AIM Pilgrim Trust Conservation Grant – Royal College of Music Museum

Royal College of Music Museum – AIM Pilgrim Trust conservation grant
Conservation of the portraits of King George V (Arthur Stockdale Cope, 1926) and the Duchess of York, Queen Mary (Leonard Campbell Taylor, 1928) 

The Royal College of Music (RCM), one of the world’s great conservatoires, provides music education and professional training at the highest international level. The RCM’s Museum (founded in 1892) tells the story of music history through unique treasures and exciting learning opportunities for students and the public. It holds the most extensive music-related collection of its kind in the UK.

The portraits of King George V and Duchess of York, Queen Mary were commissioned for the RCM and are displayed in the main entrance hall, two of the most prominent portraits in the RCM Museum’s collection.

The priority of this conservation work was to stabilise the frames while avoiding further losses, and to reduce the environmental impact on the paintings, as they are exhibited in a space subjected to light, temperature and relative humidity fluctuations.

The gilding and preparation layers of the frames were consolidated and cleaned. Loose decorative elements were reattached to the surface and where necessary, losses were filled and toned with compatible and reversible materials.

A new acrylic glazing was added; lighter than if the appropriate glass had been used.

The surface of the paintings, back of the canvas and stretchers were cleaned and minor losses and abrasion resulting from previous pressure caused by the frame were reintegrated. A backing of Alu-PV sheeting, a barrier against vapour and dust, was applied. This option was more appropriate than using a hard backing, to keep the weight low and creates greater environmental buffering.

The frames and the paintings are now much more legible and dignified. Ultimately, it is our goal, not only to conserve the RCM Museum works but also to continue promoting a conservation culture within the institution.

Long-term conservation plans may be the cornerstone for small museum collections at the service of institutions that do not have, by default, a museum culture. Aligned with the mission of the museum and of the RCM, the conservation plan for the paintings helped making prioritisation clearer and more effective. It bridges the institution and the collections by prioritising based on risk and importance for the institution.

We are most grateful to AIM and the Pilgrim Trust for the grant, as it enabled us to bring together the expertise and the necessary resources to conserve two of the most impactful paintings from the RCM Museum’s collection.

Susanna Caldeira, Royal College of Music Museum Conservator

Pictured: King George V portrait after conservation; Queen Mary portrait after conservation; Royal College of Music Museum portraits in situ