AIM Pilgrim Trust Remedial Conservation Grant – Fry Art Gallery


Conservation of Isabel Rawsthorne paintings

The Fry Art Gallery holds work made by artists who lived and worked in North West Essex, and who made a significant contribution to British art. Isabel Rawsthorne lived near Thaxted for her last forty years, and in the late 1980s donated four oil paintings to the Fry Art Gallery.

Isabel Rawsthorne (1912 –1992), also known at various times as Isabel Nicholas, Isabel Delmer, and Isabel Lambert, was a British painter, scenery designer and occasional artists’ model. During the Second World War she worked in black propaganda. She was part of and flourished in an artistic bohemian society that included Jacob Epstein, Alberto Giacometti and Francis Bacon.

The Fry has been fortunate recently to have received a number of works by Isabel Rawsthorne from the estate of Warwick Llewellyn Nicholas, Isabel’s brother. However, after many years in storage they were not in condition to be displayed.  Four of the images were on double-sided un-stretched canvas.

The conservation was undertaken by Radoslaw Chocha Paintings Conservation and included removing surface dirt, replacing missing stretcher keys, replacing corroded iron tacks with copper, and re-touching.  Because the works had been stored in a barn, fly and spider droppings as well as bird guano were taken off mechanically with a scalpel under magnification. The double-sided canvases were mounted in bespoke stretchers made by Bird & Davis. The paintings were moderately keyed out but the keys were not secured. These can be easily removed in case the reverse is displayed without obscuring the painted image around the corners.

The restored paintings will form the backbone of the upcoming exhibition, The Many Sides of Isabel Rawsthorne, which opens at The Fry in May 2022.  This will include loans from the Sainsbury Centre in Norwich, and the Royal Opera House to create the first major exhibition of her works since 2012.

Gordon Cummings, Chair, The Fry Art Gallery