Exciting things don't happen every day in the Memorial's Painted Surfaces Lab. For us, work on the Lambert exhibition mostly involves framing and glazing issues. The frames were originally covered in bronze leaf, but sometime later, probably in the 1960s, many of them were spray painted with nitro-cellulose based gold paint. Some of the mouldings on the frames have also been damaged or are missing. Our job is to remove the gold paint, rebuild any lost or damaged parts, retouch where necessary and glaze the painting ready for exhibition. A certain sameness can therefore creep into the work.
Every so often, however, a painting will come along that gives us a new challenge. Achi Baba from Tommy's Trench, Helles was one of those paintings. There was great excitement when we removed it from its frame and discovered another sketch on the back. Instead of covering it up again, it was decided to frame the back of the work in such a way as to ensure that the sketch on the back remained visible. The challenge was to make sure it looked the same as the other frames for the exhibition.
Lambert frame before and during treatment
In accordance with our usual practice, the gold paint on the frame was removed. The moulding had been repaired previously but some pieces had not been replaced and others had been put in the wrong place. The latter were removed and new mouldings were made using impressions taken from undamaged frames. The repairs and damaged areas of bronze leaf were then inpainted with bronze pigments. As we did not want to change the depth of the frame our options were limited. It was decided to glaze the verso with thin perspex and to use a window mount to keep it away from the painting. Brackets were hand made from brass and the colour of the build up was continued onto the back of the frame.
Although the sketch on the back is upside down, it is still visible for future reference. At the same time the frame will sit flush against the wall for exhibition and will appear just like the other frames around it.
Sharon Alcock, Conservator, Painted Surfaces
For some more detail on the sketch that was uncovered see the post The rail journey from Gallipoli to Cairo