The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife - conservation challenges

The conservation of The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife posed a challenge due to its very large scale – even its movement from the wall in the Gallery where it was hanging to the conservation studio where the work on it would take place was a complicated logistical operation. Once the painting was taken down it had to be installed in the conservation studio where the only access was through a series of low doors and up a long flight of narrow stairs.  A variety of solutions were employed to ensure the painting's safe transit to the studio. Factors such as the limited turning capability of the painting once it was rolled complicated the process and had to be taken into account during the planning stages. The successful transportation to the conservation studio, and back again once the work was complete, was due in no small part to the large number of staff who were called upon to assist, as well as to the specialist firm of transport engineers who were employed for the task.

 

© National Gallery of Ireland
Members of the Gallery's Conservation team rolling the painting in the Shaw Room. © National Gallery of IrelandCredit

De-installation: In 2010 following the decision to restore the Gallery’s Dargan wing it became apparent that it would be necessary to take down The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife whilst the renovation works were completed.  De-installing the painting presented a good opportunity to address the painting’s structural issues which had been a concern for a number of years. Working in close collaboration with the Gallery’s art handling team, a plan was devised.

 

Rolling: Preparation of the painting for rolling took many weeks; initially the fragile edges were reinforced with animal glue similar in composition to the glue Maclise used in his priming layer. The painting was dusted to remove superficial dirt and a light Japanese tissue was adhered to the surface of the paint-layer, ensuring the painting was protected for the upcoming move. A drum with a 1 meter wide circumference was designed and built for the safe rolling of the painting.

 

© National Gallery of Ireland
The rolled canvas being lifted to the conservation studio via the Gallery's Atrium. © National Gallery of IrelandCredit

Transit to the Conservation Studio: The painting was secured to the drum and the art handling team gently wheeled the painting through the narrow door ways of the Irish rooms to the Gallery Atrium where a team of expert engineers set up a crane to crank the giant drum up to the second floor conservation studio. The painting was secured in a hoist and successfully moved into the studio where the conservation team unrolled the painting on to a prepared platform to commence work on its reverse.

 

Re-tensioning and lifting: Once the delicate areas of canvas on the back of the painting were reinforced the next challenge was to tension the painting.  A specially engineered aluminium support frame was built to tension the canvas by means of a spring loaded system. With the structural work complete and the painting securely attached to the new aluminium stretcher the art handling team were able to lift  the painting upright so the next stage of varnish removal could begin.