The conservation process

The restoration project had three phases:

Before doing anything, the conservation team carried out a full assessment of the painting. This included scientific analysis of the painting structure, assessment of its deterioration and the history of previous conservation.

The urgency of the task became immediately clear. Large areas of paint were flaking away from the canvas and previous restoration attempts had completely failed.

The first priority was to prevent any further damage. Previous restoration work was removed and the weakened structure stabilised by lining the canvas and fixing the loose paint.
At this point the painting could have been put safely back into storage where, with careful monitoring, it would now remain stable.

It was now clear that further work would be needed to restore the image itself. Restoration can return a sense of wholeness to a damaged object, recapturing the artist’s original intent. The trick is knowing when to stop. Go too far and the artist’s vision is lost.

The true appearance of the original painting will never be recaptured, as the paintwork was too badly damaged. But what we have done is try to reveal something of William Etty’s original passion and artistic vision.

To follow the project in detail and watch the conservators at work, visit the restoration timeline.