Camborne Town CouncilBack to Grants for Conservation Projects
Tru Vue Conservation & Exhibition Grant Scheme
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Artworks: Two large oil canvas paintings titled: ‘St Ives Harbour’ and ‘Portrait of Captain Josiah Thomas’
William Cock (1866-1939), who changed his surname to ‘Cox’ around the 1910s, had a considerable reputation as a local Cornish artist. He was noted for his commissioned portrait work of the Holman family who were heavily involved in the Camborne mining industry.
Being Camborne born, the preservation of these paintings remain important for the protection of Camborne arts and heritage with these pieces reinforcing not only winder Cornish culture through the representation of St. Ives but specifically underlining Camborne mining history with Josiah Thomas’ prominent role amongst Camborne mining. As for example, he became Manager of Dolcolath mine from the 1860s to the 1890s and serving some time for Camborne School of Mines as Chairman for their governing body.
The fact William Cox specifically donated both works to the Camborne Library, intended for public display, for us to continue this legacy these works deserve full painting restoration to protect their cultural quality for the region of Camborne and its people.
What were the conservation and display challenges?
‘St Ives Harbour’
The frame suffered minor chips at the edges and corners with an extremely dirty front and a back that endured water stains. The painting was also fixed with rusty nails leaving it, aesthetically, something to be desired.
The painting itself had numerous scratches, surface dirt water drips, fly spots and paint splashes across the surface. The painting was also on the cusp cracking due to the heavy slacking which came with the painting’s age. This slacking caused signs of growing weaknesses with emerging appearances of cupping and stretcher-bar marks highlighted by the restorers. The painting also had previously undergone poor oil retouching which had left its appearance distorted in its de-saturation. Thus, the painting was in major need of restoration to refresh its original depiction.
‘Captain Josiah Thomas’
The frame suffered water damage along with broken plaster at the back. Additionally, there were numerous chips on the edges and corners of the frame. There was also no backboard to protect the canvas, raising concern about the painting’s longevity.
The painting itself suffered slack throughout with ripples in the upper corners due to these uneven tensions. Minor splits and tears were also found at the corners that needed repairing which would then allow the ‘slack’ issue to be resolved. Concerningly, traces of light mould were also found at the back of the canvas from water ingress from the building which needed to be addressed.
The visibility of the painting was also undermined with previous varnish used being too glossy, picking up excess dirt making the drapery a difficult read harming the quality of the work.
In sum, this project aimed to restore the aesthetic quality of both paintings through its proper maintenance to overcome the unaddressed faults, build of dirt and ensure the longevity of the paintings could be ensured with proper painting protection methods put in place that could extend the lives of these works.
How was the grant used to address these challenges? Who was involved in the project and what technical solution was applied?
The restoration project which the grant helped to fund was carried out by Cornish based conservator-restorer Sarah Cove ACR with assistance by Professor Alan Cummings for ‘St. Ives Harbour’ and Michelle Rheeston for both.
‘St. Ives Harbour’
- Ammonium hydroxide and tri-ammonium citrate. were used to remove surface dirt from the front while blemishes, fly-spots and intractable dirt had to be removed mechanically.
- The legibility of the painting was improved by removing vanish layers, but this step was noted to of had particularly difficultly.
- Moisture treatment is used to overcome distortions. Losses and repairs done with Flugger Acrylic Putty while BEVA 371 adhesive gel was used to line the painting.
- Linden RK20 was applied to protect and saturate the paint. Abrasion recovery was carried out using PVA Mowilith 20 and dry pigments.
- Glazing was carried out using gloss RK20 and dry pigments.
- A final spray varnish was applied using RK20 + 2-3% Cosmolloid 80H microcrystalline wax for a semi-gloss finish.
- The new frame was commissioned from Sully’s Framers of Penryn and fitted with Optium Acrylic glazing and black wooden spacers. A new protective backing was also installed for the painting.
‘Portrait of Captain Josiah Thomas’
- Noted that it took 15 hours of manual tweezer work to remove surface dirt for the painting’s primary treatment.
- The back of the canvas and stretcher were dry wiped with a 5% hydrogen peroxide in water solution to remove mould spores.
- The edges and corners were repaired with patches of nylon gossamer, polyester sailcloth and Beva 371 film, heat-sealed into place.
- Gloss RK20 conservation varnish used to retouch the specks and blemishes. 3-5% Cosmolloid 80H microcrystalline wax was also applied to the surface.
- The losses and corner mitres were consolidated with PVA wood glue and Lascaux Medium for Consolidation and filled with Flugger Acrylic Putty. They were retouched with acrylic paints.
- The frame was fitted with Truvue Optium acrylic glazing, sealed with aluminium tape.
What are the outcomes of the project?
The project has restored, preserved, and ensured the longevity of these two unique paintings that offer immense cultural importance to Camborne and its people. The restoration will ensure the original legacy which William Cox outlined when he donated the paintings to the Camborne Library for public display, can be fulfilled by restoring these paintings to their former glory for the public to appreciate at their best quality.
The paintings underpin a large sentiment of Camborne heritage with inherent links of Captain Josiah Thomas to Camborne’s proud mining history. Meanwhile, the ‘St Ives Harbour’ painting underpins the wider Cornish identity which should help educate the public and entrench local identity. As William Cox was both born and served much of his talent to the Camborne region, the preservations of these paintings vitally mark Camborne’s making and historic talent, which the public surely deserves to see and will now we able to within the library as intended.
An additional effect of this funding also helped stimulate the Cornish economic in a small sense by giving business opportunity for both Sarah Cove and her restoration team in Falmouth and the Sully’s Framers based in Penryn, bolstering a sense of Cornish collaboration for this project restoring Camborne heritage.
In sum, this funding has ensured that this protection of identity, history, culture, and heritage for Camborne will endure with these paintings now at their best quality and most protected allowing the continued enjoyment of these important artistic works.