Scottish artwork brought back to life after incredible restoration

It has taken hundreds of hours of painstaking work, but now an important Scottish painting’s restoration transformation can be revealed.

For generations artist William Barr’s painting of Paisley’s ‘great and good’ was hidden from view, covered in thick, sooty dirt.

In 1910, Barr, originally from Glasgow, completed pastel portraits of more than 100 of the town’s social elite, ministers, civil servants, councillors and industrialists. 

But since it was first shown at the town YMCA, the painting’s condition deteriorated.

OneRen’s curator of art, Dr Victoria Irvine, said it was the most damaged painting in Renfrewshire’s collection. 

Discoloured varnish coatings did not help the appearance of the picture, along with less than ideal previous storage facilities. 

There was also water damage from some time in its history.

Now, as art of the £45 million refurbishment of Paisley Museum the painting has been restored by a team of specialist conservators.

The work, by Egan, Matthews & Rose, based in Dundee, took 225 hours to complete and Victoria was stunned by the transformation.

Before treatment


After treatment

‘I remember this painting pre-conservation,’ she said.

‘The paint was literally coming off the canvas. The work that’s been done is unreal, it’s been so meticulous to stabilise the picture and bring it back to life.

‘The picture itself is extremely important to Paisley and Renfrewshire’s heritage because it’s a particular moment in time; whenever we share these kinds of images, they really resonate because people connect with places and individual histories.

‘When I saw it, I almost couldn’t believe it because it looked like a completely different painting. 

‘There was so much of the painting which had been covered and when it came back I was so surprised by the colour, the details and all the facial expressions that were lost underneath all those layers of soot, dirt and varnish. 

‘It’s an amazing job – the picture looking once more as the artist would have intended when it was first exhibited in 1911. 

‘It also gives William Barr the prominence as an artist that he truly deserves.’

The painting depicts figures in front of the Town Hall, a building which is also enjoying a complete restoration, following a multi-million refurbishment.

Both the painting and frame were worked on by a team of conservators – Gail Egan and Henry Matthews, conservator-directors of Egan, Matthews & Rose.

‘The painting was filthy, with thick, sooty dirt at the front and back, and the heavy plaster and silty deposits from the water damage at the reverse,’ said Gail.

‘As conservators, our main task is to ensure the stability of a painting and to preserve it in the best possible structural and visual condition for future generations, and we were excited to get started.’

Henry added: ‘We were delighted with the overall appearance of the painting following the very complex structural and aesthetic treatment. 

‘It is immensely satisfying to have rectified the damage and stabilised the painting structure, ensuring that it will be safe and secure for the future. 

‘It was thrilling to reveal, through a challenging cleaning process, the true colours and detail of this lovely picture with all its local characters and charm. 

‘We are privileged and proud that we have been able to bring this important record of Paisley’s social history back to life.’

Paisley Museum is currently being refurbished and will be operated by OneRen, Renfrewshire’s charity which provides cultural, community and leisure services.

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