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Sunday, May 15 • 2:30pm - 3:00pm
(Paintings) Preparing for the worst: re-developing and tailoring a rapid response bag and procedure to the specific needs and limitations of the National Gallery.

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Archival records show that most incidents of vandalism at the National Gallery have involved mechanical damage meted out with, or without, tools. Since 1863 to date, these occasions have involved 15 works of art and have included the use of knives, a hammer, a meat cleaver, razor, fist, and gun. Since 1863, there have been 4 incidents involving the imparting of a non-corrosive substance on 5 works and no instances involving corrosive agents. In total,19 works have been damaged in 20 incidents with one work undergoing more than one attack. A review of our disaster/vandalism kit and response procedure was prompted by the malicious damage sustained by two paintings in 2011. In rethinking the National Gallery’s grab bag, it was determined that although some types of attack are more time sensitive than others, having a kit which contained materials and equipment to address all three types, as discussed above, would be advantageous. The earlier kit was not designed to address mechanical damage, or those featuring non-corrosive substances. The rationale behind this was based on the recognition that chemical attacks represent a grave and ongoing threat to the object, while other damage could be dealt with in the studio, or at a less urgent pace in situ. However, the experience of the attack of 2011 highlighted the advantage of having a bag containing a range of solvents, swabs and absorbent cloths to speed up the removal of non-corrosive materials from the surface of a painting. The bag was used effectively in two further real-life incidents in 2012 and 2013. Rather than providing information about a 'one size fits all' approach to the provision of emergency supplies and the adoption of a specific procedure, this paper aims to inform other institutions about the steps required to first develop an appropriate response to damage to specific cultural material. The paper also outlines and emphasises the importance of maintaining the physical upkeep of equipment and the sustained working knowledge of a procedure amongst a range of respondent staff members. It is key to identify and take account of a broad range of various issues which are unique to some institutions and common to others, as they will be contingent on creating an effective response which can be relied upon over time.

avatar for Morwenna Blewett

Morwenna Blewett

Paintings Conservator, National Gallery
Morwenna Blewett read the history of art at the Courtauld Institute of Art, completing her degree in 2000. She also trained as a paintings conservator at the Department of Conservation and Technology at the Courtauld Institute of Art in 2003. She held an Andrew. W Mellon Fellowship... Read More →
avatar for Lynne Harrison

Lynne Harrison

Paintings Conservator, National Gallery
Lynne Harrison completed a first degree in Fine Art (1990) and a postgraduate diploma in the Conservation of Easel Paintings from the Courtauld Institute of Art, London in 1995. She has worked as a freelance paintings conservator in the UK and abroad. From 2003 to 2012 she was a senior... Read More →


David Peggie

Organic Analyst, National Gallery
David Peggie obtained a Masters degree in Chemistry at The University of Edinburgh (2002) and a PhD (2006) for research into the identification of dyes on historical textiles (in collaboration with the National Museum of Scotland). He then joined the scientific department at the National... Read More →

Sunday May 15, 2016 2:30pm - 3:00pm EDT
Room 710 A