Project Pegasus has created a unique opportunity to take stock of the condition of the Inn’s large collection of paintings, works on paper and three-dimensional artefacts in preparation for the Inn’s return to a remodelled and refurbished Treasury Building in 2021.
The Road to Restoration
Amongst the most challenging aspects of the recent decant from the Treasury Building, has been removal from the Parliament Chamber of the intricate and delicate over-mantle woodcarving attributed to Grinling Gibbons, and the beautiful marble Pegasus by J M Rysbrack which adored the main staircase. Given their age and value, there was never any doubt that these prized works in the Inn’s collection would require expert handling to remove them from the building.
Over several hours in early May, David Luard, freelance conservator specialising in 16th and 17th Century woodwork with a particular expertise in carvings by Grinling Gibbons, carefully deconstructed the various parts of the carving. With the assistance of a colleague from the Carvers & Gilders, he removed the multiple tiny pins holding the work in place, including from parts of the carving that previously had been broken and which, over the years, have split or cracked.
As those familiar with Gibbons’ work know, his carvings were traditionally made of limewood. Several layers of varnish cover The Inner Temple Gibbons, hence its darkened hue. Piece by piece the delicate features of the carving were laid into bespoke wooden boxes and taken to the Carvers & Gilders where the intricate parts will be assessed for repair and possible conservation.
Although some features of the carving were probably carved by other wood carvers, the central upper section can be attributed to Gibbons. Made up of an arrangement of carved wood appliqués incorporating an elaborate pediment with a pair of seated putti on either side of a cartouche, carved with the name of 'T THOMA WALKER AR 1705', it is flanked by cascades of fruit swags, a pair of fish, a pair of standing putti and leaves. A payment of £20 5s for the carving was recorded in November 1705, and it was originally situated in the ‘second’ Library which was created to house the Petyt collection.
In 1737, the Treasurer and Benchers of the Inn commissioned renowned Flemish sculptor J M Rysbrack (originally Jan Michiel Rijsbrack), who by then had established himself in London, to “carve out of a block of the best white marble” a Flying Horse for a fee of £100. Little could they have imagined that this symbol of the Inn would become one of the most valuable pieces in the collection. In preparation for the decant from the Treasury Building, removal of the sculpture was carefully assessed by Cliveden Conservation and, on 13 May, specially constructed scaffolding was assembled to bear the marble Pegasus, anticipated to weigh between 400-800kgs.
Originally hung over the entrance to the medieval Hall in 1739, Rysbrack’s Pegasus survived the war but not without injury. Close inspection has revealed extensive past repairs, as well as natural weathering and erosion from its long period outside. Unsurprisingly, the extremities of the sculpture show brown staining consistent with damage from heat and fire.
Given the circumstances, removal of paintings and art works from the Inn during the war must have been hurried and haphazard. Almost eight decades later, it is gratifying to know that the collection has been carefully removed and packed by experienced art handlers and safely stored at Restore in Upper Heyford, part of the National Conservation Service, and that some works will have the opportunity to be restored, in preparation for the next stage of the Inn’s evolution.