24/09/2019Help Us Save England's Wall Paintings
With irreplaceable centuries-old paintings at risk, English Heritage is appealing for donations to conserve our country’s painted history
England's wall paintings are at risk, with a catalogue of threats causing them to deteriorate. Today, English Heritage has launched an appeal to support the conservation of these irreplaceable treasures and is calling on the public for support.
The Charity cares for 77 wall paintings, the country’s largest and most significant collection. This collection stretches as far back as the painted walls at Lullingstone Roman Villa in Kent and includes the Victorian gothic decoration at St Mary’s Church Studley Royal in North Yorkshire. Many of the wall paintings in the collection are at medieval abbeys, priories and churches, ranging from simple decoration to large-scale religious scenes and include the internationally-important art at St Mary’s Church, Kempley in Gloucestershire.
AT RISK AND UNDER SIEGE
From the damp English climate, to failed early 20th-century restoration attempts to the very buildings they are housed in, these irreplaceable artworks – some even older than those in the Sistine Chapel – are at risk from a number of factors and each faces a unique combination of threats, including:
- The weather: Unlike the well-preserved paintings in France and Italy’s warmer climates, England’s wall paintings are being increasingly affected by damp and wetter weather which is causing damage to their fragile structure.
- Poor past restoration: Advances in conservation practice have shown that previous restoration efforts from the early 20th century have in fact done more harm than good as substances such as soluble nylon (originally intended to prevent damage) are causing increased flaking.
- The ancient buildings they are in: Unlike traditional paintings on canvas, wall paintings are fixed to their historic surroundings, meaning that they face all the challenges faced by their centuries-old buildings.
English Heritage is undertaking a condition audit of all the wall paintings in its care to accurately assess the extent of the deterioration and set out the conservation solution for each. Meanwhile, the Charity’s experts have already undertaken urgent conservation work on those wall paintings most at risk, including medieval paintings at Longthorpe Tower in Peterborough, First World War graffiti at Richmond Castle in North Yorkshire, and securing the Archer Pavilion roof at Wrest Park in Bedfordshire.
This conservation can involve a range of techniques including scientifically examining layers of ancient paint, using specialist multispectral imaging to help reveal a painting’s condition otherwise invisible to the naked eye. The work also includes undoing earlier well-meaning but outdated methods of conservation and applying specialist mortar to stabilise fragile and flaking plaster.
Rachel Turnbull, English Heritage’s Senior Collections Conservator, said:
'Wall paintings are the most challenging type of art to care for, but they offer a precious insight into England’s story. For thousands of years people of the past have left little traces, glimpses into their everyday lives through richly decorated wall paintings. Be they domestic or religious, these artworks tell a story about the people who painted them and the communities who lived or worshipped in these buildings centuries ago.
If they are to survive for future generations to enjoy, we need the public’s help today to repair their buildings, stabilise their structures and protect them from damp and decay before time runs out.'
SUPPORT OUR CAUSE
English Heritage became an independent charity in 2015 and now relies more and more on the generosity of its members, visitors, and each property’s local community to support its work. The highly-skilled conservation comes at a high cost and English Heritage is asking the public to help it to protect England’s wall paintings for future generations:
- £20 can pay for specialist mortar to be mixed and used to repair plaster damage
- £40 can pay for the consolidation of powdering and flaking surfaces to combat deterioration
- £75 can pay for expert multispectral imaging, revealing a painting’s condition otherwise invisible to the naked eye
Support the appeal through our website today.
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