was not to begin for several years.
There are few clues as to how the painting ended up in such a sorry state. No official records exist of any damage to art at the Castle. Various theories have been put forward. The painting's buckled and brown appearance when found suggested possible burning. It could have been folded for storage instead of being rolled, which might have caused the ancient canvas to fall apart. Alternatively, someone could simply have decided to get rid of the work following accidental damage, torn it up, but then had second thoughts.
There is no date or signature on the painting. However, an engraving published in 1794, still in the Castle archives, is a stylised copy of the work. Underneath this engraving is a note in Latin - 'Wolridge pinxt 1686': the original painter was Wolridge in 1686.
A conservator named Jim Dimond has undertaken the mammoth task of piecing together, cleaning, conserving and then restoring the painting. His association with the picture dates back to 1993 when he was a member of the Area Museum Service for South Eastern England team who originally found the fragments.
Dimond was initially faced with pieces of canvas coated with thick, dirty brown varnish. The paint underneath this was flaking away. Not all of the pieces were found and those that were did not all fit together neatly as the pieces had changed shape over their years of storage.
Dimond describes the process of rescuing the painting as being 'more like an archaeological dig than your average picture conservation'. He is enthusiastic about the project, in particular the final stages of filling in the missing sections of the painting, with the 1794 engraving as a guide.
Approximately 450 hours of work will have gone into conserving the painting by the time it is completed in Spring 2002. This was funded by a Heritage Lottery Fund grant and a fundraising drive by the Friends of Bruce Castle Museum.
This rare and unusual painting will be on display at Bruce Castle Museum next year, looking almost as Wolridge intended over three hundred years ago.Have a look at the museum's website - it's at www.brucecastlemuseum.org.uk/ and click here for more details of the venue.