Precious oil paintings from Maesteg Town Hall get expert restoration

CONSERVATION work is well underway on six oil paintings by the celebrated Welsh artist Christopher Williams (1873-1934). They have been temporarily removed from Maesteg Town Hall, while the building undergoes an £8.2m redevelopment.

The paintings – Paolo and Francesca, ‘Now I’m the Judge’, Alice Sophia Amelia Stopford Green, The Remorse of Judas, Mrs Sackvill-Evans and Mr Evan Williams – are being treated by the nationally renowned painting conservator Rachel Howells at her studio in South Wales.

Awen Cultural Trust, the registered charity which is working in partnership with Bridgend County Borough Council on the repair, restoration and extension of the Grade II listed building has released a short video which provides a behind-the-scenes look of this work in progress.

Rachel and her colleague Sarah Bayliss are assessing the condition of each of the paintings thoroughly; photographing the paintings whilst in their frames and throughout the process as they are removed; and documenting any interesting labels and signatures found on the back of the frames and artwork.

They then set about the painstaking task of thoroughly and carefully cleaning the surface of each of the paintings to remove decades of dust, dirt and other airborne pollutants from the canvases, using soft cotton swabs.

If a painting is beginning to flake, which was experienced with ‘Now I’m the Judge’, it is stabilised by Rachel, in the first instance, so that the paint layer is completely secure before the cleaning process can take place.

Once cleaned, the six paintings will be re-framed, and glazed for the first time in their lifetimes, which will help minimise their exposure to ultraviolet light when they are rehung at Maesteg Town Hall, and preserve the paintings for future generations.

Speaking about the conservation process, Rachel Howells said:

“One of the privileges of being a painting conservator is that you get nose to nose with the paintings you are working on. It is really nice that you can actually see how the artist has applied the paint, what style of brush strokes he has used, what the layer structure is, what the priming layer is, and how he’s applied paint on top of that.”

Awen Cultural Trust has received funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund and The Pilgrim Trust towards the preservation of these paintings. Richard Hughes, Chief Executive of Awen, said:

“Maesteg-born Christopher Williams was an artist of note. His paintings – two of which he donated to Maesteg Town Hall in 1934, and four which were donated by his widow – are a significant part of the cultural heritage of the venue and the Llynfi Valley. I am pleased it is within our gift to work with Rachel and Sarah to professionally conserve these paintings, so they can continue to be viewed and enjoyed, as the artist would have wanted, for very many years to come. We also look forward to finding creative ways of describing, explaining and interpreting these paintings, as well as Christopher Williams’ influence on Welsh art when we re-open the Hall in late 2021.”

Bridgend County Borough Council Leader, Huw David, added:

“Rightly described by the former prime minister David Lloyd George as being one of Wales’ most gifted artists, Christopher Williams made a huge impression upon Welsh art. It is important to ensure that his work and his legacy are protected, and I am looking forward to seeing the newly restored paintings once the conservation project has been completed.”