Gallery: Work to help protect historic art

THE state of flaking neo-classical paintings at a Suffolk mansion has concerned conservationists for 130 years.

Dave Gooderham

THE state of flaking neo-classical paintings at a Suffolk mansion has concerned conservationists for 130 years.

Humidity and moisture in the Pompeian Room at Ickworth House near Bury St Edmunds has resulted in the lavish and historic wall paintings gradually crumbling away.

But now the problem - caused by the flawed way the artwork was first painted - could soon be rectified thanks to a �225,000 “essential” conservation project.


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Neil Robinson, house manager, said: “This has been an ongoing problem since the paintings were first done. Various solutions have been tried by both the (Bristol) family and the National Trust but to no avail.

“I don't think anyone appreciated what problems we would experience now but we hope this work could finally solve the problem.”

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The Pompeian Room was completed in 1879 when the 3rd Marques of Bristol wanted to recreate the style of wall paintings first seen by his great-grandfather, the 4th Earl of Bristol, at the Villa Negroni near Rome.

But the techniques used in the Suffolk listed property quickly led to problems - worrying generations of art lovers and, latterly, experts at the National Trust, which now owns the building.

Mr Robinson said: “The problem is that the paintings were applied using very wet paint and plaster that hadn't dried. When it got damp, it started deteriorating and flaking.”

The ambitious project has already seen improvements made to the heating and roof insulation above the plush room and intricate work to redirect water away from ancient pipes running behind the paintings.

It is hoped the expensive scheme- which includes installing sheep's wool in the roof voids to reduce heat loss - will eliminate the excess humidity currently damaging the Pompeian Room.

Tobit Curteis , wall painting and environment specialist, said: “Although the paintings in the Pompeian Room are extremely important they were originally painted in a technique which is fundamentally unstable.

“The key to saving them is to control the environment in the room so as to reduce the rate of deterioration. We are hoping that the improved environment buffering provided by the present work will allow us to use the conservation heating system in the Pompeian Room to provide the stable conditions that we need to conserve the paintings.”

In addition, re-leading and re-slating the west link corridor roof - which runs between the West Wing and the Rotunda - is also taking place - and the work means the front of the famous building is currently covered in 30 metre-high scaffolding.

Paul Coleman, senior buildings surveyor with the trust, said: “We have used 50 tonnes of new and recast lead but with the weather we have had recently, we have encountered difficulties with bending and forming the lead. We can't heat it due to the risk to the fabric of the building.”

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