A collection of beautiful but seemingly unloved maritime paintings has been restored in Hull for the re-opening of the Hull Maritime Museum in 2023.
Like some paintings in local museum collections, a number of the artworks in the Hull Maritime Museum collection were in need of some TLC, with everything from centuries-old tobacco smoke and soot to over-zealous varnishing and great tears in the canvas hampering the public’s enjoyment of some fine maritime works of art.
Last year, 35 paintings in the collection, which charts Hull’s long maritime history, were identified as in need of serious help and sent to conservators Critchlow and Kukkonen Ltd in Sheffield, who specialise in the conservation and restoration of easel paintings from all periods.
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Work to treat the paintings was carried out early in 2019, and the final 23 have now returned to the Maritime Museum where they have been placed carefully into storage until the museum reopens in late 2023.
The Maritime Museum, which occupies the beautiful Victorian former headquarters building of the Hull Dock Company, has been earmarked for a major £11m makeover as the centrepiece of Hull’s Maritime City Project, which is refurbishing and preserving four of the city’s historic maritime sites together with two historic ships.
The paintings were selected from an impressive collection of 400 prints and canvases, and their treatments included the removal of the old varnish, surface cleaning, retouching, consolidation of flaking paint and repairs to several canvas tears.
Among the revitalised artworks is a large oil painting (by an unknown artist) of the Wilson Line ship, SS Consuelo.
As well as the transatlantic steamship route between England and New York, the Wilson Line (founded in 1831) began trading by importing iron ore from Sweden and by 1903 was the biggest privately-owned shipping company in the world. The company was also active in the movement of migrants from Scandinavia to Hull, from where they made their way via Liverpool or Southampton to new lives in the US, Canada and Australia.
The SS Consuelo was however sold in 1908 to the Cairn Line of Steamships in Newcastle and, as the renamed Cairnrona, became a footnote in cinematic history as the ship that first carried Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel on board to the USA in 1910, as part of Fred Karno’s then-famous music hall troupe.
For years the painting hung in the Wilson Line offices in Hull, but over the years it had deteriorated and was in very poor condition, with significant damage in the lower left corner which meant it was not displayed at the museum. Now, thanks to the transformation, it will be given pride of place in the new exhibitions planned for the refurbished Museum.
The treatment included the removal of surface dirt, including stains from soot and tobacco smoke; the removal of yellowed varnish; the repair of eight different tears and holes; moisture treatment; filling and retouching; varnishing; and the application of a protective facing, as well as replacing the frame with a newly conserved frame with backboard.
Other paintings that have benefited include an extremely dark and varnished Boxer Fleet, by A. J. Stewart (active c.1860–1889) and a yellowed Citadel and Entrance to the Old Harbour, Hull by one of the city’s most prominent maritime artists, John Ward (1798–1849), who is now regarded as one the city’s best ship painters of the first half of the 19th century.
A painting called The Dock Master’s Wife, by an unknown artist, was also repaired, with the conservation team tackling a huge tear before cleaning it to remove yellow varnish and reveal its true colours.
The Maritime Museum’s painting collection, which can be explored on the Art UK website, contains a wealth of artworks by outstanding local marine artists including Ward and Stewart, as well as Henry Redmore (1820 – 1887) who is also considered to be one of the foremost maritime artists of the Hull School.
Depicting shipping scenes in the Humber estuary and Yorkshire coast, many of the paintings in the collection chart the transition from sail to steam, with some exploring Hull’s role in the whaling industry in the early nineteenth century.
Alongside the paintings, the museum collection includes an extensive holding of whaling artefacts including whale skeletons, tools and weapons, personal items, journals and logbooks and a massive collection of whalebone scrimshaw (folk art) made by whalers.
The painting conservation work has been undertaken thanks to the Hull: Yorkshire Maritime City project funded by Hull City Council and the National Heritage Lottery Fund.
The Maritime City project aims to celebrate and preserve Hull’s unique maritime heritage placing it at the forefront of Hull’s offer to residents and visitors alike. Find out more at maritimehull.co.uk
Hull Maritime Museum
Hull, East Yorkshire
Founded in 1912 the Maritime Museum moved to the old Dock Offices in 1974. The Dock Offices were formerly the home of the Hull Dock Company until 1893, when North Eastern Railway took over the running of the docks. The shareholders' Court Room, now used for temporary exhibitions, is a…