How does one conserve a fireplace?
Introduction to the Project
Treating the tiles in Bertrand fireplace represents the final project of my fellowship researching the Delft tiles at Winterthur.
Bertrand fireplace is located on the third floor of Winterthur in the Bertrand room. The tiles were installed in Bertrand's fireplace sometime between 1929 and 1930. It contains 25 English delft tiles, manufactured between 1760-1775 in Liverpool or Bristol. British potters produced these tin-glazed "Chinoiserie" tiles with overglaze and underglaze enamels to satisfy the public's desire for hard paste porcelain from China. The tiles are not exactly what we would today describe as culturally sensitive. They depict exaggerated figures with flowing queues and turbans as imagined by British artists, who had almost certainly never been to Asia. In a future blogpost, I hope to research more about the impact of the British East India Company and the impact of the trade on China. For now, I will focus on the physical condition of the tiles and their treatment needs.
Condition of the Tiles
I identified Bertrand as one of the worst condition fireplaces during my 2016 survey. It was structurally compromised. The plaster holding the top row of tiles in place on a steel armature had come loose and moved freely if any pressure was exerted on it. Lauren Fair, Associate Objects Conservator/Affiliated Assistant Professor, and I stabilized the row of tiles with a 3:1 mixture of Paraloid B-72 to Paraloid B-48N (conservation-grade acrylic adhesives) bulked with glass bubbles (the so-called "Tullio Blend" after its use to reassemble Tullio Lombardo's Adam at the Metropolitan Museum of Art). We used syringes to inject the custom blend of adhesive into any available space above, below, and between the tiles and clamping the row as the adhesive set.
The next phase of conservation involved addressing the failing historic restorations on many of the tiles in the fireplace. Some had been heavily overpainted in the past, likely using a spray gun to blend the restorations in with the original surface of the tile. However, many years later, the paints the restorer had used had aged poorly and began to yellow. The following photographs show the extent of the historic overpaint and degrading restorations before conservation treatment, highlighted in blue.
Winterthur Postgraduate Fellow in Objects Conservation