Restoring the Whistler Room curtains at Mottisfont

Project

The curtains in our celebrated Whistler Room 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."
- Rex Whistler

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 were also harbouring an active carpet beetle infestation, which could only be treated by freezing.

What have we done so far?

Each 4m x 2.5m curtain was been taken apart for the mock ermine lining to be conserved and, later, will be 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.

With the curtains removed, we can more easily document their condition
A close-up look at the fabric of the Whistler curtains at Mottisfont, Hampshire
With the curtains removed, we can more easily document their condition

The initial removal and unstitching of the curtains began in May 2018 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 removal of each curtain had to be carried out with great care to avoid damage to the painted pelmets
A pair of conservators stand on a scaffold to remove one of the curtains from the Whistler Room at Mottisfont, Hampshire
The removal of each curtain had to be carried out with great care to avoid damage to the painted pelmets

The curtain linings went through a freezing treatment off site, to eradicate the pest infection. Meanwhile, the room was thoroughly cleaned and monitored, to ensure it was 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?

The curtains are back in the Whistler Room at the moment, placed inside polycarbonate boxes for public view. They'll be sent to a textile studio for conservation work. 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 take four – five years in total, with the hope that the curtains will be reinstated simultaneously in the spring of 2022.

Latest updates

01 Mar 19

A section of the lining is taken away for wet cleaning tests

A section of the mock ermine lining has been taken away for wet cleaning tests at De Wit in Belgium.

01 Dec 18

The curtains go on display in storage

Following their removal and initial checks, the curtains are returned to the Whistler Room, displayed in storage boxes, before the full restoration process begins.

27 Jun 18

We carry out a thorough condition check following freezing treatment

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.