CLEANING BRONZE STATUES
If You Are Interested In Learning More About, How To Care For Bronze, Take A Look At Our Courses
The Tavistock Clinic have a fascinating art collection which this monument is a part of. In Mind, The Tavistock and Portman Foundation staff magazine, wrote a feature about the works, text reproduced here:
Outdoor statues in London have a tough time of it: the vicissitudes of the weather, the pollution, the pigeons… So it is no surprise that the bronze sculpture of Freud outside the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, which was partly responsible for introducing Freud’s psychoanalytic theories to British medicine, is receiving much-needed restoration work.
Led by Lucy Branch, Senior conservator at Antique Bronze, the statue restoration team started work on Monday 5 July by giving the sculpture and its plinth a steam clean. Then they began the careful restoration work by hand, using fine copper brushes and pumice powder to remove corrosion. As Lucy, who has a degree in fine art, did a three year apprenticeship and a masters in post at the V&A, explained: “Corrosion forms unevenly in patterns so they need to be blended out by hand – you want the sculpture to be seen as the artist intended and not have your eye drawn to areas of degradation.”
The statue restoration is made more difficult by the hot weather. With the full sun on the sculpture it gets very hot causing the cleaning materials to melt and evaporate. The public have also been very interested in what is going on and Lucy says:
The sculpture is by the Croatian artist, Oscar Nemon, who grew up in Osijek on the borders of the Austro-Hungarian empire. He studied in Vienna in the 1920s, which is where he first developed an interest in the work of Freud. He then moved to Brussels, becoming a well-known portrait sculptor. In 1931 he received the commission to sculpt Freud for his 75th birthday. Freud was a little uncertain, but agreed to let Nemon sketch him in brief sessions between one patient and the next.
Overnight Nemon produced a preliminary clay and that won Freud over. Nemon continued to work for several years visiting Freud whenever he passed through Vienna on his way to Osijek and then finally in London in 1938, after the political situation had led both men to leave mainland Europe.
It is these London sittings that led to the final harsher, more abstract sculpture in terracotta which were used for the bronze sculpture that now resides outside the Tavistock Centre.
On seeing the sculpture Freud commented in his diary:
Lucy Branch is similarly appreciative of the work saying: “When you get close to the sculpture it is really beautiful, with clearly defined tool marks on the surface. Freud is seated in a very dominant pose, making this a powerful sculptural figure, but also a fine representation of a man drawn from life.”
The restoration of the statue will be completed with more colouring work. Then layers of protective coating will be added, to make the statue as stable as an outdoor statue can be.
Find the whole article here: Freud Gets A Makeover
If you’d like to know more about restoration work on bronze, read a case study on our blog, or if you want to be taught about the principles of bronze restoration by us, sign-up for our training course, coming in 2019
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
There has been a critical error on this website.