Queen's House closure

Visitor notice: On Thursday 14 December The Queen's House will be closed to the public. The house will re-open on Friday 15 December . Find out more about the Armada Portrait

Mark Seale has been busy preparing this mid-18th century frame for its upcoming display in the Queen’s House. 

Vice-Admiral John Byng at the Queen's House Greenwich
Frame before treatment

Vice-Admiral John Byng

John Byng strikes a proud and somewhat stately pose in this painting by Thomas Hudson from 1749. However less than ten years later, Byng’s fortunes had been radically reversed.
 
His downfall began when he was chosen to command a fleet to attack the French off the coast of Minorca early in the Seven Years War. After an indecisive engagement with the French fleet, he judged his own ships to require repair and sailed to Gibraltar. This caution cost him dearly. Upon his return to England, he was charged with ‘failing to do his upmost’, court-martialled and sentenced to death by firing squad. 
 
The Execution of Admiral Byng, 14 March 1757
The Execution of Admiral Byng, 14 March 1757
 
On 14 March 1757, Byng was blindfolded and ordered to sit on a cushion. His last act was to signal he was ready by dropping a white handkerchief, whereupon he was executed by a squad of marines. 

The frame 

It is rare to have a painting from the 18th century still housed within its original frame. This example is particularly special because of its grandiose and bespoke nature. 
 
Cartouche carved in a rococo style on the middle left side
Cartouche carved in a rococo style on the middle left side
 
The frame is a superb example of British Rococo craftmanship. This curvaceous style, which disseminating from France around 1720, is illustrated in the frame’s swept profile and grand, pierced cartouches. 
 
Frame conservation at the Queen's House Greenwich
Heraldic antelope crowning the frame
 
The most esoteric embellishment on the frame, and the reason we knowit to be original to the painting, is the creature crowning the top. This is a carved depiction of a heraldic antelope, which is the Byng family crest. The word ‘Tuebor’ beneath the antelope is the family’s motto, which means ‘I will defend’.
 
Though there was no documentation, it is clearly visible that the frame’s surface had been treated in the past. Under magnification at least two bronze paint schemes were visible, over the original gold. This bronze paint was probably applied to hide losses in the gilding. The application of bronze paint is no longer considered acceptable conservation practice as it discolours over time and is very hard to remove without damaging the original gold beneath. 
 
Guilding conservation at the National Maritime Museum
An area of gilding with bronze paint on top, on the left member’s centre cartouche (x200 magnification)

The treatment

The treatment involved consolidation and inpainting. The frame surface was deteriorated, with both the gilding and gesso under-layer flaking away from the wooden substrate beneath. If left untreated this would have resulted in losses to the golden surface.
 
Injection of Lascaux, conservation at the Queen's House Greenwich
Injection of Lascaux medium for consolidation to an area of flaking gesso on the antelope’s head
 
In order to stabilise these areas, I injected Lascaux medium for consolidation, which acts as a weak internal adhesive. I then eased any flakes back into their correct position with a bamboo spatula. 
 
Frame conservation work at the National Maritime Museum
Inpainting of areas of loss in the gilding
 
Any losses in the gilding revealed distracting and unsightly white gesso beneath. These white losses were inpainted with watercolours, to allow the decorative surface to appear more coherent and aesthetically pleasing. 
 
With the treatment completed, the frame is now stable and ready to be proudly hung in the Queen’s House.
 
To keep up with the Queen's House restoration project, follow us on Twitter