Funding Boost For Conservation Of WWI Facial Injury Portraits

By Marian Cleary | 07 May 2008
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pastel drawing of injured soldier

© The Royal College of Surgeons of England

An urgent conservation project to preserve portraits of facially disfigured World War I soldiers is to receive a funding boost with a £10,000 grant from the Museums Libraries and Archives Council (MLA).

The £42,000 project aims to conserve 72 pastel portraits drawn by Henry Tonks during his time working as a doctor with Harold Gillies’ facial reconstruction team at Cambridge and then at Sidcup during 1916 and 1917.

The grant is from the MLA’s Prism Fund, which is designed to help preserve material of industrial and scientific importance. It is hoped that this year’s grant will be matched next year with a further £10,000.

pastel drawing of a young injured soldier

The Royal College of Surgeons of England

Simon Chaplin, Director of the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London said: “This is a fantastic grant, however it’s a constant challenge for the College in that it invests a huge amount of money in its museum, its library and its archive just in running them.”

The College also has sizeable commitments to its surgical training, and is now seeking further grants and public donations towards the project.

“The fact the College runs a free public museum is a great testament to its regard for heritage,” explained Simon, “but we are raising money for education projects for a new Surgical Skills Centre and that has to be a priority.”

pastel drawing of an injured soldier

The Royal College of Surgeons of England

It is hoped the first pictures to be conserved will be exhibited at The Hunterian in the Autumn.

Henry Tonks’ work as a surgeon and artist during World War I is to figure prominently in Pat Barker’s next novel, a sequel to 'Life Class', set at Slade School of Art where Tonks was teacher and then principal.

The images can be seen via the Royal College of Surgeons' online catalogue

Simon Chaplin can be contacted at the Hunterian Museum regarding the pictures and the conservation project.

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