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Feature: Meet the conservation experts at Windsor Castle

A team of conservation experts from the Royal Collection Trust gave the public a rare glimpse into the work that goes into maintaining one of the world’s most important art collections on Saturday. David Lee reports.

David Lee

David Lee

Memories of the aftermath of the Windsor Castle fire in 1992 still burn bright in the mind of senior conservator David Wheeler.

While flames ravaged the Queen’s Private Chapel and spread to the State Apartments, workers hurried around desperately trying to salvage whatever they could from the wreckage.

Works of art and furniture that hadn’t been moved in years were picked up, packed away and rushed out of the inferno.

It was then, in the aftermath, that David had to get to work.

“So much of the damage that day was inflicted on pieces that probably needed restoration anyway,” David said.

“But it was just a question of getting them out in a hurry.

“There was a Baumgartner reliquary casket that was sitting quite happily in the King’s Drawing Room but of course it got picked up in a rush and fell to pieces.”

Along with his fellow craftsmen at the Royal Collection Trust, David resurrected the rock-crystal casket from the flames, adding it to the list of hundreds of pieces that he has helped restore during 32 years at the trust.

On Saturday the public got a glimpse into the efforts that David and his fellow conservators put in every day to conserve exquisite ceramics and furniture belonging to one of the world’s most important art collections.

David added: “The castle is about glitz and glamour and this is what we wanted to show today.

“What we’re trying to say to the public is this is where your money is going, this is what you’re helping to fund.”

While the fire of November 20, 1992, perhaps provides a more extreme example of the threats the collection faces, there are still perils lurking behind every corner including exposure to the atmosphere.

Nicola Christie, head of paintings at the Royal Collection Trust, is charged with the responsibility of helping to maintain more than 7,500 paintings at the Royal Palaces across the country.

Her work involves treating every work of art with the same level of care and removing and reapplying varnish to ensure the pieces continue to survive through the ages.

She said: “I think we always feel a bit of pressure.

“We’re privileged to work with some of the best collections of paintings in the world.

“It’s certainly a great thrill when you’re taking the varnish off some of the paintings because you’re revealing their original colours.”

Scientific methods may have evolved to help Nicola and her fellow conservators maintain the thousands of paintings, but for any pesky paint that is peeling away, it’s Mother Earth that the conservators turn to.

“Sturgeon Glue (from Sturgeon fish) is an excellent adhesive and is something that has been used for many years to stick down any loose paint,” she said.


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