Should we restore pictures like The Sirens and Ulysses?
Some people argue that it destroys the artwork’s authenticity. Once someone else touches it, is it still the artist’s own work? And conservators don’t always get it right. Previous conservators actually caused further damage as they did not understand the consequences of their actions.
Yet this is Etty’s most spectacular painting. We know that he wanted it to be seen at its best (he retouched bits of it himself). As a public gallery, we have a responsibility to the artworks in our care, to the artists who made them and, most importantly, to our visitors, both today and in the future.
Thanks to our conservation work, the painting is now stable. The original canvas and paint are secure, the structure of the painting has been strengthened and the discoloured overpainting by previous conservators has been removed.
More controversially, we decided to restore the appearance of the painting for display. The restoration has taken place in an open gallery where visitors have commented on the work being carried out. Should we be doing this? How far should we go? You can see some of our visitor’s comments here.