Galvanic Corrosion is a type of corrosion that can happen to bronze sculptures that are electroplated. This was a method developed in the 19th century where a cheaper metal could be used to make up the form of a sculpture. A thin layer of brass or bronze would be added to give the aesthetic of a traditionally made item.
Galvanic corrosion occurs when the upper layer of the statue is nobler than the metal in the underlayer. If the upper layer comes under attack by something corrosive, or is porous, the less noble metal will begin to corrode preferentially.
In this situation, the bronze or brass provides a large cathodic area. Any small areas where the surface is compromised enables the anodic half-reaction to occur resulting in a large pit.
If the corrosion occurs beneath the bronze or brass surface, then the expansion of the corrosion products lifts the upper layer and detach it.
Recently we had a sculpture come in with just this issue. The underlying alloy was an iron-mixture plated with brass. When something corrosive splashed across it, the sculpture’s brass skin began to corrode in tiny areas. Once the upper layer was compromised, it began to rust below the surface. Soon the rust pushed through until there was a raised corrosion product in place. These small acne-like spots were spread all over the surface making the beautiful form of the sculpture highly disfigured.
If you’d like to learn more about corrosion and principles of bronze conservation, take a look at our online course, Bronze Behaving Badly.
Another good resource is Lyndsie Selwyn’s Book, Metals and Corrrosion
Founding Director Antique Bronze Ltd
John Branch, founding Director of Antique Bronze Ltd, died on 22nd December 2016 aged 86.
As a very young child, he showed an aptitude for gymnastics, a talent for art and a gift for entrepreneurship. However, it was during his national service that all these talents matured. The army encouraged and trained him in gymnastics, long-jump, boxing and sprinting. Achieving officer status as a PTI, he qualified for the Olympics in three disciplines while running an unofficial tailoring business for the soldiers.
It was while stationed in Cairo that John Branch first considered a career in restoration. Target practice on the Great Sphinx of Giza and the pyramids was a routine way to pass the time for the troops in 1948. The first time he witnessed this activity, he said,
He felt as if something close to murder was taking place.
He had no real understanding of their meaning or significance at the time, but he felt that this kind of vandalism was deeply wrong. This experience paved the way for a career as a carer of objects.
Upon returning to the UK, he enrolled in St Martin’s School of Art to study sculpture and afterwards worked for several noteworthy foundries including Morris Singers.
Though Antique Bronze wasn’t his only business, it was the one that maintained his interest life-long. Setting it up in 1955, John Branch carved out a career focusing on restoration of large-scale sculpture and historic buildings standing out among other restorers with his one-handed handstands on top of many of London’s best-known monuments. In particular, he became well-known by contemporary artists for his skills in patination.
Barbara Hepworth was a friend, and he went on to work on many other of our best-known artworks including those by Henry Moore’s, Frank Dobson, and a list of monuments including Nelson’s Column, The Albert Memorial, Cleopatras Needle, Eros among many others. He advised on The Preservation of Venice Project and was invited to move to New York for two years to consult on works to The Statue of Liberty.
Historic buildings such as County Hall, Royal Festival Hall, Senate House – The University of London Headquarters were also places where he invested much of his restoration talent. The complexity of some of the items he restored was unimaginable, and this is where his real gift was unsurpassed.
He trained and mentored many other craftsmen during his lifetime. Many were so devoted to him that they worked with him for the duration of their lives and left their sons to continue within the company. His love of art, breadth of restoration knowledge and generosity were so inspiring that most who met him were in awe of all he could do.
Caring for bronze sculpture in your home is much easier than those in your garden. Indoor bronzes have an easy time of it compared to their large companions outdoors. They are sheltered from the urban air and ever-changing weather, but their environment still has an impact on them and if you want to keep your small bronzes as stable as possible then consider these ten tips.
1: Dust Regularly – Don’t be frightened to touch a bronze just because it’s an artwork. If you use a dry micro-fibre cloth or a soft brush, you’ll be doing a lot of good rather than harm. Caring for bronze involves removing dirt and grime. This prevents reactions between the pollutants in dust and the metal’s surface. We all hate more housework, but preventing corrosion is always better than curing it.
2: At least once a year, give the statue a thorough clean. Use white spirit to remove dirt and grime – I use a cotton rag to apply it. Then put a protective coating in place – this is one of the best ways of protecting a bronze’s surface. Outdoor pollutants from traffic do infiltrate buildings. Over time, they will corrode your bronzes (Grontoft et al, 2016). Rub on microcrystalline wax and burnish with a bristle brush or cotton rag as you might your shoes. It will improve the bronze’s lustre and retard surface change.
3: Internal materials like wooden floorboards and furniture emit acidic gases such as acetic or formic acid. These will damage your bronzes particularly if airflow is static and if the temperature of a room is likely to fluctuate widely. To care for your bronze sculpture, consider where you locate your small bronzes. Try not to display them in sealed cabinets made from materials containing hard and soft woods or plywood (Gibson, 2010)
Care For Bronze Statues by Not Touching Them
4: Avoid handling your bronzes. If possible, lift your bronzes with a clean cloth rather than touch them directly. Sweat from the hands is acidic and will corrode metal. Wax is only a thin barrier layer.
5: If you are storing a small bronze rather than displaying it. Ensure that the packaging materials are suitable. Do not wrap bronzes directly in bubble wrap or plastic. Houses tend to have poor humidity controls and though it might surprise you – bronzes do hold water. When they heat up that water will evaporate and if you’ve trapped it in plastic – you’ll get corrosion activity beneath the plastic.
6: If you accidentally spill red wine, tea, coke or even water on your bronze – then run for a cloth! Just because it’s not a textile that stains – don’t assume that the liquid won’t do any harm. If you whip it off quickly, then harm is averted. If you leave it to dry out, the metal is likely to etch in the perfect shape of the splash or spill. A little warm water on a clean cloth as dry as possible will enable you to remove the liquid and save your bronze surface. Don’t forget to dry your bronze after you’ve washed it though – that’s very important.
7: Admire your bronze often – don’t ignore it. If you keep an eye on your sculpture, you will notice if there is any change occurring. If rapid change occurs within a short period, then the chances are it is being exposed to something. Be mindful, and you could prevent a bigger conservation problem.
8: Think about where you locate your bronze. If a statue is in a busy area of the house, it might get knocked, and scuffed. Bronze looks tough, but often small bronzes have delicate sculptural detail, and one bang can see sections break off or snap. Dents are very hard to remove successfully. Drafts also carry outdoor pollutants inside and humidity will peak and trough more which won’t do your bronzes any good.
9: If you want to give your bronze the Rolls Royce treatment then a high-spec display case made with materials that do not emit gases will go a long way. Though undoubtedly an expense, it has been shown that cases with robust seals prevent traffic pollution getting in, provides extra security if you are burgled, prevents household damage like spills and knocks. A low and stable relative humidity under 40% is ideal. It’s also wise to add some activated carbon to the base of the case to absorb any stray pollutants.
10: If you notice a greenish, powdery deposit on your bronze which is easily brushed away, but returns quickly – get it to a conservator ASAP! This deposit is a sign of active corrosion and needs quick, skilled treatment to prevent metal loss.
If you would like help or advice on caring for your bronze statues, do give Antique Bronze Ltd a call on 0208 340 0931 or take a look at our small bronze restoration page
Terje Grontoft, David Thickett, Paul Lankester, Stephen Hackney, Joyce H. Townsend, Kristin Ramsholt & Monica Garrido. “Assessment of Indoor Air Quality and the Risk of Damage to Cultural Heritage Objects using MEMORI dosimetry” Studies in Conservation 61:sup 1, 70-82. Routledge & IIC 2016 Link Here
Gibson, L.T. (2010) Acetic and formic acids emitted from wood samples and their effect on selected materials in museum environments. Corrosion Science, 52 (1). pp. 172-178. ISSN 0010-938X
Read about the surprising things that have happened to one of our Directors, Lucy Branch, in Diary of a Conservator published in World of Interiors August 2015. Beautiful illustration by Hannah Waldron.
Restoration Comedy by Lucy Branch, Published by World of Interiors, August 2015
You need a sense of humour to do my job. As a conservator of public art, I have the privilege of helping statues and monuments survive into the future. What could be so ridiculous about such a seemingly serious job? The objects I work on are high-profile and cannot be removed to the private enclave of a conservation studio. My studio is in the public domain and it’s very hard to control or predict that environment. What this means is that my working day might involve being up to my elbows in water while treating a sculpture in the Beatty and Jellicoe fountains in Trafalgar Square, or courted by a thousand tourists who would like their photos taken with the restorer at The Tower of London, or even finding a news crew up my ladder, while working on Shakespeare in Leicester Square, who wanted to know my opinion on Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. One morning, I went to work on Eros to find a man dressed up as a dog had got there first.
Just before the most recent Royal Wedding, I worked on the gargantuan bronze elements of The Queen Victoria Memorial outside Buckingham Palace. This project was a joy and not just because we were required to down tools and watch the Changing of the Guard each day. The project began weeks before we started on site by looking at the history of the object. This aspect of the work involves dedicated research from published and unpublished documents and photographs. The aim is to try to ensure we know as much about how the object and what how it originally looked as possible.
Once the scaffold went up, it was time to meet the magnificent allegorical sculptures in person and get to grips with establishing their true condition. This might seem belated, but when tendering we don’t have the luxury of a scaffold so it is experience and a good pair of binoculars which are relied upon to anticipate what work will need to be done. Up close, it was evident that their surfaces had been coated comprehensively in a thick-pigmented wax containing a lot of lamp-black probably to hide the extensive disfiguring corrosion that was rampant below it. There was very little of the original patina to be found. Samples were taken for analysis, and we compared what we found from the physical evidence with what we found in the historic record.
It was quite something to stand next to those giant bronzes. They are truly otherworldly and above the pettiness of humans. They represent noble themes: peace, progress, agriculture and manufacture and with one hand upon the shoulder of Manufacture, I was a little awed at the extent of work that needed to be done so that they might be ready in time for their role on the world stage.
Before the physical work began, an accurate methodology and plan was devised. Due consideration was given to how far to intervene and what implications to the object certain treatments might have. This ethics stage of our work has come about through the damage done to historic objects, particularly between the 1930’s and 1950’s, in the name of restoration – the tragedy of the Elgin marbles must never be repeated. Only then did the craft aspect of the work begin. Failed wax layers were removed by steam and soap, corrosion layers thinned and treated, re-patination of the bronze where the original patina had been lost and copious layers of hot wax applied to protect the surface for the future.
I’d like to say my lasting memory of the project was seeing how wonderful the statues looked when the euphoric throng of people engulfed the monument on the big day, but actually being almost arrested for trying to blow up Buckingham Palace when one of our hired generator’s exploded will probably never be forgotten.
A classic myth meets contemporary times in this adventure series about
art, alchemy and the world’s oldest secret society.
Penned by non-other than our own Director, Lucy Branch, the third novel in The Gold Gift Series was released at the end of September. Lucy Branch’s fiction has been featured on Radio 4, Timeout London and The BBC World Service. She is an expert in the conservation of public sculpture and has worked on some of the UK’s highest profile projects including Nelson’s Column, Eros and Cleopatra’s Needle. Her knowledge and passion for the art world is poured into her fiction which she weaves together with myth, conspiracy theory and fantasy.
What people have said about it…
“If you like a conspiracy theory that walks the line between myth and science, you’ll love A Rarer Gift Than Gold.”
“A series about the dark side of the art world by a real expert in the art world.”
“These novels will take everything you think you know about alchemy and turns it on its head.”
“What’s not to like – rogue artists, The Illuminati and BIG sculptures”
Find out more about the novels…
Abigail Argent stands out: some admire her lean figure and beautiful dark eyes, others notice that she always wears gloves and shudder when they know why. The ones that know her best notice her ability with metal.
She has a gift for seeing the beauty in a plain piece of metal and being able to draw it out. With a background in chemistry, Abigail’s knowledge of her craft is academic as well as practical, which is how she makes a chance discovery of a link between her own craft and that of her favourite childhood myth: the ancient art of alchemy.
But danger is lurking where the worlds of art and myth collide.
Abigail piques the interest of one of the world’s oldest secret societies, and she is forced to draw on all her practical knowhow to keep herself alive.
But, what does she discover about herself from The Golden Illuminati?
The Golden Illuminati are biding their time, but they have plans for Abigail Argent.
Handsome architect, Robert Fitzpatrick is one of their members. When he offers Abigail help, she’s suspicious. But Abigail is struggling to reconnect with her elusive gift, and Robert offers her the only thing that could persuade her to give him a chance.
Characters old and new come together to help Abigail and protect her from the most formidable secret society in history, but The Golden Illuminati aren’t her only problem.
With a new threat hanging over her, Abigail tries to focus on deepening her strange relationship with metal, whilst bonds with others begin to spin out of control.
Can Abigail avoid the clutches of The Golden Illuminati and master her gift?
Francesca Milliardo sees something she wasn’t meant to see.
Her dreams of making a big splash as a contemporary artist are on the line if she’s read the situation wrong.
Worst still, her father seems to be involved.
As Francesca searches for truth, her persistent migraines are beginning to run riot. Some of her symptoms are morphing and she’s starting to wonder if there’s more to the pain than a pill can cure.
Her father’s handsome assistant is a welcome distraction from the confusion of her life, but can he save her from the dangers that lurk? Or, could he, too, be part of them?
Francesca doesn’t know whom to trust or what to do.
It’s time for her to make some hard choices: believe in the people she loves or bet her beloved career on a mystery that’s rooted in myth.
And if you’d like your copy signed by the author, JUST ASK!
“For want of a Nail the Shoe was lost; for want of a Shoe the Horse was lost” Benjamin Franklin
London is not short of dramatic horse sculpture. From the rearing fury of Piccadilly’s Horses of Helios Fountain, to the tenacious bravery of Boadicea’s horses which pull her chariot, but Althea Wynne’s magnificent trio at Minster must be acknowledged as among the best of the best.
Althea created these site specific sculptures for Minster Court when it was built in the early 1990’s. A love of horses and an ability to translate their innate beauty in bronze made her the perfect choice for this commission. As a nod to the financial district they belong to, they are affectionately known as Sterling, Dollar and Yen.
Despite the January frost, our team at Antique Bronze, began work on the restoration of bronze statues by Althea Wynne: the spirited trio of horse sculptures in Minster Court, City of London. The aim of the works was to prevent the sentiment of Benjamin Franklin’s prophecy from coming true by intervening before all of the original patina, on these exceptional sculptures, had been lost entirely.
Conservation Work Was Necessary To Halt The Loss of Original Patina
Our knowledge and expertise in the area of bronze statue restoration made us a great fit for this project. We have worked with many artists to ensure their works survive long into the future including some of the Greats like Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Wendy Taylor.
As well as liaising with the owner of a bronze, the preliminary stages of any bronze statue restoration should always involve contacting the artist and consulting with them. Sadly, in this case, this wasn’t possible as Althea Wynne died tragically in a car accident with her husband in 2012 while working on another equestrian commission for Windsor Great Park.
The project started out with conserving what patina we could and then progressed to treating areas of disfiguring corrosion. We were able to blend out areas where weathering had caused unsightly marks to form on the surface. Repatination work was necessary in areas where the original patina had failed and we used the surviving patina to match the colour as closely as possible.
Bronze Statue Restoration Often Involves The Treatment of Corrosion
The final stage of the works involved the application of a protective coating applied hot. This not only protects the surface of the bronze but also gave the statues a lustrous surface.
If you would like to learn more about bronze, consider joining our course, Bronze Behaving Badly, Principles of Bronze Conservation.