LS Lowry: Reframing Private Loans

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Even though I’ve been working at The Lowry for nearly four years, sometimes it’s easy to forget that The Lowry is home to the world’s largest public collection of paintings and drawings by the famous LS Lowry. Largest in the world! Crazy, right?

A large selection is on display in our permanent exhibition alongside other works on loan from private collections across the UK. Our LS Lowry curator Claire Stewart has the job of carefully choosing which paintings and drawings should go up, and which should be stored safely.

But what’s the process beforehand? How are they dealt with when they arrive on loan from their generous owners? Do they go straight up in the galleries? I spent some time with Senior Galleries Technician Chris to find out what happens before the art work is perfectly placed in our LS Lowry exhibition.

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When paintings and drawings are received from a private collection, there’s a chance that while the works are still in good condition, the mount and frames may not be perfect. This is simply a result of having been in the same frames since they were first acquired and having been in the same family ownership for several generations. Old mount card is often acidic and can damage and discolour the paper the drawings are on.

When works are taken out of their frames we need to make sure any original labels or personal information is preserved so Chris was careful to remove these – particularly the label on the back of the frame. All these labels are important for the history of the picture.

It’s also crucial that the old frame is carefully removed, to make sure that the artwork doesn’t become damaged in the process. Picture framers typically had more traditional methods of keeping the picture safe inside the frame back in the day, including tacking, so Chris spent a lot of time cautiously removing some of the tacks that were holding the picture in the frame.

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Once the back of the frame has been removed, it’s then time to see what kind of condition the mount is in. Luckily with this pencil drawing entitled ‘The Railway Steps’ and the watercolour that is known simply as ‘Figure Study with Dogs’, I can tell with little experience that there is no real damage.

The only minor problem is that some of the older tape has become stuck to the back of the artwork. It is important for Chris to remove this even more carefully than before, and gloves are always a must!

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Chris also mentioned to me that he was really impressed that none of the artwork had discoloured or faded majorly, as sadly this is another common effect of older paintings and drawings. The pencil drawing ‘The Railway Steps’ was drawn in 1945 – as you can imagine – it’s probably been a extremely long time since the drawing has been out of the frame, and the backing it sits on can sometimes erode.

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But we’re now in a time where conservators can now use materials that don’t damage artwork in the long run, and this is what Chris did in the next step of re-framing the two LS Lowry Loans.

He told me that every artwork he reframes has to be on an acidic-free backing, to make sure the paintings will be preserved as best as possible whilst they’re here for the year in our galleries. To keep them in their place in the mount, he also used small pieces of tape in each of the corners.

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Even though they might be slightly more visible to a close spectator, Chris explained that he’d rather have the small pieces of tape on the artwork, instead of trying to stick anything to the back. This would have meant that the artwork could have slightly protruded, and it wouldn’t have looked good in the frame. As a Galleries technician, his job is to make sure it looks as great as it can, and they were definitely looking that way!

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 He left both of the paintings in the acid-free backing for a couple of days, just to make sure that they stayed as they were, with little movement. It’s important to make sure they don’t move out of their position, otherwise they won’t look proportioned when they go into their new frames.

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The next step of preparing to exhibit these pieces of artworks were putting them into their new frames. This was a pretty simple process, and probably one of the easiest parts for Chris to complete, as these are our own frames that we use in the LS Lowry collection. Putting them in new frames make the artwork look their best for visitors to admire when they come and see our LS Lowry exhibition.

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And finally, the most important part of the process – hanging the newly framed painting and drawing for all to see. Chris brought in his team early in the morning the other week to begin the process, which included finding the perfect place for them to be hung with our LS Lowry Curator Claire.

With a few adjustments here and there, both pieces of artwork were placed to perfection on the wall, and fittingly were both put within close proximity. It was so great to finally see them placed on the wall after all the hard work Chris had put in to remounting and framing them, and it’s something I’ll remember for a long time. It was an honour to witness such a special process.

With thanks to the family of Lowry’s art teacher Percy Warburton for loaning us the two works for the LS Lowry Collection.

To find out more information about our permanent LS Lowry Collection, click here.

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