One in, one out!

At the end of May I returned to Dulwich Picture Gallery (DPG) to oversee the de-installation of our Van Dyck portrait of Sofonisba Anguissola.  She was the last painting to come down, 2 days after the end of ‘Van Dyck in Scilly’ exhibition.  The gallery art handlers removed her from the wall to a table for the conservator and I to check.

One of the mitre joints of the frame that has opened up in the drier conditions at the DPG. If Knole had environmental control our relative humidity levels would be nearer to that of the DPG, and any change would not seem so drastic. This is why we have to allow for periods of acclimatisation when objects go on loan.

Using a condition report carried out before the exhibition when the painting first arrived at the DPG, we assessed the painting to see if there had been any change in condition or deterioration to the painting surface or picture frame.  The environmental conditions in the gallery are controlled and within the desired limits of 50 – 60% relative humidity (RH).  This is however much lower, and drier, than the RH at Knole.  The paint layer although fragile appeared to have no change in condition, and the frame seemed ok too.  However the mitre joints did appear to have opened up.  This will have occurred because the wood has lost a small amount of moisture in the drier conditions.

I examined the painting again once it had been delivered to Knole and using soft goat hair brushes I carefully removed dust from the frame and painting.

However there are not any other signs of physical stress to the frame and we are confident that as the frame re-acclimatises back to Knole’s RH levels and takes on moisture again the joints will close up again as the wood swells.  The painting and frame are being closely monitored during the re-acclimatisation period, it has been in the Great Hall for a week now.  The RH is higher in  here than at the DPG but lower than the Leicester Gallery where it normally hangs.  Providing the RH in the Leicester Gallery is not excessively high at the end of the week we hope she will be hung by the weekend, just as another portrait has left…

Sofonisba has been in the Great Hall re-acclimatising. A sheet of acid free tissue has been place over the painting to prevent dust settling on the surface.

…Now it was the turn of our portrait of Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset, which hangs in the Great Hall to go on loan.  It was collected on Wednesday and delivered to the National Portrait Gallery (NPG).  The painting is very similar to a painting already in the NPG. Both pictures are attributed to the significant Elizabethan and Jacobean artist, John de Critz the elder.

I supervised the art handlers taking down, wrapping and carrying the painting to the lorry.  I also checked it was secure and properly supported.

Thomas Sackville is carefully wrapped by the art handlers. It is a panel painting made of 3 oak panels joined with strips of Hessian on the back.

Extra padding was required for the name plate that protrudes from the bottom of the picture frame.

Recent research and tracings taken of both the paintings at Knole and the NPG has revealed that they correspond very closely. The exhibition at the NPG, entitled “Double Take” will explore the nature of versions and copies of 16th century portraits by pairing five key portraits from the Galleries collections with other surviving versions.*

In the lorry and ready to go. The painting was soft wrapped in layers of acid free tissue paper and bubble wrap. Extra padding was put on the corners, and the it is wrapped in a blanket before being secured with webbing straps.


*You can find out more about the exhibition at the NPGs website


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