A television opportunity from a different perspective.
The restoration work that we undertake here at Green & Cockburn is broad and varied. One consistent thread that we have noticed over the years is the many objects passing through our workshops with intriguing tales to tell. Here is one fascinating story involving a long-case clock, which may have connections to Thomas Gainsborough.
BACK FROM THE PAST
– A proposed Television Series
By David Alderton
EXTENT: A six episode series, each approximately 30 minutes in length.
A new approach to the world of antique objects, as seen through the working life of BAFRA (British Antique Furniture Restorers’ Association) member and leading restorer, Malcolm Green. The series will highlight the techniques that bring antiques back to life, and uncover their intriguing past, by seeking out the often personal, and social history associated with them.
The restoration work that Malcolm undertakes at his workshop in Hertfordshire is broad and varied, but one consistent thread that is clearly apparent is is the many objects passing through our workshops with intriguing tales to tell.
Here is a link to one fascinating example of this type involving a long-case clock, which may have connections to Thomas Gainsborough, and will be featured in one of these episodes. This clip gives some indication of how the series could work, with a more detailed story-line to be discussed further in this document:
While Malcolm takes us through the journey in his workshop, his co-presenter will explore the context and broader narrative, investigating the background to the objects, both in general and specific terms, visiting locations and recreating the settings for them. She will act on behalf of the viewer as a knowledgeable inquisitor and draws on the insights of guest experts to explore relevant aspects of art and social history that arise.
Finally, Malcolm will explain how restoration has added value to the object. By this stage, thanks to his vast experience and informed insights, he will have taken the viewer on a trip through our history and culture, allowing the audience to appreciate such objects in their true context, as part of our heritage, rather than for their monetary worth alone.
Programme audience: Viewers who enjoy Time Team, the Antiques Road Show and programmes that were made featuring the late Fred Dibnah.
Audience engagement: Quite apart from the interesting narrative, there is also a great opportunity here to make more people aware of the objects that can be purchased easily at auction, and then restored, highlighting the work of the antiques trade as a whole, as well as focusing on the individual objects themselves.
What can be better than to acquire a unique piece of antique furniture which has been lovingly restored for your home, rather than buying a mass-produced flatpack unit? Sympathetic restoration work also helps to conserve our domestic heritage for future generations, and represents the ultimate in recycling!
Malcolm Green began his working life in archaeology, before moving on to undertake the restoration of antiques in museum collections. He concentrated in those days mostly on medieval items that required museum timber consolidation.
Malcolm, has worked in embassies and museums undertaking restoration covering a broad spectrum ranging from gilding, stone and ancient timber restoration, but specialising in the restoration of fine antique clocks and furniture of the 17th century and earlier periods.
During his career, Malcolm has covered the whole spectrum of antique restoration. He is recognised internationally, particularly for his expertise in restoring long case clock movements, cutting wheels, and for undertaking the highly professional restoration of Dutch marquetry work, as well as gilding processes on clocks and 17th century water gilded mirrors.
Malcolm also undertakes restoration of items as diverse as turret clocks, and early furniture. He has worked in hundreds of stately homes in England, and he is in high demand as a valuer. In the television sphere, he has appeared on various Television programmes throughout the years, and is very keen to be involved in a series that encourages people to take a fresh look at antiques of all categories.
* There is more information about Malcolm and his work on his website at www.greenrestoration.co.uk
NOTE: If required, some sponsorship money may be available to assist in the development of this series.
BACK FROM THE PAST – an outline of subjects by David Alderton
Programme 1 – Gainsborough caught in time?
This particular longcase clock, decorated in black lacquer with Chinoserie decoration, has a very unusual painted door and base panel. It was made by Thomas Watts of Hadleigh in Suffolk. He lived there until 1765, before moving to Bury St. Edmunds, where he died three years later.
Several other longcase clocks by Watts are documented, but his best-known work is the clock, complete with chimes, that he made for St Mary’s Church in Hadleigh between 1749 and 1750. It had a different tune for each day of the week, and played a psalm on Sundays, revealing Watts to have been a very talented clockmaker.
What is particularly interesting in the case of the Chinoserie-style longcase featured here is the possible identity of the painter of the panels. The location and timeframe when Watts was working on the church clock at St. Mary’s directly correspond to the period when a young Suffolk artist was trying to develop a career, having been painting mainly landscapes in the past.
Thomas Gainsborough had returned in the spring of 1749 from London to live in nearby Sudbury. One of the most significant commissions at this stage in his career was to create a painting of St. Mary’s Church. This was undertaken at the same time as Watts was working on the clock there.
Bearing in mind the dates involved, both men would presumably have been at the church for long periods around 1750, and it therefore seems highly likely that they would have met each other. (Furthermore, in a strange twist of fate, housed in the adjacent Deanery Tower are two paintings by Canaletto, who was a guest of Dean Tanner at the church between 1749 and 1751).
Could it possibly be that in addition to carrying out portraits, Gainsborough was also commissioned – whether directly or on a speculative basis – to paint these longcase clock panels? Could the clock itself originally have been in one of the homes alongside a Gainsborough painting? Longcase clocks with painted scenes are exceeding unusual. Why was it not completed in a Chinoiserie style?
There seems little doubt that Watts and Gainsborough would have been seeking to sell their work to the same wealthy client-base in Suffolk at that period of time. Collaboration could well have been of mutual benefit to both of them. But if it wasn’t Gainsborough who painted the panels, then who could it have been?
Gainsborough ultimately went on to find fame and fortune in London, where he returned in 1774. Amongst his most famous works from this period was a portrait of the actress Sarah Siddons, completed in 1785.
A plaque, featuring a 3D-image based on this particular painting, has surfaced close to Sarah Siddons’s family home in Wales. It has been in the possession of the family there for over 150 years, and will provide an additional secondary element to this particular programme.
Opening scene of the clock being unpacked at Malcolm’s workshop, with initial discussion about longcase clocks in general, serving to introduce both Malcolm (MG) and co-presenter (CP) to the audience.
CP then heads off to search for clues about the clockmaker Thomas Watts in Suffolk.
MG begins to examine the clock in more detail, concentrating here on the mechanism, how it works and inviting the audience to marvel about how an object made 250 years ago is still able to keep accurate time today.
CP contacts a paint expert and arranges for samples from the case to be taken for analysis.
CP talks with MG and the art expert at MG’s workshop about what this may reveal.
CP visits Gainsborough’s House in Sudbury, Suffolk – now a museum, and talks with an expert there, with the focus being on what is known about Gainsborough’s work in Suffolk.
MG and CP meet at MG’s workshop to review progress on the clock.
The plaque of Sarah Siddons is introduced to the programme.
MG talks about the plaque, and starts to clean it up, revealing what has been hidden under the new paint. He talks about the gilding process that would have been used.
Meanwhile, CP investigates Sarah Siddons’ background and her popularity as an actress, and discovers why Gainsborough was so keen to paint her. She meets a Gainsborough expert at the National Gallery, and discusses this painting.