Labour of love to conserve one of the most important tapestry collections in the world

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Labour of love to conserve one of the most important tapestry collections in the world
Conservator Bevan O'Daley at work on 'The Marriage Procession'. Photo: Courtesy the Burrell Collection, Glasgow.

GLASGOW.- Just as the leap year is about to present an opportunity for women tired of waiting to be asked to pop the question themselves, The Burrell Collection is preparing a story of love and marriage for display when it re-opens in spring 2021.

Four months of painstaking conservation work is being carried out on a tapestry which tells the ‘Story of Gombaut and Macée.’ It is one of six in a series of pastoral narrative tapestries.‘The Wedding Procession’ is the only surviving tapestry from this particular set.

As a type of pastoral ‘Ages of Man’, the series follows two peasants, a shepherd and shepherdess called Gombaut and Macée, from their childhood games (Butterfly Hunt with Lady Eating Soup, and Game of Croquet) to their youthful romance (The Dance, The Feast, The Announcement of the Engagement) and marriage (The Wedding Procession), to the tribulations of the shepherd’s life and old age (Wolf Attack and the Death of Gombaut). Bawdy captions, easily legible in French, ensure that the narrative thread is not lost.

The magnificent collection of some 200 European, mainly medieval, tapestries acquired by Glasgow shipping magnate Sir William Burrell (1861–1958) is one of the largest and most important tapestry collections in the world. Over a period of 60 years, Sir William and his wife, Constance, decorated their homes extensively with many tapestries adorning the walls. Photographs of 8 Great Western Terrace, Glasgow, and Hutton Castle, Scottish Borders, show several of Burrell’s early purchases hung or mounted on the walls. This particular wool and silk tapestry will be displayed at the Burrell Collection as it would have been displayed in the Burrell’s domestic setting.

Textile Conservator Bevan O’Daly has been meticulously carrying out the conservation process, beginning by wet-cleaning the tapestry using a special table which allows water to run through the fabric to remove ingrained dirt. Left to dry naturally, the tapestry is then attached to a special frame for conservation stitching. Weak areas of the tapestry including where the original wool or silk has degraded leaving bare warps, are given additional attention. A type of intensive sewing known as brick couching is then used to replace any loss using new wool or silk in matching colours. Old repairs which had used inaccurate colours particularly around the figures’ faces and hands, are also being removed and replaced, ensuring all repair work blends in with the original colours of the tapestry.

A team of 4 textile conservators are caring for the works in readiness for the Burrell’s re-opening in spring 2021. The estimated £66million refurbishment of the museum building and redisplay of its collection will include the redisplay of approximately 40 tapestries, from large open-displays to small tapestries in cases.

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