Help clean this Rubens?
September 29 2015
Picture: National Gallery
The National Gallery in London has launched a new online fundraising campaign (after the success of their recent first effort) to raise money to clean the above painting by Rubens, The Birth of Venus. The Gallery seeks £34,500, because:
Preliminary cleaning tests undertaken by National Gallery conservator Paul Ackroyd have revealed the shimmering white and grey tones of the original sketch, which would have vividly evoked the lustre of polished silver. By removing the top layer of discoloured varnish, Rubens’s modelling and detailing will be revealed.
£34,500 seems an awful lot of money just to remove a layer of old varnish. If my conservator quoted that price to me for such a straightforward job, I'd tell him where to go.
But still, it's a good cause, and I guess they like to take their time at the Gallery. The picture itself seems to be in excellent condition. More here.
Update - a reader writes:
[...] I guess [the appeal is] part of a new initiative to raise funds for smaller projects, following on from that for the frame for a Titian earlier.
Problem for me is that it’s for the wrong project.
It’s a primary function of the Gallery to look after their (i.e. our) paintings and they have established an extensive conservation studio to do this so, in effect, this appeal is reimbursing them for something they should be doing already. Indeed, and as the published Minutes for the Board Meeting in May note, the Gallery started the process last May. By this appeal are they indicating that it won’t go ahead if the money’s not raised?
And, as you rightly point out, It’s a lot of money. As the work looks fairly straightforward, it would be interesting to find out what their estimated hourly rate they are using to come up with the figure. And they do tend to take their time over things – Rembrandt’s Rihel portrait was in the studio for three and a half years. [...]
Why don’t they appeal for additions to the collection? Edinburgh have greatly enriched their collection over recent years by purchasing significant, but relatively inexpensive, acquisitions – this sort of project would be the ideal subject for fundraising through JustGiving.
I think I agree. Relatively low-level online appeals like this, which I am entirely in favour of, are probably best used to acquire things, be they frames or pictures. There's an element of 'crying wolf' here; if the National Gallery is seen to be using such appeals to simply substitute things they should already be doing, and indeed in this case have already started doing, then people may begin to tune out, and ignore appeals they think are just yet another way of boosting the coffers. I really don't think the high price tag in this case helps either. And, while I'm at it (National Gallery development team please note) these appeals really need to be better presented - video, better photos, that sort of thing.