Welcome to the V&A Conservation Journal No. 63! This issue begins with the Editorial, which gives some clues about the articles that will be posted over the coming weeks.
Head of Conservation & Technical Services
December 2015 saw the opening of the stunning Europe 1600-1815 Galleries, a suite of seven galleries which track the political, social and economic development of Europe through the display of period rooms, decorative arts and costume. The Conservation Department was involved with the preparation of these galleries for over five years and this edition of the V&A Conservation Journal highlights some of the more remarkable stories and discoveries that were made along the journey. Stevens stresses the significance of understanding materials and techniques in the treatment of the Russian ‘Tula’ fireplace, while Jordan and Melchar focus on the delicacy and high levels of workmanship that went into the creation of an early seventeenth-century virginal. The detailed examination of successive restoration campaigns, together with a conservator’s ability to interpret deteriorated decorative surfaces, make an invaluable contribution to the reinterpretation of our collections and their importance within the gallery narrative. The rediscovery of extensive original gilding on the Tilliard Daybed and the outstanding investigative cleaning and sympathetic restoration of losses not only transformed this object aesthetically, but also led to a reassessment of its art historical value. The daybed is now recognised as a rare surviving example of this early decorative French gilding technique. The Europe Galleries gave an opportunity to work more collaboratively with the Technical Services team: James highlights how his skills and expertise assisted with the development of a non-invasive method of reupholstering an early, and very delicate, eighteenth-century armchair. Gallery design presented a number of challenges for the display of costume and Lee reveals how consideration of the historic silhouettes and sense of motion were vital considerations when mounting eighteenth-century men’s dress.
The Europe 1600-1815 Galleries complete the second phase of the ‘FuturePlan’ developments of the permanent galleries at the South Kensington site. The V&A Strategic Plan 2015-2020 will include the development of four new museum sites (Dundee, Shenzen China, a new storage facility and a new V&A Museum on the former Olympic site in Stratford); the creation of a V&A Research Centre (VARI) and a V&A Learning Academy (VALA).
Work has already begun to make conservation an integral part of all aspects of this Plan. The new V&A site at Stratford is developing neighbourhoods where learning and creativity can integrate with the day-to-day work of the Museum; the article by Healey-Dilkes and Oteros-Pailos shows how conservation can provide a unique perspective of our collections to artists. Battisson shows how contemporary exhibitions can challenge traditional perceptions of display. Rutherston demonstrates how physical access to the collection is increasing whilst Haldane’s article on the Talismanic shirt is underpinned by blogs which give more immediate access to the conservation process. The launch of Free Public Tours of the Conservation Studios in March 2016 is bringing visitors into the workspace. Research (Fricker and Kearney) continues to be a core part of our work, but one which is likely to blossom into greater collaborations in the future, drawing together expertise from within and beyond the traditional sectors to explore and reinterpret our collections.
Europe 1600-1815 has been made possible thanks to the generosity of the Heritage Lottery Fund, the children of Her Highness Sheikha Amna Bint Mohammed Al Thani, the Friends of the V&A, The Selz Foundation, Würth Group, The Wolfson Foundation, Dr Genevieve Davies, William Loschert, the J Paul Getty Jr Charitable Trust and many other private individuals and trusts.