Conserving our Lord Byron print

8th Jul 2020

It's a big job caring for the collections at Abbotsford! Our collections team recently sent a 1824 print of Lord Byron to the talented Helen Creasy at the Scottish Conservation Studio for conservation work. Collections and Interpretation Manager Kirsty explains why and we show the process of saving the print in pictures.

This image of Byron was published on November 20th 1824 in Soho Square at the behest of the painter Thomas Phillips RA, the original artist of this composition (and the more famous image of Byron in Albanian dress), painted a decade earlier. The venture was most likely a commemorative act following the poet's death in April of that year. Scott was deeply affected by Byron's passing and was sent one of very few mourning rings produced for his close circle of friends in September of that year. Owning a portrait of Byron in his Romantic prime was another way of honouring that friendship.

It is part of our ongoing responsibilities to keep our collections safe and give them a regular 'health check.' The plywood backing of this print had been badly damaged by historic woodworm. Although long dead, the larvae had actually burrowed through the paper of the print itself, leaving it peppered with unsightly holes. It was definitely time for Lord Byron to go to the Conservation Studio!

Damage visible on the back of the print before conservation.

First the print had to be lifted from its card backing with steam and baths of warm water and then washed in alkalised water to minimise decolourisation.

Hand filling the worm holes.

Then each of the fifty or so worm holes were hand-filled with a toned paper pulp before the print was lined with Japanese paper and then pressed.

Frame label removed from frame.

The frame label from the back of the frame was removed and lined onto Japanese paper.


Beginning watercolour retouching.

Watercolour paints were used to meticulously retouch old lines of damage and to disguise the white pulp infills of the worm holes. This helped the new sections of infill blend in to the original mezzotint.

The front and back of the print after treatment.

We are delighted with the results of the conservation now that the print is back home at Abbotsford. What do you think?

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