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After over 220 hours of meticulous restoration work on an important painting by William Barr, undertaken by the specialist conservators Egan, Matthews & Rose, new details in the work have been revealed. The oil painting, first shown in 1911, features portraits of the great and good of Paisley, and its restoration is widely viewed as an important part of safeguarding the record of the town’s history.

Deterioration and Damage

The painting’s condition deteriorated following its first showing at the town YMCA, and the piece was considered to be one of the most damaged artworks in Renfrewshire’s collection. At some point in its history the work had suffered water damage, and it also manifested discolouration of its varnish coatings, along with other issues caused by inadequate previous storage conditions.

The Transformation

Following the restoration the painting has been transformed, with new colours, details and facial expressions coming to light once more, having been covered for decades by dirt, soot, and varnish. After the work, the painting finally appeared as the artist originally intended it to. As a result, this is likely to help William Barr garner the artistic prominence he deserves.

The Role of Conservators

For the specialists who worked on the painting and other conservators like Jeremy Casson, the main focus of conservatorship is to ensure an artwork’s stability and preserve it in the best possible visual and structural condition, to be enjoyed by future generations.

Speaking following the completion of the restoration work, Henry Matthews, one of the conservators, spoke about how satisfying it had been to secure the painting’s future and reveal the true detail and colours of the work, along with its charm and local characters. He went on to say that he and his colleagues were delighted with the final result, which was the culmination of complex aesthetic and structural treatment.

A Moment in Time

The painting by William Barr depicts a group of figures standing in front of the town hall, which is also currently undergoing a complete restoration. Those portrayed include civil servants, ministers, the town’s social elite, industrialists and councillors; only four women are featured (reflecting, perhaps, the Edwardian era in which it was created), one of whom went on to become the first female chair of Paisley’s parish council in 1912.

The restoration work forms part of a £45 million refurbishment of Paisley Museum, the biggest cultural heritage project in Scotland to date.

For more information about the work of art conservators, take a look at the embedded PDF.