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The Library’s portrait of Sophia O’Brien, painted by Maurice Felton in 1841, was featured in the winter 2016 issue of SL magazine. Since then, Sophia’s great-great-niece, Mrs Priestley, has supported extensive conservation treatment of the work.
The portrait was described by conservators in 1975, when it was acquired by the Library, as ‘very fragile indeed’ with a ‘very large flap in the middle of the picture’, ‘several other penetrations’ and ‘extremely dirty in all possible ways’. Conservation work in the 1970s and 80s has covered up some of the earlier damage, but we can see its extent in an X-ray.
In the 1970s, conservators mounted the painting on lightweight muslin with a wax lining to stop the tears worsening. They filled the holes with more wax, cleaned the surface and retouched areas where paint was missing. But the new fabric lining proved inadequate to support the canvas securely, and old cracks became ‘tented’ as the canvas contracted.