Colonel’s conservation

An 18th century painting has left the museum for conservation this week.

Sir Godfrey Kneller’s portrait of Thomas Erle who commanded the regiment between 1691 – 1712 usually takes pride of place on the top floor of the museum, alongside paintings of two other Colonels from the 17th and 18th centuries.

The heavy rains brought by storm Babet in mid-October found their way through a weakness in the flashing on the museum roof, causing water damage to the oil painting.

“Seeing water dripping down onto the artwork during the course of a building check during the storm raised the alarm,” explains Head of Collections, Zoe Utley. “We acted quickly to remove the artwork from the wall – not an easy task as the work is large and is only accessible via a ledge above the staircase.”

empty wall where water damaged painting had hung

Three portraits were removed from this wall during Storm Babet.


“Whilst the portraits of Charles Howard and Francis Luttrell were unaffected, the Erle portrait immediately showed signs of damage where water had been in contact with the canvas and rolled downwards. The paint had immediately discoloured and started to lift from the surface. Thankfully, the quick action by museum staff and external contractors ensured the damage is not as bad as it could have been.”

wrapped portrait in the museum store awaiting collection by conservator.

The portrait of Erle is wrapped and ready to be removed and conserved off-site.


The painting is now in the care of Harrogate based conservator, Francis Downing. He will treat the distorted areas of canvas and fill areas of paint loss. We’re also taking the opportunity to treat the painting to a full clean, removing old, yellowing varnish and surface dust. Finally, a new synthetic resin varnish will be applied to create a protective barrier for the future.

The museum roof has been fixed and Erle’s portrait will be returned to the wall to hang alongside his fellow Colonels in the spring.

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