One of the first artworks gifted to Hull by Thomas Ferens has won a prestigious award that will allow it to be preserved and displayed for future generations.
The Night School (1892) by Edgar Bundy (1862-1922) was first displayed in the Hull Autumn Exhibition in 1907.
The Ferens Art Gallery is the recipient of £4,573 from the Woodmansterne Art Conservation Awards 2019, which will cover costs of conserving the late Victorian oil painting.
The piece is one of the gallery’s most popular artworks.
Conservation will involve treating the canvas, support and frame to protect the artwork, ensuring its safety and longevity. Painting and frame conservators will also clean and retouch the surfaces, significantly enhancing the painting aesthetically.
Councillor Marjorie Brabazon, chair of Hull Culture and Leisure, said: “I’m delighted that we have received this award. It will allow us to conserve a painting that dates right back to the beginning of the Ferens’ journey, helping us preserve not just the piece, but also the story of the incredible philanthropy of Thomas Ferens and the remarkable impact his generosity has had on our city.”
The painting has featured in several gallery displays over the past 100 years, and in a range of articles and books covering topics spanning art, social history and education. It depicts a group of working men of varying ages who sit over books and jotters engaged in learning the skills of reading, writing and arithmetic. Bundy creates a sense of the shared intensity of purpose that brings them together at the end of the workday. They are making up for disrupted education in early life due to entering the workforce in order to contribute to the family income.
The subject aligns closely with Ferens Art Gallery’s personal commitment to study and disciplined hard work as a means to self-betterment and enhanced life opportunities. This ethos of hard work was shared by the artist Edgar Bundy who was largely self-taught. Mastering his art from a young age, he was first selected to exhibit at the Royal Academy in 1881.
In its present condition, the painting is vulnerable due to the instability of the support and frame. The treatment by the painting and frame conservators will enable the gallery to display the artwork within the context of Victorian and Edwardian British paintings in Gallery 5, and in thematic hangs which would open up ways to consider it in relation to contemporary cultural and socio-political contexts.
By improving the structural condition of the canvas and frame, the gallery will also be in a position to loan the painting to temporary exhibitions by external partners, thereby opening up new contexts for research, interpretation and enjoyment of the artwork.
The conservation will be undertaken in spring 2020.
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