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Ancilla with Orange

The RWA’s conservation of Dod Procter’s paintings reminds audiences how she challenged early 20th century conventions

By Heather West, 612-724-8760, heather@heatherwestpr.com

Celebrating conservation and care of collections during the pandemic, Tru Vue is proud to share a new series recognizing recipients of the Tru Vue Conservation and Exhibition Grant awarded by The Institute of Conservation (Icon).

 

The goals of this grant program include supporting the preservation of collections; promoting diversity, equity and inclusion; and enabling objects on display to be presented in a safe way and with an increased awareness of display glazing options. Learn more about Tru Vue’s grant program.

 

Dod Procter (née Doris Shaw) used her childhood nickname as a gender-neutral epithet at a time when women artists struggled for recognition. Against the odds, Procter became a household name during the late 1920s. Her paintings became famous, commanding popular appeal for her portraits of women, children and everyday settings as distinctly viewed through the lens of the female gaze.

 

Reintroducing modern audiences to Procter and her work, the Royal West of England Academy (RWA) included two of her paintings in its 2021 “Challenging Conventions” exhibition presented at the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle and the RWA in Bristol.

 

Dod Procter's "Flowers on a chair" before treatment.
Dod Procter’s “Flowers on a chair” before treatment.

 

In preparation for the exhibition, “Ancilla with an Orange” (1956) and “Flowers on a Chair” (1961) were conserved and refitted in their adjusted original frames with Tru Vue® UltraVue® Laminated Glass.

 

Conservation challenges

“’Ancilla with an Orange’ is one of the most important works in the RWA’s collection,” said RWA Director, Alison Bevan. Prior to its conservation, she described the painting’s condition as “a vulnerable oil on canvas at high risk of both environmental and accidental damage. It is nailed into the frame within a series of wooden blocks glued to the back of the frame. There is no frame rebate and the canvas is only just large enough to fill the frame aperture.”

 

Back of Dod Procter's "Ancilla with Orange"_frame before treatment.
“Ancilla with Orange”, back of framed artwork, before treatment.

 

Not only had Procter re-purposed old wooden frames, “Flowers on a Chair” also was painted on a re-used panel. On the back, a pencil drawing was found that, when flipped horizontally, is thought to be a landscape. On the front, horizontal scrapes had disfigured a portion of the painting.

 

"Flowers on a chair" back of frame
“Flowers on a chair”, back of framed artwork, before treatment.

 

“Risk will be mitigated by using a trusted, accredited easel painting conservator to undertake this project,” advised Bevan.

 

Protective performance, exceptional experience

Conservator Rachel Howells overcame the project’s many challenges, bringing Procter’s paintings to a suitable condition for exhibition. For both works, Howells selected Tru Vue UltraVue Laminated Glass for its nearly invisible finish and crystal-clear color neutrality.

 

“The biggest issue encountered was in carrying out conservation framing,” explained Howells, “The frame was almost too large for the painting, not square and had a tiny, uneven rebate of between 3 and 5mm. This created a problem with fitting the 4.4 mm laminated Tru Vue glass and painting in the frame securely, so that minimal edges showed, and so that the painting was symmetrically fitted in the frame as much as possible.”

 

Bevan said Tru Vue’s glass allows the paintings “to be seen as the artist intended – giving the visual appearance of an unglazed work – and in the original, artist-selected frame, but protected from both physical and UV damage, and cushioned from environmental damage. The use of UltraVue Laminated Glass will enable the paintings to be displayed regularly at the RWA, where the majority of spaces do not have environmental controls.”

 

Ancilla with Orange
“Ancilla with Orange” after treatment, re-framed and glazed with 4.4mm UltraVue Laminated Glass

 

Difficult decisions

Howells emphasized that ethical decisions were required regarding what to restore and what not to restore in conserving and protecting the paintings. For “Ancilla with an Orange,” she said, “The conservation treatment was fairly straightforward. The scratches and loss that were present were not distracting, could have been original to the painting, so no retouching was carried out.”

 

In the case of “Flowers on a Chair,” she said that because the “scrapes were so distracting, it was thought beneficial to disguise them. However, as it was difficult to know whether the scrapes were original or not, or how much paint had been lost, the damages were saturated by applying a reversible varnish locally rather than retouching them with retouching paint.”

 

detail of scrape on "Flowers on a chair" before treatment
Detail of scrape on Dod Procter’s “Flowers on a chair” before treatment.

 

Detail of scrape on Dod Procter's 'Flowers on a chair" after treatment.
Detail of scrape on Dod Procter’s ‘Flowers on a chair” after treatment.

 

Bevan reiterated, “The challenge is to sensitively incorporate build-ups that do not change the aesthetic values the artist intended, but protect these valuable and important paintings both in transit and on display.”

 

Procter and her paintings

Enrolled at the Forbes School of Painting in Newlyn at the age of 15, Dod Procter (1890-1972) was considered a star pupil. Continuing her studies in Paris, she was influenced by the artists she met including Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Paul Cézanne. She returned to England; married a fellow artist, Ernest Procter (1885-1935); and raised a son, while remaining dedicated to her painting.

 

In 1913, the Royal Academy of Art first exhibited Procter’s work. She went on to become only the second woman ever to be elected to the Royal Academy, following her friend, Dame Laura Knight who was the first. Like Knight, by the time she was elected, Procter already was established as an RWA Academician.

 

In addition to earning the respect of her peers, Procter gained fame across the nation. This largely was attributed to the success of her painting, “Morning,” displayed at the 1927 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and voted as Picture of the Year. After a public campaign led by the Daily Mail, the publisher purchased the piece for the Tate Gallery, where it can still be viewed.

 

Throughout her career, Procter’s painting style changed in response to new artistic influences and overseas travels. In the 1950s, she repeatedly visited Jamaica, where she produced “Ancilla with an Orange.” It was purchased by the RWA at its 1956 Annual Open Exhibition. At its 1961 annual exhibition, the RWA purchased “Flowers on a Chair,” painted by Procter in her later years.

 

Community connections

Upon its return from the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle, “Ancilla with an Orange” will be displayed in Bristol at the neighboring Victoria Methodist Church as part of the RWA’s engagement activities during its closure for a major building project. The RWA plans to regularly display the painting in the future, celebrating a positive aspect of the historic links between Bristol and Jamaica.

 

As one of the U.K.’s most famous artists of the early 20th century, Procter’s paintings will be made accessible to the public in the context of the RWA’s proud history of gender equality, accepting women members from its inception in 1844.

 

 

The RWA’s completed project report can be read on The Institute of Conservation’s Icon grant recipients webpage.

This article is intended for educational purposes only and does not replace independent professional judgment. Statements of fact and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) individually and, unless expressly stated to the contrary, are not the opinion or position of Tru Vue or its employees. Tru Vue does not endorse or approve, and assumes no responsibility for, the content, accuracy or completeness of the information presented.