Wednesday, 14th January 2004
Restorers sink steamer from Turner
Blaise Tapp
The painting showing a steamer
The painting showing a steamer

 

A MASTERPIECE by the artist Turner on display in Manchester is at the centre of an international row about a missing ship.

Some critics are furious at the way the centrepiece of the exhibition has been restored, saying that a steamboat has been removed from the original. The American owners of the painting and the restorer are adamant that none of J. M. W. Turner's original work has been removed and say that a second boat may have been added by an early 20th century restorer.

In the past two months more than 20,000 people have passed through the doors of Manchester Art Gallery to see the exhibition, Turner: The Late Seascapes, which is backed by the Manchester Evening News. . Many have flocked to the Moseley Street gallery to see the highly acclaimed Rockets And Blue Lights (Close at Hand) To Warn Steamboats Of Shoal Water.

The 1840 painting was restored specially for the exhibition at its home in America but its new look has been panned in some quarters of the art world.

Dismayed

Artwatch UK, which campaigns against the over restoration of works of art, and leading Turner expert Selby Whittingham are dismayed by the job done by a conservationist at the National Gallery in Washington.

The restoration of the masterpiece, owned by the Clark Art Institute in Massachusetts, took six months to complete.

Artwatch's Michael Daley said: "The great scandal in this is that they have claimed this painting is one of the stars of the show when in fact it has been so wrecked that it should not have left home. It should have been described as a badly damaged and heavily restored painting."

Mr Daley says the fact that one of the characters in the foreground of the picture is looking through a telescope toward the far right of the picture is evidence that Turner included a second boat in his original. Also, two 19th Century copies of the pieces clearly show two boats.

 

 

The restored version with the missing steamer drawn in
The restored version with the missing steamer drawn in

 

Mr Whittingham, 62, a former curator at the Manchester gallery and an art historian, said: "We want a proper inquiry to find out what has happened. They do not seem to have researched the painting properly before they restored it."

Richard Rand, senior curator at the Clark Institute, said a second boat had been added, probably in the early 20th Century.

He said: "We are absolutely certain we did not remove any of Turner's paint. We removed overpaint."

He said if Turner had included a second boat then it had been removed by an earlier restorer. He said the overpaint of that section was "very shabbily done".

Manchester Art Gallery's Head of Exhibitions Tim Wilcox said: "A leading conservator restored the picture, removing 70-80 per cent of old re-paintings carried out by earlier restorers, which were obscuring Turner's original. Manchester Art Gallery is very pleased to be displaying the picture, which has Manchester connections and is a particular highlight of the exhibition."

He said the viewing figures for the Turner exhibition, which runs until January 25, were the highest since Manchester's 2002 Commonwealth Games.

Turner: The Late Seascapes runs at Manchester Art Gallery, Mosley Street, from November 1 to January 25, admission 5, free for under-18s, open Tuesday to Sunday,10am to 5pm.

 

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