Salvaged: Restoring The Sirens and Ulysses

Saturday 18th March 2006

From March 2006 to autumn 2007, visitors to Manchester Art Gallery can now witness live work on most ambitious conservation project ever: the restoration of William Etty's dramatic painting The Dirnes and Ulsysses.

The Sirens and Ulysses (detail) by William Etty, 1837
This is the first time in over 100 years that this huge picture, measuring almost 3m by 4.5m, has been on display. The restoration of the painting will take place over a period of around 18 months, to be completed in autumn 2007 in time for a major exhibition Art Treasures Revisited.

The famous 19th century artist William Etty considered The Sirens and Ulysses to be his greatest achievement. The painting depicts a scene from Homer’s Odyssey where the hero, Ulysses, is blindfolded and tied to the mast of his ship to avoid the temptations of the voluptuous and dangerous Sirens.

The Sirens and Ulysses was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1837. Etty, a Yorkshire born artist, already had links with the Royal Manchester Institution (now Manchester Art Gallery) and sold the painting to local textile merchant Daniel Grant, who was a patron of the RMI, after a big day out at the races. When Grant actually saw the painting, he realized it was too big for his house and he gave it to his brother William, who later donated it to the RMI. (Rumour has it that the Grant brothers, kindly philanthropists, were the inspiration for the Cheeryble brothers in Dickens’ novel Nicholas Nickleby).

The condition of the painting has been deteriorating since the middle of the 19th century and it has not been on public display since the late 1880s because of its poor state of repair. Attention returned to the painting prior to the re-opening of Manchester Art Gallery in 2002, but the sheer scale of the work required prevented the painting from being included in the re-hang. However, the conservation work commenced in the Gallery’s conservation studios in late 2002 and the painting finally moves to Manchester Art Gallery next month.

When the exhibition opens, visitors will be able to see the conservators at work in the gallery Tuesday-Friday (depending on schedule) with monthly question and answer sessions about the project. A film will show the progress of the project. Other William Etty works will be displayed alongside The Sirens and Ulysses, including his painting Venus and Her Doves (1836) and a self-portrait. Visitors can watch the work in progress from the resource area, enjoy the interactive displays, handle materials and learn more about conservation.

Councillor Mark Hackett, Executive Member for Culture and Leisure, Manchester City Council said “It is wonderful that the people of Manchester are going to be able to see for themselves the restoration of this great painting. This is an exciting project, which finally brings one of the unseen masterpieces of the city’s collection back into the gallery for all to view. We hope that people will come in regularly to follow the project’s progress.”

This project has been made possible by a generous grant from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and is supported by AXA Art. Manchester Art Gallery is also asking for public donations so that it can continue this vital conservation work. Just donate at the Gallery or on the Gallery’s website at www.manchestergalleries.org (Supporting Us section).

For further information please contact Kim Gowland, Manchester Art Gallery,
Tel 0161 2358861 Email k.gowland@Manchester.gov.uk
Date issued: 28 February 2006