Painting conservation at Beningbrough Hall

A team of conservators from the National Portrait Gallery will be undertaking remedial work on the Kit-cat club paintings displayed in the dining room. Come along and see what they're doing and discuss their work.

Conservator working at a table with artwork and frames

Tuesday 28 - Thursday 30 March 2017 

12 noon - 4.30pm

Drop in as the team de-install and un-frame the works to allow full access to the paintings and frames. The portraits will be carefully documented with diagrams and photographs so that any future changes can be monitored.

A little about the Kit-cat club collection

The set of 43 Kit-cat club portraits were gifted in their entirity to the National Portrait Gallery by the National Art Collections Fund (now Art Fund) in 1945 to mark the end of the Second World War. 19 of them have been on display at Beningbrough Hall since 1979. The portraits were painted by Sir Godfrey Kneller over the period 1697 – 1721. Each portrait was given by members of the club to Jacob Tonson, the Secretary. The paintings remained as a group within his family until their acquisition by the National Portrait Gallery in 1945. The National Portrait Gallery’s ongoing partnership with Beningbrough Hall enables the public to see these paintings displayed in a setting contemporary with their creation and in a setting outside of London. Their location in the dining room is appropriate for a club that was named after the mutton pies on which they feasted. 

Painting conservation

These paintings all entered the gallery’s collection at the same time, but they have varied conservation histories - 3 of them have not been treated since 1945. The paintings are displayed unglazed, as they would have been originally. For this reason the National Portrait Gallery carefully monitors the paintings and their environment and undertakes regular condition checks. Some of the paintings have developed age cracks which are raised and vulnerable in places. These are being consolidated with conservation grade adhesive and put back into plane using a small, temperature-controlled spatula. The backs of the paintings are also being dusted with attention to any debris that may have got trapped behind the stretcher bars which can cause bulges and compromise the paint layer. 

It's a delicate job to consolidate the gilding on the frame
Woman working on a gilded frame
It's a delicate job to consolidate the gilding on the frame

Frame conservation

The paintings are displayed in architectural Kent style frames, commissioned by Jacob Tonson Junior in 1733. The decorative gilt surfaces of the carved frames are fragile and vulnerable to age deterioration. The intricately carved surfaces collect dust which can become embedded over time. Any areas of unstable gilding will be consolidated with protein glue and small losses retouched with watercolour. Soft brushes will be used to lightly remove loose surface dust from the delicate and moisture sensitive gilt surfaces. The frames are always handled carefully with clean nitrile gloves to prevent moisture or skin oils transferring to the gilding.

Chat to a member of the team whilst enjoying this rare chance to see such specialist conservation work in action.