Re-opening Limnerslease: Artists' Home

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Posted 18th January 2022

Limnerlease reopened to the public in December 2021, it's so wonderful to welcome everyone back to our founders' home and studios, after last being open in March 2020. At Limnerslease you can step into the recreation of G F’s studio. You can also discover the story of Mary Watts and learn about the Watts’ life in Compton, plus visit some of the domestic rooms with unique decorative features.

Our Collections Manager, Emma Coburn ACR talks us through the work that took place to re-open Limnerslease, including extensive conservation work:

The former Arts & Crafts studio-home of artists George Frederic Watts OM RA (1817–1904) and Mary Watts (1849–1938), designed by Ernest George (1839-1922) closed in March 2020 when the first UK lockdown was announced. We planned to reopen in Autumn 2020 but following an electrical fire in September of that year, the spaces remained closed allowing for renovation and conservation to take place.

Although the fire in the lobby was localised, smoke filled the building leaving a residue, not only on the internal surfaces but also the artworks on display. This meant the collection and contents had to be removed and conserved, and the entire building cleaned and redecorated. The Collections and Exhibitions Team at Watts Gallery described this as a ‘collections emergency incident’ and this required an immediate conservation response. The collections, contents and building fabric required immediate conservation assessment and this took place within 24 hours of the fire.

The building interiors themselves all had to be cleaned, prepared and then redecorated, this could not happen with the collections remaining in-situ. A comprehensive project plan of how to safely decant the collections was required. Much of the initial conservation cleaning to remove the smoke residue was done in-situ, this is due to the size, location and fragility of some of the artworks.

However, many items went to external conservation studios for treatment. Working according to material type, the conservation methodology was tailored to the specific needs of each object type, with the knowledge that the collection and contents required decanting to off-site specialist art storage.

Oil Paintings

Our De Lazlo Paintings Conservator, coordinated a team of four freelance paintings conservators working within four temporary studio spaces within the Clore Learning Studio in the building. Each of the 27 oil paintings by G F Watts were photographed, de-framed, examined and cleaned with full condition reports written; this included the full assessment and treatment of the four by three metre square painting, The Court of Death on loan from the Tate.

The Court of Death and The Patient Life of Unrequited Toil were the only two artworks to remain in situ in the G F Watts Studio during the building works, both crated in the centre of the space, requiring invigilation throughout the project whilst cleaning and redecoration took place.

Join us for the second part of this blog to discover how the Decorative Panels, Works on Paper and Sculptural objects were cleaned and treated following the fire.

Limnerslease is included in your ticket admission, explore the Artists' Home for yourself on your next visit to Watts Gallery Artists' Village, we recommend booking tickets online. You can also explore more online via Smartify.

We would like to thank everyone that has contributed to this project, from the original salvage and rescue to preparation for re-opening:

Ash Contracting, Bainbridge Conservation, Basis Lighting, Bequest, Bower Wood, Broadwater Electrical, Gander and White, Hallett Insurance, Harwell Restoration, HiLite Access, KD Fine Art, Opus Conservation, Richard Rogers Conservation, Selsey Press, Surrey Fire Brigade, Tracey Chaplin and ZMMA Architects.