National Museums Liverpool

New centre for sculpture conservation in Liverpool

Brain drain from the V&A


The National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside have announced a new five-year programme to create a centre for sculpture conservation in the Albert Docks in Liverpool, where the Merseyside Maritime Museum and Tate of the North are now housed. The building for the new sculpture centre already exists in the form of the Great Western Railway shed dating from the 1890s. This will provide a generously proportioned space for handling large scale sculptures as well as convenient access for loading and unloading under shelter. Construction on a new building adjacent to the shed will allow all conservation activities of the Merseyside Museums and Galleries to take place on the same site. The total cost of the development is estimated at £4 million, and private-sector funding is being canvassed.

The project is the brainchild of James France, Keeper of Conservation for the Merseyside museums. He explained that the new centre “will provide a centralised area where staff will be able to carry out their work in the new high tech studios in the rear extension, and the public will see demonstrations of conservation processes at the front of the existing building”. The Merseyside museums see conservation as the backbone of any effective museum service: Liverpool spends as much on conservation as any other national museum. The new sculpture conservation centre will also take on outside projects—one such being the proposed restoration of the classical sculptures in the Pantheon at Ince Blundell nearby. James France has enlisted the help of the Henry Moore Foundation in funding one of the two sculpture conservator posts for a period of three years and has also lured the two senior sculpture conservators at the Victoria and Albert Museum, John Larson and Anne Brodrick, to the north.

The departure of Larson and Brodrick will be another blow to morale at the V&A. Rumour has it that the two were unhappy with working conditions in the V&A and with the downgrading of conservation: the department formerly contained four conservators and will now consist of one full-time and some free-lance conservators on short-term contracts. The administration of the V&A has expressed sympathy with the inadequate state of the sculpture conservation department but has not done anything to improve the situation. Meanwhile the new sculpture conservation centre in Liverpool will mark a further tilt in the British museum world away from London. The cooperation of the Henry Moore Foundation in Leeds, with the additional promise to consider funding students training as sculptor conservators, will strengthen Liverpool’s bid to become the hub of British sculpture conservation.

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 11 October 1991