CONSERVATION OF A UNIQUE FIRST WORLD WAR PAINTING
Posted on 19 January 2015
Henry Lintott RSA (1877-1965)
oil on canvas, 1916, H 110.7cm x W 127cm
The large and symbolic Avatar; a highly unique war-time work painted by the influential Edinburgh artist, Henry Lintott RSA was conserved in 2014 with the support of the Association of Independent Museum’s Conservation Grant. It is a rare symbolist work by the artist in memorial to those losing their lives in the First World War.
Intriguingly, another version was later painted by Lintott for Joseph Bibby of Bibby’s Annual (1906-1922). This fact came to light in the letters of Wilfred Owen, the famous war poet, who mingled in Edinburgh’s artistic circles during his convalescence at Craiglockhart War Hospital in 1917. Although not drafted for service during the First World War, Lintott taught at Edinburgh College of Art and would have witnessed many of his students leaving for the front; some never to return. In depositing this piece as his Diploma Work, Lintott created a poignant First World War memorial in the collections of the Academy.
Before conservation the painting was in a very fragile condition. Avatar’s last exhibition outing had been in 2002 and subsequent deterioration led to it being side-lined in storage. To allow its selection as a key work for the National Galleries of Scotland’s ‘Remembering the Great War’ exhibition in 2014, conservation became paramount. In terms of its condition, most worrying was the general instability of the paint layers and numerous raised cracks that had developed, leading to two notable areas of paint loss. To re-stabilise the work for exhibition, conservation was carried out by Sally Cheyne and Owen Davison of The Conservation Studio, Edinburgh. One area of particular interest was the chalky appearance of the paint, leading to questions about whether the medium was oil, or perhaps egg tempera. To this end, cross-section samples were sent for structure and medium analysis and it was revealed that the paint was oil, but the artist had used a form of proteinaceous binder, such as glue or egg, to achieve the chalky finish. Of further note was the complex build-up of layers in parts of the painting. In one area, no less than nine separate layers of paint had been applied – testament to the painstaking and complex processes Lintott’s technique was known for.
The RSA has a restricted annual budget for conservation and treatment of this work would have been impossible without the support of the AIM Conservation Grant. The revival of this key work brings back to life one of early twentieth century’s most intriguing Scottish symbolist paintings. It can be seen in ‘Remembering the Great War’ at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, until 5th July 2015.