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£100,000 project to bring Daniel Maclise paintings back to life

Parliament paintings have been long neglected

27 April, 2018 — By The Xtra Diary

One of Maclise’s paintings

THE art of the fresco has long been littered with sullied reputations, and spats between artists and commissioner.

Think of Michelangelo’s fury when told by Pope Julius II he had to splosh a lick of paint on the roof of the Sistine Chapel – a job he hugely resented having to do – and also his dislike of being asked by the Medici’s to whip up a similar job for them in Florence, which put him in direct competition with Da Vinci. Consider how the Parmese painter Correggio had to fight off accusations that his sensual works were really well paid pornography for those who were a little scared of the human form, and then fast forward to today and consider how street artist are a pigeon’s step away from being called low life vandals if the pieces aren’t paid for or are not by someone with a public reputation.

It seems fresco painters have never had it easy.

So a report this week in The Guardian by arts writer Maev Kennedy will bring a little bit of joy to those who admire those who like to create art on huge scales, to order, and for particular walls and spaces. Maev wrote about how Irish artist Daniel Maclise was horribly slated in the Victorian period for his huge pieces in the Houses of Parliament that depicted two of the greatest military moments in British history – the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo, and the victory of Nelson at Trafalgar.

The huge paintings were finished in 1865 and, as Kennedy points out, should have been the most wonderful celebration of Daniel’s incredible skill and attention to detail.

But instead, he was slammed as the works looked murky, and hard to see as paint turned off colour and lost it’s sheen.

Each had taken Daniel a year to do and many years of research. Yet when they were finished, the majority of comments were about their cost – Michelangelo would recognise that one – and the fact the surfaces of the paintings were turning murky almost as soon as he had washed his brushes. The works were, Kennedy reports, meant to be full of vivid detail and awash with colour – but due to building works at the Palace and the filthy London air, his paintings were attacked by corrosive pollutants and he was unfairly blamed for using poor technique. Leaky windows and cracks in the walls from the 19th century took their toll, too – but now a £100,000 project to bring them back to life will show Maclise’s work in all its glory.

As the restoration begins, Dan was blameless. Conservators have began restoring them to how they should have looked when they were finished, and say it was the poisonous air of London that meant the pictures were never shown off in all their glory and nothing to do with poor technique.

“It is a tale of horror and disappointment,” Kennedy cites Malcolm Hay, curator of works of art in the palace, as saying. “The one thing I hope we can do is to turn back the clock and give poor Maclise his due.”


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