The curtains return to Mottisfont. The conservators carry out a thorough condition check following the freezing treatment, to get a better understanding of the conservation required. This involved holding the delicate fabric up to the light, to reveal all wear and tear.
Restoring the Whistler Room curtains at Mottisfont
The curtains in our celebrated Whistler Room, marked with artist Rex Whistler’s own brush strokes, are original features from the design scheme commissioned by Maud Russell.
They’re of great historical significance, as Whistler was painting the mock ermine lining when the Second World War broke out. High up on the wall, out of sight, the artist painted this message:
" I was painting this Ermine curtain when Britain declared war on the Nazi tyrants. Sunday September 3rd. R.W."
But the curtains need critical conservation work, as they’re deteriorating rapidly. They have been taken down for an intensive programme of repair and restoration, which will take up to five years to complete.
The velvet is too degraded to repair, and needs to be completely replaced; the curtains are also harbouring an active carpet beetle infestation, which can only be treated by freezing.
What have we done so far?
Each 4m x 2.5m curtain has been taken apart for the mock ermine lining to be conserved and, later, hand-stitched to new velvet. During this process, our textile conservators were able to document the curtains’ condition and construction, which has never been done before.
The initial removal and unstitching of the curtains began on 22 May and took about two weeks. The work was carried out in public view, giving visitors a unique chance to see the conservators in action.
The curtain linings are currently undergoing freezing treatment off site, to eradicate the pest infection. Meanwhile, the room has been thoroughly cleaned and monitored, to ensure it’s free of insect pests.
As the room looks quite different with the curtains removed, we're using the opportunity to tell more of the room’s story. Rex Whistler’s original design sketches are being shown in here for the first time, placed beside the final artwork on the walls.
What happens next?
First, one pair of curtains will be sent to a textile studio for conservation work while the others remain at Mottisfont. This first pair will help inform the costs and timescales for the rest of the work.
Once these have returned, the curtains will then be sent, in two phases, to the original studio and a second studio to speed up the process. As each pair returns, the curtains will not immediately be rehung, but will be placed inside polycarbonate boxes for public view.
The work is estimated to take four – five years, with the hope that the curtains will be reinstated simultaneously in the spring of 2022.
The restoration is a vast undertaking, which can only be carried out by a handful of highly-specialised textile conservators. The work is estimated to cost around £175,000, although this will not be finalised until the curtains have been taken down and fully documented.
How you can help
We need help to raise the funds for this vital, specialist work. If you'd like to donate, simply buy a raffle ticket on your next visit, purchase something from the second-hand bookshop - or just pop some of your spare change into one of our donation boxes.
27 Jun 18
We carry out a thorough condition check following freezing treatment
08 Jun 18
The curtains are sent away for freezing treatment
Now unstitched, the curtain linings are sent away to be frozen, to eradicate the pest infestation. The room itself is thoroughly cleaned and monitored, to ensure it’s free of insect pests.
22 May 18
The curtains are taken down for initial work on site
In preparation for the work ahead, the curtains are taken down one by one, using a scaffold. Each curtain is then laid out on the floor, enabling our specialist textile conservators to document their condition. This work is carried out in public view and takes about two weeks.