One month in, I'm starting to make progress on Bertrand Fireplace! I've spent most of my time so far reversing the historic restorations on the tiles. In the past, restorers often covered over the original surfaces of ceramics in order to blend in their fills, or replacement pieces. The images below show how the overpaint extends nearly five centimeters over the original surface of the tiles, almost to the central figure. The original restorer even re-painted the circular "fish roe" designs on the top border--even though it is intact underneath the overpaint!
Images follow showing four of the tiles from Bertand Fireplace before and after I removed overpaint and overfill material. If you're having trouble distinguishing the overpaint, see the introductory post for a false color map of the overpaint.
Beyond treatment, a major part of my conservation work on Bertrand involves public outreach. Treating fireplace tiles in the house offers me the unique opportunity to engage with visitors as part of a tour of the collections. It's been very rewarding to share my work with members of the public who might not ever have heard of conservation!
How does one conserve a fireplace?
Introduction to the Project
Treating the tiles in Bertrand fireplace represents the final project of my fellowship researching the Delft tiles at Winterthur.
Bertrand fireplace is located on the third floor of Winterthur in the Bertrand room. The tiles were installed in Bertrand's fireplace sometime between 1929 and 1930. It contains 25 English delft tiles, manufactured between 1760-1775 in Liverpool or Bristol. British potters produced these tin-glazed "Chinoiserie" tiles with overglaze and underglaze enamels to satisfy the public's desire for hard paste porcelain from China. The tiles are not exactly what we would today describe as culturally sensitive. They depict exaggerated figures with flowing queues and turbans as imagined by British artists, who had almost certainly never been to Asia. In a future blogpost, I hope to research more about the impact of the British East India Company and the impact of the trade on China. For now, I will focus on the physical condition of the tiles and their treatment needs.
Condition of the Tiles
I identified Bertrand as one of the worst condition fireplaces during my 2016 survey. It was structurally compromised. The plaster holding the top row of tiles in place on a steel armature had come loose and moved freely if any pressure was exerted on it. Lauren Fair, Associate Objects Conservator/Affiliated Assistant Professor, and I stabilized the row of tiles with a 3:1 mixture of Paraloid B-72 to Paraloid B-48N (conservation-grade acrylic adhesives) bulked with glass bubbles (the so-called "Tullio Blend" after its use to reassemble Tullio Lombardo's Adam at the Metropolitan Museum of Art). We used syringes to inject the custom blend of adhesive into any available space above, below, and between the tiles and clamping the row as the adhesive set.
The next phase of conservation involved addressing the failing historic restorations on many of the tiles in the fireplace. Some had been heavily overpainted in the past, likely using a spray gun to blend the restorations in with the original surface of the tile. However, many years later, the paints the restorer had used had aged poorly and began to yellow. The following photographs show the extent of the historic overpaint and degrading restorations before conservation treatment, highlighted in blue.
Conserving objects for Winterthur's upcoming exhibition, Dining by Design: Nature Displayed on the Dinner Table has been a fascinating experience. Throughout the process, strange phrases have become part of the Objects Lab's parlance: "Did you inpaint the chips on that fish drainer?" or "Let's x-ray this soup tureen!" and most notably, "I made a new webbed foot for a giant soup tureen in the shape of a goose today!"
Yes, a giant soup tureen in the shape of a goose. Because...why not?
Turns out creating soup tureens in the shape of animals was quite a "thing," especially during the 18th century Rococo period in Western Europe. Many of these whimsical creations form part of the largest collection of soup tureens in the world, the Campbell Collection of Soup Tureens, on permanent display in the Dorrance Gallery at Winterthur. A lot of the tureens that are not usually on display are featured in Dining by Design--especially in a pyramid of soup tureens!
The hard-paste porcelain goose tureen at the top of this page was manufactured in Jingdezhen, China between 1760 and 1780. It is actually not part of the Campbell Collection and was purchased by Henry Francis du Pont in the 1960s. While the tureen is structurally stable, its proper right foot has a very large piece missing. Because of the way it will be displayed, this loss would be especially visible.
In order to replicate a new foot in a reversible and ethical way (able to be distinguished by connoisseurs and conservators), I created a detachable plaster fill. I first sculpted a new foot out of Plasticine, then took a mold of that (pink material).I think created a barrier between the porcelain and the plaster of Paris using aluminum foil. I poured the plaster into the mold, allowed it to set and removed it so I could polish it away from the object and avoid the potential to scratch the glaze.
I then sanded the fill and put it in place as part. It was time to inpaint it so it visually blended with the rest of the foot. The brush-stroky appearance of the orange was very hard to replicate. I ended up using the grayish-green of the porcelain body with an orange color and blending it directly on the fill to replicate the surface texture. The reverse of the foot is painted titan buff to allow it to be very easily distinguished.
The goose is much happier now and ready to take its place with other water fowl in Dining by Design. Be sure to check it out soon!
Dining by Design: Nature Displayed on the Dinner Table opens April 1, 2018 and runs through January 6, 2019 at Winterthur Museum, Library & Garden.
Building upon the early 20th century trend of "period rooms" in museums, miniature rooms came to represent a more cost- (and space-) effective learning tool. Some of the most famous examples of period rooms are housed in the Art Institute of Chicago in the Thorne Collection of Miniature Rooms.
Narcissa (Niblack) Thorne (1882-1966) was a Chicago artist and prominent socialite. From 1932-1940 in her Chicago studio, Thorne created approximately 100 painstaking miniature rooms. Her usual scale was 1 foot = 1 inch (a ratio of 12:1). Her painstakingly crafted rooms gained such a following, that Edward VIII commissioned a model of Windsor Castle's library in celebration of his coronation.
Much like full-scale period rooms in museums, Thorne created representational architectural models of moments in history based on paintings, blueprints, and other primary sources.
For example, the above room is a composite of Parham Park, Sussex (1577), Wadham College, Oxford (1610), Knole Castle, Kent (1456 onwards) and other Tudor halls. Though their forms are accurate to the reign of Henry VIII, the suits of armor flanking the fireplace would not have been displayed in this manner. However, this miniature room, though tiny, conveys the grandeur of Tudor great halls to Americans visiting the Art Institute of Chicago.
Miniature Tile Fireplaces
At least two of Thorne's rooms include tiny delft tile fireplaces. Thorne's "Massachusetts Dining Room, 1720," was inspired by the Turner-Ingersall House, built in 1668 in Salem, Massachusetts. The house also served as inspiration for Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic The House of Seven Gables. The tiny, 0.5 square inch tiles that line the fireplace appear to be modeled after early blue and white Dutch delft tiles. Reportedly, the ceramics in this room are miniature porcelain replicas made in China. However, it is unclear whether the tiles are ceramic or made from painted plaster.
Similarly, Thorne's Colonial Bedroom, 1740-1750 includes a fireplace with tiny blue and white imitation delft tiles (below). This room along with 15 other Thorne miniature rooms forms part of the Phoenix Art Gallery's collection.
Kupjack and Winterthur
Artist Eugene Kupjack worked for Thorne for three years in her studio before venturing out on his own. Because of his prodigious skill, he was called upon to artificially age miniature objects to make them appear more true-to-life.
Kupjack and his sons Henry and Jay create each piece in their miniature rooms using inventive materials. Glass and cut crystal are made from lucite turned on a lathe. Porcelain is made from thin wood, turned on a lathe to translucency. The wood is painted first with an oil-based paint, hand-decorated in watercolors, and sprayed with a gloss medium.
In the 1980s, Winterthur Museum commissioned four miniature models of iconic rooms in the house, including:
The glorious staircase in Montmorenci Stair Hall was copied from a free-hanging spiral staircase in Montmorenci, an 1822 North Carolina mansion.
Blackwell Parlor (c. 1764) includes the woodwork from Blackwell House, Pine Street, Philadelphia and examples of Philadelphia Chippendale furniture.
The Cecil Bedroom showcases paneling from a Cecil County, Maryland house from about 1730.
Finally, the Queen Anne Dining Room includes a tile fireplace! It includes paneling from a house in East Derry, New Hampshire, built in the 1750s. Kupjack even recreated the powdered manganese tiles in painstaking detail--complete with plaster mounting material!
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After my conference in Oxford and tourist-ing in London and Cambridge, it was time to research, you guessed it, tiles! I had meetings lined up at the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum, visited collections throughout London, and had some fun along the way.
The V&A (a.k.a. my favorite Museum)
The Victoria and Albert Museum (or the V&A) was built with the revenues from the Crystal Palace Exhibition in the 1850s. Beyond its status as the world's largest decorative arts museum, the V&A houses the largest collection of tiles in the world. It's also my favorite museum. One of the things I miss the most about London is being able to hop on the tube to South Kensington and wander around the V&A.
At the V&A, I met with Fi Jordan, Senior Ceramics Conservator, who has a lot of experience working with tiles. She told me about mounting projects undertaken by V&A conservators in the past few years. Then, she very kindly took me on a tour of the museum to view examples of vast array of tiles on display and different mounting systems. One of our first stops was the V&A's Cafe. Especially impressive is the Gamble Room, designed in the 1860s by Godfrey Sykes and James Gamble. The walls of the room are lined with lead-glazed earthenware tiles (below).
Our next stop was the Islamic Galleries. Many of the tiles in these rooms were remounted in the early-to-mid 2000s. One of my favorite displays was a fritware tile chimneypiece probably made in Istanbul in 1731. It was remounted, but an image of it before conservation treatment is available on the V&A's collection database (below). Conservation treatment made a drastic improvement!
Not all tiles are mounted on walls. The beautiful tin-glazed terracotta floor tiles below were once installed in the now-demolished Lombardini Chapel in the church of San Francesco Grande in Forli, Italy.
The Ceramics Galleries in the V&A feature a vast array of ceramics in "open storage." For example, Liverpool delft tiles (below) are stored in custom, upright racks.
One of my favorite tile panels was more modern--a tile panel c. 1900 depicting "Mary, Mary, quite contrary," a children's nursery rhyme. The panel was designed by Margaret E. Thompson.
The British Museum
The next day, I was off to the British Museum. It was very surreal to go back to a place where I worked for ten months after a whirlwind year back in the US. It somehow felt like I'd been away much longer.
I worked on my first tiles at the British Museum, so it felt like coming full circle.
Before heading into the lab, I met some of my favorite conservators for tea and coin cake (wonderfully artistic and tasty cakes in the shape of coins and various coin hoards made weekly by Pippa Pearce). She even remembered my favorite kind! I then met with ceramics conservators Miriam Orsini and Denise Ling to discuss their work on the Medieval tile project. The remounting project has been ongoing since the mid-2000s. When massive panels of Medieval tiles were reassessed during renovations of the Medieval galleries, a few of these large panels were found to have been mounted on Asbestolux, a board containing asbestos. Proper precautions were taken to ensure the safety of conservators and contract workers during the removal process. The tiles were then remounted on conservation-grade aluminum boards.
Other Tile Adventures
Tiles are everywhere in London: on the entrances to Georgian and Victorian townhouses, on the tube, and in pubs.
The Princess Louise (1891) was one of my grad school class's favorite haunts. The gorgeous Victorian pub is decorated floor-to-ceiling with glazed terracotta tiles. My classmate Vanessa Applebaum and I ended up there after a night of fish and chips :)
As well as conducting research and meeting with tile experts, I also was able to visit my professors and friends from UCL. I ended my trip to England away from the Big Smoke on a whirlwind kayaking day-trip around the Norfolk Broads with grad school classmate, Jan Cutajar. (This picture was taken before it started pouring and the trains all stopped working)...
A special thanks to Fi Jordan, Miriam Orsini, Denise Ling, Duygu Camurcuoglu, Pippa Pearce, Hayley Bullock, Rachel Berridge, Hazel Gardiner, Amy Walsh, Carrie Hagerman, Chris Hague, Sophie Rowe, Stephanie Vasiliou, Dean Sully, Renata Peters, Caitlin O'Grady, Karl Kaiser, Vanessa Applebaum, Jan Cutajar, Letty Steer, Emily Williams and everyone else for taking time out of your busy schedules to meet with me!! Thanks are also due to my wonderful colleagues at Winterthur for supporting my trip to England, especially Lauren Fair and Joy Gardiner.
Thanks for checking back! Tune in soon for an exploration of tiles in the miniature and the rooms constructed by Eugene J. and Henry Kupjack. In the meantime, be sure to follow #WeirdTileoftheDay and #WeirdTileWednesday on Twitter and Instagram! If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for topics, post them below!
I lived in London for three years during my graduate studies in conservation, but I hadn't been back since I left last August. When the opportunity arose to present a poster on my fellowship research at a conference in Oxford, I jumped at the chance! While I was in the UK, I also conducted research on tiles at some of my favorite museums and visited old friends.
ICON Ceramics and Glass Conference
The 2017 ICON (Institute of Conservation) Ceramics and Glass Conference was held at Magdalen (pronounced "maudlin") College, Oxford from 7-8 September. The first day consisted of tours of the Ashmolean Museum, the oldest museum in the world. I hopped on the bus to Oxford from Heathrow Airport and hit the ground running.
Naturally, I managed to find tiles during a tour of the ceramics in the collection. The tiles on the left are Medieval floor tiles from Godstow Nunnery, where Henry II's mistress Rosamund Clifford was buried (my English history degree is finally paying off!). The Nunnery was founded in 1133. The tiles on the right are a little more familiar Delft tiles from the 17th and 18th centuries. They are held in place on the wall with Perspex (plexiglass) clips, which I thought was an intriguing mounting method.
While at the museum, I assuaged my jet lag with a wonderful cream tea (left). I didn't know how much I missed clotted cream until I ate these magnificent scones. Thursday night also was the night of the conference dinner at a very historic Pizza Express in a building that once housed a Tudor Inn, much like my favorite Pret a Manger, 26-27 Cornmarket Street, Oxford (right).
The conference talks began on Friday morning. There were many fascinating talks, from discoveries of historic fired on ceramic restorations to the conservation of incredibly thin unfired clay art objects. As part of the conference, I presented my poster about Vauxhall Fireplace.
Fittingly, I presented my poster near a Medieval fireplace.
One of the other poster presenters was a familiar face--my friend and fellow intern from my time at the British Museum, Amy Walsh. We took a walk around Oxford during our lunch break, enjoying the beautiful sights and sunshine!
After my whirlwind trip to Oxford, I took the train back to London. A few hours later I was at Kings Cross Station heading to Cambridge to visit my cousin and her husband (and their adorable cat).
Too soon I was on my way back to London. I decided to get all of my touristy things out of the way in one day. Enjoying not having to drive, I walked a 10 mile loop from Holborn, where I was staying, past St. Paul's Cathedral, the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, South Bank, the Tate Modern, and finally Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abbey then back to Holborn!
A month ago, I dragged myself out of my apartment at 3:30am to drive 5 hours to my favorite childhood vacation spot, Colonial Williamsburg. Thankfully, at 5:30am, D.C. traffic was a breeze! I was on my way to Virginia to meet with curators and conservators to discuss Williamsburg's two Delft tile fireplaces.
For those of you who aren't familiar, Colonial Williamsburg is a living history museum with historical reenactors. It interprets Virginia's capital city in the time around the Revolutionary War for modern audiences. Established in 1928, Colonial Williamsburg contains historic homes, restored storefronts, and reconstructed buildings from Williamsburg's colonial past.
the Colonial Revival and Colonial Williamsburg
Warren G. Harding won the election of 1920 on his campaign promise--a "return to normalcy," or a return to a romanticized golden age of America. This nationalist, isolationist rhetoric conjures a simplistic, rose-colored image of the past, indulging America's yearning to return to how things had been before they became entangled in foreign wars. As a more benign side-effect of the rise of nationalism, Americans also began to consider the importance of preserving significant historical landmarks. Previously, the 1876 Centennial Celebration in Philadelphia and the 1893 celebration of the 401st anniversary of Columbus's arrival, revived an interest in everything "patriotic" and "colonial." The so-called Colonial Revival lasted roughly from the 1880s to 1940.
The Colonial Revival renewed interest in Williamsburg's history. In the 1920s, residents of Williamsburg, like Reverend Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin, rector of Bruton Parish Church, as well as wealthy donors like the Rockefellers championed the preservation and revitalization of the colonial capital of Virginia, where many historic buildings had burned down, been demolished, or were in a state of disrepair and neglect. Besides its important colonial legacy, Williamsburg is home to the second oldest university in the United States, the College of William & Mary, founded in 1693 (and my secret dream school). The College boasts such illustrious alumni as Thomas Jefferson and two other presidents, as well as Jon Stewart. On its grounds rests the Wren Building, the oldest university building in America.
Colonial Williamsburg Rebuilt
In consultation with benefactors John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and his wife Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, W.A.R. Goodwin purchased the first building for the Williamsburg project in 1927--the George Wythe House. Other houses and buildings soon followed and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation was created the following year.
One of the goals of the foundation involved rebuilding the iconic Governor's Palace, residence of Virginian governors until the capitol moved to Richmond in 1780. The palace burned to the ground in 1781. In 1930, Egyptologist Prentice Duell was drafted to conduct an archaeological excavation of the site where the palace had once stood. Amongst many other finds, the archaeological dig unearthed eight complete Delft tiles and many, many fragments. The Palace was rebuilt on its original foundations in the 1930s using the information gathered from excavations, period drawings, and Thomas Jefferson's blueprints for a proposed renovation.
Delft Tile Fireplaces
My trip to Colonial Williamsburg was prompted by, you guessed it, Delft tiles! The eight complete tiles found by Duell's team were incorporated into two fireplace surrounds in the reconstructed Governor's Palace. As part of my research trip, I had the amazing opportunity to go behind the scenes of the Governor's Palace before it opened to the public in the morning (thus the early start). Six purple manganese Biblical tiles from the original palace were mixed with tiles probably acquired from antiques dealers to create a complete fireplace surround. These adorn the fireplace in the "little middle room," a staging area for Williamsburg employees.
The two cobalt blue Delft tiles found by archaeologists were placed in the fireplace of the northeast upstairs bedroom, also supplemented by purchased tiles.
After my trip into the Governor's Palace, archaeological conservator, Emily Williams, led me on a behind-the-scenes tour of Williamsburg's conservation labs. While conservators with specialties found at Winterthur like objects, furniture, textiles, paper, and paintings work there, Williamsburg also has conservators of upholstery, musical instruments, and archaeological objects! It was a fantastic opportunity to see all these specialties in one building and the amazing objects and works of art that they work on. After my tour, I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around Williamsburg, enjoying a ginger ale and ginger cake at the King's Arms and enjoying the local wildlife.
As discussed in last month's blog post, Winterthur and Williamsburg contain some of the most impressive examples of colonial American period rooms--especially of Delft tile fireplaces. The fireplace surrounds at both institutions were installed in the 1920s-1940s using unconventional and non-traditional mounting materials. Both of Williamsburg's fireplaces were installed using Portland Cement, similar to the Bertrand Room at Winterthur. Both Williamsburg and Winterthur help give modern viewers a sense of the colonial past. It was a wonderful experience to go behind-the-scenes at one of my most beloved childhood destinations. This kind of access to history is one of the perks of being a conservator! I'm so grateful to the conservators and curators who made this trip possible, especially Emily Williams, Amanda Keller, and Dani Jaworski.
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Meticulous record-keeper Henry Francis du Pont documented each and every object he purchased in his daybook. Unfortunately for me, he recorded most of his 515 Delft fireplace tiles in his daybook and correspondence with antiques dealers as simply, “tile.” This renders research into the tiles’ provenience, or history, particularly challenging.
Previously, I discussed how I traced the actor and actress tiles in the Simsbury Room to the now demolished Berber House in Simsbury, Connecticut. My luck seems to have dried up after that initial success.
Tiles without a Fireplace: Sea Monsters in New York Bedroom
Henry Francis du Pont purchased a set of 34 Dutch sea monster tiles from New York art dealer, Edwin Jackson in 1940 for the New York Bedroom fireplace.
During 1960s renovations, the New York Bedroom was deinstalled and replaced with the Newport and Gidley Rooms. The tiles were removed and placed in storage, where they remained until 2016 when I began to treat some of them. Though I was able to find the specific dealer who sold the tiles to du Pont, I cannot find any information on where Jackson acquired the tiles. This has been the case so far with many of the tiles at Winterthur--my trail ends with dealers in 1920s-1940s New York City, Connecticut, and Philadelphia.
Even though I probably will never be able to definitively find where Winterthur's tiles actually came from, I still wondered how the tiles may have come into the collection. My search led me to the fascinating early 20th century phenomena of buying and selling architectural elements and even entire rooms from historic homes to decorate lavish mansions and create period rooms in museums like Winterthur. While this practice occurred concurrently with demolition of estates in America, the available literature is heavily focused on England.
England: The Lost Houses
Though I lived in England for three years, I never really thought about exactly how so many grand houses came to be managed by the National Trust until I watched Downton Abbey, Series 6 (I re-watched it in the name of research!). In this episode, the Granthams go to the auction of Mallerton, a neighboring country estate. Disturbed to see his friends falling on hard times, Lord Grantham is confused and worried (as usual) about the prospect of cultural change (illustrated below).
Though I primarily love it because it is soap opera set in Edwardian England, Downton Abbey does sometimes present actual historical events along the way! Some historians estimate that one in six of grand estates like the fictional Mallerton have been demolished since 1900--almost 2,000 in total. Why?
Origins of the Country Estate
Since at least the middle ages, the upper class of England included the aristocracy (dukes, marquesses, earls, viscounts and barons) and the landed gentry (baronets, knights, esquires, and gentlemen). Since only men who owned property could vote, the wealthy controlled the government of the country, especially after the Glorious Revolution of 1688-1689 shifted power away from the monarchy towards Parliament. Many members of the peerage held seats in the House of Lords. Consequently, MPs usually owned a house in London, for while Parliament was in session, as well as one or more grand estates in the countryside. These country estates generated income by charging tenants to live and farm their land. For example, the Dukes of Devonshire, the Cavendish family, owned two lavish estates in Derbyshire: Hardwick Hall, a Tudor mansion with its own rhyme (Hardwick Hall, more window than wall) and Chatsworth (famously featured in the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice) as well as a mansion in Picadilly, London.
Historic estates of the Duke of Devonshire. Left: Devonshire House in Picadilly, London was demolished in 1924; Center: Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire is managed by the National Trust; Right: Chatsworth, where the present-day Duke of Devonshire, Peregrine Cavendish, lives
Depression, Death Duties, and Increasing Suffrage, 1870s - 1910s
In the 1870s, these rental incomes stagnated, due to an agricultural slump caused by cheaper grain imported from America. This period in history saw the continuation of migration from the countryside to cities and emigration to US that began with the Industrial Revolution.
In the 1880s and 1890s, the complete governmental control of large landholders began to slip. In 1894-5 suffrage increased to 60% of males--any man paying a rent of over £10 per year was now eligible to vote. This still prevented all women and the working class in major cities from voting, but represented enough of a change that a series of laws were passed to limit the power of the aristocracy.
The 1894 Estate Duty (colloquially known as "Death Duties") levied taxes on personal property bequeathed by the deceased as part of a will. This was the first significant inheritance tax in the UK. Up to this point, immediate family members had not been charged taxes on inherited income. In 1907, Liberal PM H.H. Asquith also imposed a tax on income from investments.
Along with economic depression, these new Acts of Parliament had consequences for a class unaccustomed to budgeting and paying taxes. Like the fictional Lord Grantham, English lords looked to America for brides to save them from bankruptcy. Seeking aristocratic titles, American heiresses like Consuelo Vanderbilt eagerly moved across the pond. Vanderbilt married Charles Spencer-Churchill, 9th Duke of Marlborough (Winston Churchill's first cousin) in a socially advantageous, but loveless marriage. Her immense fortune saved the miraculous Blenheim Palace, near Oxford, from financial ruin and demolition (below). (Fun fact: Winston Churchill's mother, Jennie Jerome, was also an American heiress).
Effects of World Wars, 1910-1950
Prior to World War I, each wealthy family employed dozens of servants and farmers to keep their massive houses running. When Britain declared war in August of 1914, thousands of male servants joined or were drafted into military service. Female servants either stayed at their jobs, became nurses, or worked in factory jobs vacated by men. Many of these men and women who did not want to take up their old jobs as servants at the end of the war. As the popular post-World War I song went, "How you gonna keep em down on the farm now that they've seen Paree?" The move from country to city was especially marked by the 1950s. As inheritance tax rates shot up to near 80%, the rate of demolition increased exponentially.
Lack of income from the rent of tenant farmers, death duties, loss of a cheap labor force after the world wars, and a redistribution of power all contributed to the decision of many wealthy landowners to sell of one if not all of their country estates as well as their houses in London. Prior to the 1970s, once the contents of these houses were auctioned off, the houses would either be left, empty or demolished. From the 1970s onward, more and more houses were donated to preservation organizations like the National Trust and English Heritage.
Architectural Salvage and Resale
Antiques dealers in the United States and England capitalized on the wholesale gutting of these luxurious country houses. Not just objects, but entire rooms were packed off to American museums and mansions. In a particularly extreme case, American millionaire, Thomas C. Williams Jr., purchased Agecroft Hall, a 15th century Tudor mansion from Agecroft, Pendlebury, in 1925 and had it shipped to Richmond, Virginia, where he rebuilt and lived in it.
America's millionaires like H.F. du Pont and William Randolph Hearst bought up these architectural elements to enhance their fabulous mansions. Hearst revitalized and restored St. Donat's Castle in Wales with interiors from homes around Britain. du Pont mainly purchased material for his period rooms from American mansions. However, many of his ceramics, including the Delft tiles were probably procured by American dealers on trips to England.
Interpreting the Past: Period Rooms
Private collectors were not the only ones in the market for architecture. At the beginning of the 20th century, some of the world's greatest museums began to acquire these interior architectural elements. While museums in Europe primarily collected material from their own countries due to a surge in nationalism, American museums often collected rooms from around the world for educational purposes and to showcase the cultures of the world. These rooms were often cut down or added to in order to fit within the measurements of a certain gallery space. The decorations were often not original and sometimes, a mixture objects from different time periods reside in the same room, for aesthetic effect.
The room above from the Philadelphia Museum of Art is an early 17th century Dutch sitting room. However, the tiles in the fireplace tell a different story. They are from completely different sets and time periods. It's as if a curator in the 1920s said, "Eh, let's put them all together. They're all tiles! Who will notice?"
The tiles in the fireplaces at Winterthur were purchased in the 1920s-1940s and installed in this time period. When any object comes into the museum it is given an accession number. That number usually contains the year the object entered the collection (ie. 1929.0004.001). Most of the 515 tiles, though, were not numbered until 1969, a full 20-40 years after their acquisition. Some tiles were not given numbers until 2005! This owes to the fact that the tiles were seen as architectural elements rather than museum objects. Though the rooms at Winterthur are made of architecture salvaged from homes around America, most of these interiors do not have accession numbers.
The tiles in Winterthur's rooms often do not match the time period being interpreted by the rest of the interiors, furniture, paintings, and objects. For example, in Readbourne Parlor (above), the tulip tiles are early 17th century Dutch, while the furniture and other decorative elements are from the Queen Anne period in early 18th century England.
While some tiles were probably removed from homes with changing fireplace fashions of the early 19th century or simply covered over with marble facades, the Winterthur tiles were presumably sold wholesale as part of the architectural elements of their original rooms. This practice ground to a halt in the 1970s and 1980s with renewed interest in the conservation of England's and America's cultural heritage. However, the architectural treasures and entire rooms can be enjoyed today by museum-goers in museums around the world (I know they're one of my favorite parts of museums).
Thanks for checking back! I enjoyed this excuse to use my history degree and revisit Downton Abbey, ha! Tune in next month for a new blogpost and be sure to follow #WeirdTileoftheDay and #WeirdTileWednesday on Twitter! If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for topics, post them below!
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The lack of a blog post for the past 2 months (!) owes to my participation in the Inorganic Block with the first year WUDPAC (Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation) masters students. In block, the students (and I) learned more about metals, stone, ceramic, and glass conservation. I also subjected them to 3 hours of Delft tile history, manufacture, and conservation. In the meantime, I've still been treating and researching the tiles. Today's blog post is about my months-long struggle to identify the iconography of this unique tile and color match its gray background.
The tile above was probably manufactured somewhere between 1600 and 1700 in the Netherlands. An artist painted the decoration onto the unfired tin-glazed surface with a manganese glaze, which turned purple when fired. While I know how the tile was made, its iconography is more elusive. Winterthur's database lists the tile as "merman grasping a nude woman trailing a scarf." Other similar tiles are listed by dealers and museums as "Merman and Fortuna" (below left) or simply "Neptune" (below right). While sea monsters are a common motif on Delft tiles, this particular decoration is relatively rare.
When I searched for inspiration sources in other media, I quickly realized that the tile is actually meant to represent a merman, or triton and a sea nymph, or nereid.
Examples of tritons abducting nereids in art range from a niello print (made with silver, copper, and lead sulfides) from Renaissance Italy to a bronze fountain at the Mirbach Palace in Bratislava.
However, while the nereid on this tile does not look particularly happy, she appears to be standing on the back of the triton rather than being carried off. The mosaic below from the Bardo National Museum in Tunis depicts sea nymphs riding on the backs of tritons and other sea creatures. They all have flowing scarves similar to the one worn by the nereid on the Delft tile. There is also a reference in Dionysiaca, an epic poem by Nonnus, to Thetis, the nereid mother of Achilles, riding into battle "on the green hip of a Triton with broad beard" (6. 257 ff). Perhaps the nymph on Winterthur's tile is wearing her battle face.
Once I'd discovered what the tile was actually depicting, it was time to start treatment!
The tile's major condition issues include:
I started off by removing the plaster fill. Once removed, I saw that the previous restorer had keyed, or carved, into the ceramic body in order to make the plaster adhere better. This is something that modern conservators do not do, because it damages the original material. Bits of plaster was also stuck in all the grooves and had to be painstakingly removed under a microscope.
The staining along the proper right edge of the tile did not respond to cleaning with water and other common conservation solvents like acetone. Because of this, I conducted cleaning tests with chelators, or materials that remove heavy metal staining.
1% EDTA (disodium ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid) in deionized water buffered to a pH of 8.5 with sodium borate was determined to be the most effective chelator for this particular stain. The solution was applied to the proper right edge of the tile in 5% agarose gel to reduce the yellow stained area (below).
After two rounds of application of a chelator, carbamide peroxide in laponite gel was applied as a combination bleach/rinse over a Japanese tissue paper (Gampi Usuyo) barrier and allowed to dry. This process ensures that no acid is left on the surface of the tile, as it could potentially harm the ceramic.
Though the stain was not completely removed, it was reduced enough to not distract from the decorative quality of the tile (below).
I filled the areas of lost glaze with Flugger and began the arduous process of in-painting. As I've said my previous blogpost about inpainting, sometimes you magically match the color right away. Sometimes, though it can take weeks to get the color right. That was the case with this tile...
I started with a base color that was relatively close to the color of the background.
I then began inpainting the merman's tail and the waves with acrylic paint, using the tile from the Museum of London in the previous section as an example. I also attempted to draw in the crazing lines...to moderate success. Even using my smallest brush, the lines appeared too wide.
I was unhappy with how much the fill stood out, so I decided to try and fix part of my in-painting...
On my sixth attempt, I finally decided to just rip out the parts I wasn't happy with and start over.
I should have started over ages ago! After months of struggle, the tile is finally finished. The crazing lines and my reconstruction of the tile's original decoration blend in well.
Thanks for checking back! Be sure to check Twitter for updates under #WeirdTileoftheDay and #WeirdTileWednesday. Tune in soon as I delve into my struggle to find where the tiles came from!
For more information see:
Photos by author unless otherwise stated.
Most if not all of the Delft-tiled fireplaces at Winterthur are probably not original to the house. The Museum's Registration Department holds copies of Henry Francis du Pont's daybooks, journals where he meticulously recorded each and every antique and piece of art that he purchased. By comparing entries in his daybook to receipts from antique dealers, I can hypothesize that du Pont bought all of the tiles in his collection sometime between 1920 and 1940. These dates also correspond to when many of the rooms in the house with tiled fireplaces were installed.
Tiles are traditionally attached to fireplaces using a combination of a mortar (a thin sort of cement) and lime plaster. However, when the Winterthur tiled fireplaces were installed from the late 1920s to the early 1940s, builders bypassed the mortar, instead using gypsum plaster and a creative variety of "modern" materials.
The rather culturally insensitive Chinoiserie tiles from the 1750s in the Bertrand Room were installed using Portland cement in the 1930s. According to tile expert, Lesley Durbin of The Jackfield Conservation Studio, Portland cement is an inappropriate material to install Delft tiles. By their composition, tin-glazed earthenwares like Delft tiles are susceptible to the efflorescence of soluble salts. Soluble salts are normally held in the ceramic body, but when exposed to high humidity, they crystalize on the surface, damaging tiles and causing glaze to spall off. Portland cement also is much harder than tin-glazed ceramics, making the prospect of ever removing tiles from this fireplace daunting.
The tiles in the Patuxent fireplace surround were probably attached with DUCO® cement is a fast-drying, cellulose nitrate-based commercial cement. When viewed under long wave ultraviolet light, the grout and mortar fluoresce a light greenish yellow, a classic indicator of cellulose nitrate. The adhesive tends to discolor overtime, giving the grout between these tiles a dark brown stained color.
The front of this innocuous-looking tile masks a mysterious secret. When flipped over....
...whatever this is is revealed. This tile is in storage at Winterthur-- not mounted in a fireplace--but this tile was too crazy to not include in this post. It was coated in a cellulose nitrate adhesive, then a black resin, and finally 16 adhesive tabs were attached over top--all of which retain their plastic barrier layers. Why and when this was applied remains a mystery...
Exploratory Excavation of Vauxhall Fireplace
Since building records are eluding me at present, the only way to definitively know how the fireplaces were constructed is to perform exploratory excavations. Vauxhall fireplace on the fourth floor of the museum was damaged in a flood in the 1980s. While it appears structurally stable, the plaster surrounds are powdery and delaminating (below, left). The tiles show evidence of soluble salt damage such as cracking and spalling (below, right). Chemical spot tests reveal that sulphates, common in gypsum plaster (hydrated calcium sulphate, CaSO4•H2O), are the probable culprit.
Part of my fellowship project may include dismantling the tiles in Vauxhall fireplace. This would allow me to treat the tiles in the conservation lab (much more ergonomic working conditions as you shall see). In order to conclusively determine how the tiles were mounted in the fireplace, my supervisor, Associate Objects Conservator and Assistant Affiliated Professor, Lauren Fair and I decided to remove one tile from the lower proper right corner of the fireplace.
During my internship year, I participated in a project at the British Museum removing Medieval floor tiles from a panel (above). Based on my experience, Lauren and I decided that using a hammer and chisel was the best course of action to remove tiles from the Vauxhall fireplace.
After a two-hour delay due to snow, we began the removal process! To protect ourselves from the plaster dust and chips, we wore dust masks, protective goggles, and nitrile gloves and vacuumed dust and debris as we went to minimize disruption to the rest of the objects in the room. To remove the tile, we decided to cut a channel behind the lower tile using a stone-carving hammer and chisel. This was accomplished by sitting or lying on the floor and crouching to strike the plaster at the proper height. Because the tiles are so tightly stacked, the only way to access the tile was from the proper left side. When we finally chipped most of the plaster away, we realized that the tile above had also become detached.
To Deinstall or not to Deinstall...
When the tiles were removed, we could clearly see that the fireplace had been constructed of brick covered in about an inch of plaster (above, center). The tiles were directly stuck into the plaster without a barrier to protect them from the movement of soluble salts. We still haven't decided whether or not we're going to remove all of the tiles to conserve them. A further consideration of the risks and rewards of deinstall needs to be undertaken. Stay tuned!
Thanks for checking back! Be sure to check Twitter for updates under #WeirdTileoftheDay and #WeirdTileWednesday. Tune in on March 15th as I delve into my struggle to find where the tiles came from!
For more information see:
Durbin, Lesley. 18th Century Delft Tiles: English and Dutch Tin Glazed Tiles Circa 1650-1790. http://www.jackfieldconservation.co.uk/18th-century-delft-tiles/
Photos by author unless otherwise stated.
Winterthur Postgraduate Fellow in Objects Conservation