Appendix 11 - Press cuttings
March 19th 1939
Elgin Marbles -
I learn that Mr. F. N. Pryce, Keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the British Museum, has resigned his post.
Prof. Bernard Ashmole is to succeed him. Until recently he was Yates Professor of Archaeology at London University. He has been for some weeks in provisional charge of the department.
Mr. Pryce's resignation was followed by that of his assistant, Mr. Roger Hinks. Mr. Hinks, who shines socially not less than in scholarship, has received an appointment at the Warburg Institute library of rare historical books and manuscripts in South Kensington.
It is officially stated that the reported disagreement at the Museum over the cleaning of the Elgin Marbles is not connected with these resignations.
- And "Museum Discipline"
The marbles were under Mr. Pryce's care, and I understand that his treatment of them raised in the mind of Sir John Forsdyke, the Director, a question of "Museum discipline." Mr. Pryce's resignation is said to be on the ground of his health, which has not been good for some time.
Sir John Forsdyke and Prof. Ashmole are Buckinghamshire neighbours. Sir John* has a farm near Chesham, and Prof. Ashmole lives in a house he built at Amersham.
Its modern architecture at first greatly startled the inhabitants of that town.
*note in pencil "Quite untrue, but an old and persistent error of one of the editorial staff of the D.T. J.
MARCH 21ST 1939
Elgin Marbles Too Clean?
Archaeologists, I hear, are anxious about the state of the Elgin marbles in the British Museum. Ten days ago I mentioned that Mr. F. N. Pryce and Mr. Roger Hinks, the Keeper and Assistant Keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities, had resigned.
It is being said by those qualified to express an opinion that as the result of their recent cleaning the metopes and frieze have lost the warmth of their patina.
The Elgin marbles are more than a national possession. Successive Greek Governments have been anxious to see them restored to their places on the Parthenon. It has been an argument against this that their preservation was better assured in the Museum.
However ill or well founded the anxiety about their condition may be, a statement by Sir John Forsdyke, the Director of the Museum, giving the facts of the case would be welcome.
Cutting from STAR. 21 March 1939
"Patina" Was Just Dirt To This Cleaner
by A. G. Thornton
Hypersensitive fellows are complaining that certain of the Elgin Marbles have lost their patina.
Passing over the hopeless ones who think that the Elgin Marbles are a Scottish ground game, we come to the larger artistic minority who do not know a patina when they see it.
This is a British Museum business, and a certain amount of mystery surrounds these famous marble sculptures (part-worn) brought back by the 7th Earl of Elgin from Athens more than 100 years ago.
Not A Word
Recently somebody (his name is never mentioned now) started giving these B.M. marbles a wash and brush up, thus jeopardising, in the opinion of some, the exquisite patina - the accumulation of grime caused by long exposure to atmosphere.
Like the mouldy bits of gorgonzola, this patina is much admired by artistic epicures.
To-day the usual parties were conducted around the Bloomsbury mausoleum, and not a word was said about any patina. Cecrops and his daughter were as usual upset about something, though it was difficult to say what as they have no faces., Across the road Selene was performing her usual act of descending into the sea and Demeter was holding her hands up in horror.
But there were sinister blanks. Selene, for instance, had lost her horse. Iris had gone and the horses of Helios were also missing. But it is all right really. They are all having a move into new and better service flats (or stables) in the new Elgin room.
A number of other pieces were boarded up as for an air raid. It was an air raid really, because the masons were making a new doorway and these valuables had to be protected from the flying splinters and dust.
But the Elgin glories remain, particularly that sculptured glory of glories, the Fates. As one entranced woman tourist said, "Aren't their frocks lovely, and haven't they worn well?"
Elgin Marbles (Worth £1,000,000) Damaged in Cleaning
By William Hall, Daily Mail Reporter (March 25th 1939)
Reports of irreparable damage to the Elgin Marbles, priceless world-famous treasures housed in the British Museum, have been whispered in art circles during the past few weeks. Yesterday I was permitted to see the damage.
In the new £80,000 gallery, which has been presented by Lord Duveen to house the Marbles, and is to be opened soon, there are already a number of slabs from the Parthenon frieze. They bear figures of Greek youths and maidens, some on horseback, some afoot and, undoubtedly they have been damaged during cleaning.
Traces of patina have been removed, leaving an unnatural whiteness. Patina, the result of a process closely resembling oxidisation, develops on marble in the passing of centuries.
In the case of the Elgin Marbles, it has given to the pieces a lovely orange-golden sheen which, in the eyes of art lovers, greatly increases the attractiveness of the lovely Marbles, and it is this sheen which has been removed from a number of them.
Washed by Experts
The British Museum authorities are greatly concerned that the damage should have been done, even inadvertently, but it was pointed out to me that only experts are likely to detect it.
It is not intended to withdraw the over-cleaned pieces from public view. They are being placed in the new gallery, and will be on show when it is opened.
It is the rule to wash the Marbles in distilled water, using a light sponge and a special liquid soap prepared in the museum's laboratory, and those engaged in the task are specially instructed.
Fifth Century B.C.
Removal of the patina occurred during cleaning operations while the former keeper of the Roman and Greek antiquities, Mr. F. N. Pryce, was temporarily absent through illness. Mr. Pryce last year resigned his appointment. Shortly after the damage was discovered a report was prepared for the trustees, who include Dr. Lang, Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Maugham, the Lord Chancellor, Earl Baldwin, and Lord Harlech.
The Elgin Marbles, which, if they could be priced at all, would be valued at £1,000,000 at least, were brought to Britain from Athens just over a century ago by the seventh Earl of Elgin. They date to the fifth century B.C., and are believed to have been carved under the direct supervision of Phidias, greatest sculptor of classical antiquity.
The Greeks never forgave Lord Elgin for what they called his "robbery" of the Marbles, although he removed them from the Acropolis only for safe keeping in Britain, under an agreement with the Turkish authorities then in power.
DAILY EXPRESS, 25 MARCH 1939
MYSTERY AT THE MUSEUM
There has been trouble at the British Museum.
There have been resignations - notably that of ROGER HINKS, of the Department of Greek & Roman antiquities.
Visitors have noticed with surprise the whiteness of the Elgin Marbles - the sculptured groups which schoolboys have been taught to revere as ancient art's highest achievement ever since they were pinched for us from Greece in1806.
They have recently been given a thorough "scrubbing" which some critics regret.
Museum trustees have conferred earnestly about the matter.
There has been so much talk about it that they ought surely to issue a statement.
Anything to do with the welfare of the British Museum - which the State subsidises to the extent of getting on for £200,000 a year - is of public interest.
Extract from Country Life, April 8th 1939
THE ELGIN MARBLES
The disquieting rumours now current that some of the Elgin Marbles have been "ruined" by unauthorised cleaning are, of course, wholly untrue and can be dispelled by simply looking at those on view in the Elgin room at the British Museum. Routine washing with soap and water was authorised in preparation for the removal of the sculptures to the new Duveen Room, but in the process it appears that other means of cleaning were employed without the knowledge of the Museum authorities. Gossip speaks of the patina of some of the pieces being destroyed; even of the surface being removed to an appreciable extent. Confirmation is afforded of some irregularity having taken place by the resignation of an official; but, so far from any material damage having been done, even an expert eye would find it difficult to distinguish between the sculptures cleaned by authorised means and those by unauthorised. The pediment groups do not seem to be involved. From the layman's point of view the pieces cleaned actually look all the better. But it is the infringement of archaeological canons that makes the incident serious: the fact that, without the knowledge of the authorities, means of cleaning other than those prescribed by them should have been employed, and thus, not the marbles themselves, but the documentary record of their handling, have been technically damaged.
MAY 1ST 1939
Elgin Plaster Casts
Ingenious methods are employed by the British Museum authorities to conceal from visitors the state of the Elgin Marbles after their recent "cleaning."
I visited the Museum during the week-end and found that the figure of Iris in the East Pediment and the horses of the Sun and Moon at either end of this had been replaced by life-like casts. The square metopes, showing Centaurs and Lapiths struggling, are not on view in any form.
A rather ungrateful whispering campaign has been started to suggest that the treatment the Elgin Marbles have undergone is the responsibility of Lord Duveen. It is to him that the erection of the new Elgin Gallery is due.
Lord Duveen, of course, is not an official of the Museum, and the Marbles have never been in his charge.
They are the responsibility of the Director, Sir John Forsdyke.
His selection by the Trustees in 1936 met with some criticism owing to his lack of administrative experience. At that time he had only been Keeper of a Department for four years.
It was, however, considered that the new Elgin Room was the largest problem facing the Museum, and the Trustees are said to have taken the view that it would be wise to appoint as Director someone whose expert knowledge was particularly connected with Greek antiquities.
Sir John Forsdyke has denied that the retirement of his former colleagues, Mr. Pryce and Mr Hinks, is connected with any trouble over the cleaning of the Marbles. From this it is clear that Sir John himself assumes full responsibility.
I understand that whatever artistic damage may have been done to the sculptures mineralogists from the Natural History Museum consider that the Marbles, viewed purely as stone, are unimpaired.
Letter from D. W. Stather Hunt to The Telegraph, 11 May 1939
THE ELGIN MARBLES
The remarks on the Elgin Marbles in "London Day by Day" of May 1 last have attracted widespread attention among lovers of ancient Greek art but so far the story appears to be one-sided. Surely some statement from the Museum authorities is called for? It is, perhaps not generally realised that the Elgin Marbles are public property, bought with taxpayers' money in 1816, and that the British Museum itself is entirely supported out of national revenue. It is to be hoped that any statement made will be in specific, not in general terms.
D. W. Stather Hunt
Magdalen College, Oxford
SUNDAY TIMES LETTER (14 May 1939) FROM ROBERT BYRON
Letters to the Editor
ELGIN MARBLES IN BRITISH MUSEUM
Need for an Official Statement
To the Editor, Sunday Times
Sir, - It is now two months since tales began to circulate of a mishap to the Elgin Marbles. Hints of irregularity in the treatment of the marbles have appeared in the Press, and more than hints in private conversation. Yet still the Museum has not been able to issue a statement. Is it to be assumed, or do the Museum authorities assume, that the public has no interest in what happens to the national art treasures? We have waited in patience.. I suggest that the time has now come when either a statement must be forthcoming or the question raised in Parliament.
The Elgin Marbles have a more universal importance than any other works of art in the keeping of this country. If a Chinese, for example, said he had come to England to penetrate the spirit of the West, a wise man might answer: "You have started at the wrong end; you ought to have gone to the Mediterranean first. But now you are here, it happens that we do possess in London a set of sculptures from the Parthenon at Athens which will show you the spirit of the West in its early freshness. From these you may discover in visible form that conception of human dignity, that power of observation and that habit of measured statement which makes us prize liberty, pursue knowledge and exercise reason; for this is the way of thinking - so different from your own more antique and laborious accumulation of common sense and aesthetic emotion - which has given us power and wealth and which the Greeks laid down for us. The Piccadilly tube will take you to the British Museum. Once you have grasped the meaning of these mutilated stones, you can begin to study the British Constitution or the mass production of aircraft or anything else that strikes you as typical of our civilisation."
"Was it a British conqueror," the Chinese might reply, "who brought these sculptures from a subject land?"
"No, it was a noble ambassador, who paid £35,000 out of his own pocket to fetch them."
The Cleaning Process
A hundred years have passed since London first acclaimed
...the modern Pict's ignoble boast
To rive what Goth, and Turk, and Time hath spared."
And for a hundred years the London atmosphere has been encrusting those once sun-kissed figures with a sheath of corrosive soot; so that until the last few months, it might have been necessary to warn the Chinese that these murky shapes, lost in the twilit caverns of a hyperborean metropolis, demanded a certain effort of imagination.
This has been accentuated in recent years by the contrasting splendour of such galleries as the Pergamum Museum in Berlin and many others in America, erected to house far less important objects. But at length a champion has emerged, as munificent as Elgin himself, in the person of Lord Duveen. He has built a gallery of unequalled magnificence, Doric in idea and so big that the figures can be seen from the distance the sculptor intended. `To be worthy of such an edifice it was decided that the marbles must be cleaned. Many of them have already been installed in their new state, and though the gallery is not yet open to the public the courtesy of the Museum officials has enabled certain visitors to examine them there.
It is not necessary to be an authority on Greek sculpture to see that the cleaning process, however much it may have improved on the previous state of the marbles, has not restored them to their original appearance. Anyone who knows the patina of Pentelic marble, who has run his hands over the knife-like edges of the Parthenon or the objects in the Acropolis Museum and felt those innumerable tiny asperities and translucencies which make that stone the most vivid material that ever rewarded a carver's skill, can see at once that the marbles in Lord Duveen's new gallery have lost this patina. The lustre and the gentleness have vanished. The lumps of stone remain, robbed of life, dead as casts.
Right to Information
The Museum authorities may argue, possibly with absolute truth, that the armour of grime with which the marble was coated had already devoured the patina beyond hope of recovery. But they do not argue this. They argue nothing at all.
The public has a right to be informed, not only on account of its concern for the national collections, but for the sake of our relations with Greece. Greece has never relinquished her claim to the marbles' return. So far this claim has been met by two rather doubtful arguments; first, that Lord Elgin saved the marbles from destruction by removing them; secondly, that if they were returned, they would not be properly shown or cared for. If the marbles can now be shown, as I think they can, to have been irrevocably damaged by their sojourn here, the first argument collapses. If that damage was due to negligence, the second collapses also. It is unlikely that Greece is any more anxious to pick a quarrel with us at this moment than we are with her. But mysteries rankle. Let us clear the situation and let in the light, even if we have to apologise in doing so.
London, S.W.3. Robert Byron
The Times Thursday May 18 1939
Cleaning the Elgin Marbles
For a good many weeks past it has been impossible to move among people of artistic or antiquarian interests in London without hearing alarming rumours about the Elgin Marbles; and some references to the matter have appeared in print. The statement published this morning from the Trustees of the British Museum (even though it is phrased with an extreme official caution) should finally dispel the foolish stories that have been told of damage done during cleaning. In fact, so far as the lay eye can detect, no harm of any kind has been done to the Marbles; and whether any change (other than the removal of dirt) will be detected in them by the experts after close and prolonged examination not even the experts can yet say.
The relevant points of the story are soon told. LORD DUVEEN has built a gallery (not yet open to the public) specially to house the Elgin Marbles, and the opportunity was taken to clean them. When the cleaning had gone a certain way it was discovered that, unknown to the officials in charge of the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities, a method of cleaning was being used of which the Trustees disapproved because it was held to be dangerous. The object of this unauthorized method was, it seems, to remove certain spots of discoloration on the statues, but whether any such spots were in fact removed is not known. Certainly no one can tell by ordinary methods of inspection which of the statues were so cleaned, and which (and these are the bulk of the series) were cleaned by the accepted methods. The Elgin marbles show many differences of colour, many varying degrees of preservation of the surface which ill-informed or malicious criticism might misinterpret. These differences have nothing to do with the recent cleaning or with any other, but are due to the varying disposition of the Marbles on the outside of the Temple of which, facing the sea winds, they formed part for more than 2,000 years, or to the different positions in which some of them lay on the ground between their fall from the Parthenon and their removal by LORD ELGIN. To base upon the recent incident any argument that the Elgin Marbles are not properly cared for in their present home is to exaggerate it out of all proportion. If the Museum authorities themselves had not chosen, quite rightly, to take a grave view of the matter, it would probably never have been suspected that there had been the slightest irregularity.
DIRECTOR'S NOTE ON `THE POLICY OF THE TRUSTEES IN REGARD TO PUBLICATION OF THE FACTS.'
However full the announcement may be which the Trustees send officially to the Press, it will be amplified by the representatives of newspapers in London from their own enquiries and observations. I would therefore advise that the official announcement be as brief and bare as possible, and that I be authorised to add details within certain limits in answer to personal enquiries by accredited representatives of the Press.
To be appended to the Report:
`The Trustees of the British Museum regret to announce that in the process of (cleaning) preparing...for removal the Parthenon sculptures preparatory to their being placed in the new galleries, which have been built by Lord Duveen, improper and unauthorised methods have been employed in some instances through the negligence of the responsible officers.
Information to be given orally in answer to specific questions:-
`What were the improper methods?'
`What damage has been done?' (This question to be referred to the enquirers' own powers of observation).
`Who wanted to improve the colour?'
`Who made the unauthorised efforts?'
`Why were the efforts made?'
`Why were they not stopped?'
'Who are the responsible officers'
`What has been done about them?'
CUTTING FROM THE TIMES. THURSDAY MAY 18 1939
TRUSTEES' POLICY ON CLEANING
USE OF NEW METHODS STOPPED
The following official statement has been received by The Times regarding the recent cleaning of the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum:-
"The Trustees of the British Museum have had under consideration the recent cleaning of the Elgin Marbles in connexion with their rearrangement in the new galleries which have been built by Lord Duveen. They found that unauthorized methods were being introduced in some instances, with the intention evidently of improving the appearance of the marble by removing spots of discolouration from its surface. Since this was done without the knowledge of the officers of the Museum who were responsible for the cleaning it has not yet been possible to determine precisely the extent to which these methods were applied. To anyone but an expert their effect is imperceptible. The Trustees do not allow any departure from their approved methods, and at once took the necessary steps to ensure that no such innovations should be adopted in the Museum."
The Elgin Marbles are those portions of the sculpture from the Parthenon at Athens which were brought to England by the seventh Earl of Elgin in 1806, and bought by the British Government in 1816. They have long been considered among the chief treasures of the British Museum. During recent weeks there have been rumours, happily dispelled by the above announcement, that they had suffered more or less serious damage during cleaning before their removal to the gallery which Lord Duveen has built for their display.
Daily Express. Friday, May 19, 1939. Front page and page 2 (typed from newspaper itself).
`I am the man who cleaned the Elgin Marbles'
The Great Elgin Marbles mystery was partially solved last night
Rubbed off Dirty Spots
Daily Express Staff Reporter
The Great Elgin Marbles mystery was partially solved last night.
Arthur Holcombe, 11s.-a-week pensioner of the British Museum told me that, while in charge of six masons cleaning the treasures - valued at £1,000,000 at least - he used a blunt copper tool "to get off some of the dirtier spots."
Mr. Holcombe, seventy-three years old, lives in North London. He worked at the British Museum thirty-four years earned £3.17s. a week, and was always amazed at the beauty of the Marbles.
They are sculptures from the Parthenon in Athens, bear figures of Greek youths and maidens, some on horseback, some afoot. Their cleaning was ordered before their transference to the £80,000 gallery Lord Duveen has presented for their housing.
ASKED IN VAIN
When it was alleged they had been damaged in the process famous figures in the art world pressed - in vain - for a statement from the Museum authorities.
Mr. Holcombe said:-
"I was told to begin cleaning them two years ago. As head man, I was put in charge of six Museum labourers.
"We were given a solution of soap and water and ammonia. First we brushed the dirt off the marbles with a soft brush. Then we applied the solution with the same brush. After that we sponged them dry, then wiped them over with distilled water.
"That was all we were told to do. To get off some of the dirtier spots I rubbed the Marbles with a blunt copper tool. Some of them were as black with dirt as that grate" said Mr. Holcombe pointing to his hearth.
"As far as I know, all that had been done for years to clean them was to blow them with bellows.
"The other men borrowed my copper tools and rubbed the Marbles with them as I did. I knew it would not do them any harm, because the copper is softer than the stone. I have used the same tools for cleaning marble at the Museum under four directors.
"One or two of the slabs of the frieze came up rather white, and I am afraid they caused the trouble. But anybody who knows anything about marble knows that if you treat two slabs in exactly the same way it is possible they will come up a different colour.
"All the time we were working officials of the Museum were passing through the room. We had been at it fifteen months when I was told there was a complaint.
"The six men and I were called before a committee of trustees and the director of the Museum. We went in separately and they asked us all kinds of questions about how we had been cleaning the Marbles.
3 Weeks' Notice
"I told them about the copper tool. I went before the committee three times, but I never heard what their decision was.
"Three months after the last committee meeting the director of works called me to his office, and told me that as I was over age I would have to retire. He gave me three weeks' notice, and I got a pension.
"The retiring age at the Museum is sixty-five. When I left I was seventy-two.
"I am sure the work we did on the Marbles did them no harm. I wanted to be a sculptor when I was a boy, but when my father died I could not continue my studies, so I became a mason.
"Before I went to the Museum I did some work on Westminster Abbey."
Yesterday the Trustees of the British Museum issued a statement that they found unauthorised methods were being introduced in some instances, and that this was done without the knowledge of the officers of the Museum who were responsible for the cleaning.
The statement added that the effects of the methods used were imperceptible to any one but an expert, and concluded:-
"The Trustees do not allow any departure from their approved methods, and at once took the necessary steps to ensure that no such innovations should be adopted in the Museum."
The Elgin Marbles are so called because they were brought to England by the seventh Earl of Elgin. The Government bought them in 1816.
LETTER FROM JACOB EPSTEIN TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES, DATED MAY 19
CLEANING OF MARBLES
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES
In your issue of May 2, 1921, I protested against the "cleaning" and restoring of the Greek marbles at the British Museum, particularly the Demeter of Cnidus. My protest went unheeded and I was jeered at for concerning myself with what I was told was no business of mine. Eighteen years have passed, and now the cleaning and restoration of the Elgin marbles are causing uneasiness, and questions are asked as to whether the famous marbles have been damaged in the process. The British Museum authorities have admitted that any change in the marbles is only to be distinguished by the practised eye "of an expert," wherever that resides! An interview published in the Press with the head cleaner of the marbles has elicited the information that a copper tool "softer than marble" (how incredible) was used. Why a cleaner and six hefty men should be allowed for 15 months to tamper with the Elgin marbles as revealed by the head cleaner passes the comprehension of a sculptor. When will the British Museum authorities understand that they are only the custodians and never the creators of these masterpieces?
18, Hyde Park Gate, S.W.7, May 19
The Daily Telegraph
Friday, May 19, 1939
Cleaned Elgin Marbles
Now that a Parliamentary question has been put on the Order Paper regarding the Elgin Marbles, to the condition of which I have more than once referred. I see that the Trustees of the British Museum have issued a statement on the question.
In this they declare that unauthorised methods of proceeding have been introduced with an effect on the sculptures "imperceptible to anyone but an expert," and that they have taken the necessary steps to see that no such innovation should be adopted by the Museum.
The statement also declares that this cleaning process was used without the knowledge of the officers responsible for the cleaning.
British Museum and the Press
It seems odd that this cleaning, which must have occupied a considerable time, escaped the observation of the Director, Sir John Forsdyke.
Incidentally, the Trustees' statement was not made to the Press as a whole. Recently I called attention to the fact that Sir Philip Sassoon had given details of the work of his Department to a single paper.
The official announcement of the Trustees is also clearly a public matter which should have been issued in the normal manner.
Saturday, The Evening News May 20, 1939
Epstein Is Very Angry About The Way British Museum Treated The Elgin Marbles
"Experts" are ignorant, he says
"Damage is done now to priceless art"
Hint to Trustees
"Let Working Sculptors Advise You"
His hands white with the dust of the stone he had just been carving, Mr. Jacob Epstein had a few unkind words to say about the methods of the British Museum's custodians of sculpture to-day.
"Eighteen years ago I protested against the cleaning and `restoring' of Greek marbles there," Mr. Epstein said to me (writes an Evening News representative).
"The only result was that I was ridiculed and abused by everybody, and especially by the people who had never in their lives worked on a piece of marble, though, artists all over the world were shocked by the news that the Museum authorities had added a false nose to the Demeter of Cnidus.
How Did It Happen?
"Now comes the revelation that for 15 months some workman has been scraping the Elgin Marbles with a copper tool. It is admitted that this method is unauthorised: what needs explaining is how it came to be used for all that time without action being taken.
"I hear that two officials have resigned, but in the meantime the damage has been done.
"I have had some dealings with these museum authorities, and have found them ignorant and opinionated almost beyond belief. Once, for instance, I was urged to show a piece of Sumerian sculpture to one of these experts.
"He promptly declared that the attitude of the hands and feet proved that it was not genuine.
"A Fake," He Said
"I then satisfied him that the hands and feet were exactly in accordance with the Sumerian style. Then almost without looking at it, he coolly said: `Anyway, the statue is a fake, a very clever fake.'
"The Elgin Marbles are utterly beyond price, supreme works of art, and I think I know them as well as any of the curators, if not better.
"The obvious and only sensible thing for the Trustees to do is to have an advisory panel of working sculptors whom they can consult on these matters, instead of leaving them to a group of archaeologists and chemists.
"The kind of thing which has just been revealed makes Britain the laughing-stock of the whole civilised world."
The Times Monday May 22 1939
CLEANING OF THE MARBLES
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES
In his letter to you of to-day's date Mr. Jacob Epstein refers to his letter of May 2, 1921, in which he complained of the "cleaning" and restoring of Greek marbles at the British Museum, particularly the Demeter of Cnidus. He now complains that his protest went unheeded; but he must have missed the statement in your issue of May 3 and Professor Percy Gardner's letter of May 4. Had he read these he would have understood that the Demeter had not been cleaned in the drastic way which he alleged. The "restoration" was confined to the experimental addition of the nose in plaster which could be easily, and was indeed immediately afterwards, removed.
A point that was not made in those communications, however, may be mentioned here. The Demeter has never had a "mellow golden patine" within living memory. (My own memory of her goes back to the eighties). But the plaster cast which, for safety's sake, filled her place during the War was of a nice yellow colour. Mr. Epstein must have become accustomed to the cast, which less expert critics than himself may well have taken for an original.
I may be allowed to add that no such thing as "restoration" of the Parthenon marbles has been or will be undertaken as long as the authorities of the British Museum have them in their keeping: and no "cleaning" other than simple washing with neutral soap and distilled water is authorized in the Museum.
I am. Sir, your obedient servant,
12, Sussex Place, Regent's Park, N.W.1. May 20.
FRONT PAGE OF THE DAILY TELEGRAPH AND MORNING POST. London, Monday, May 22, 1939.
ELGIN MARBLES SUFFER THROUGH RENOVATION
Certain Pieces Not Yet Replaced
MUSEUM TRUSTEES' REPORT
Unauthorised Methods Introduced
by T. W. EARP
"Daily Telegraph" Art Critic
The Elgin Marbles in the British Museum are now open to the public again after the rearrangement and cleaning which have been carried out in recent months, and I visited them during the week-end to investigate reports that they had suffered in the process.
As a result I must record the unpleasant fact that the reports are true and that, to say the least, the beauty of the world's most renowned group of sculptures has been diminished.
The glory that was Greece, so complete and harmonious, has disappeared in the brand-new aspect of most of the work.
This is especially the case in the procession of Athenian cavalry on the north side of the frieze. Removal of the patina has left the incongruity of stone as bright as though it had been freshly quarried, yet indented with the usage of time.
The large figures on the pediment, of Cecrops and his daughter, now seem little better than withered stone, while the excoriations on that of Theseus are plainly revealed. In unfortunate contrast the Three Fates still retain their discolourations.
UNITY OF TONE DESTROYED
Thus, the sculptures' previous unity of tone and of surface-effect has been destroyed, the cleaning having either been checked at some stage or unequally carried out. In addition, some of the casts of missing portions preserve their dark hue and clash violently with the rewhitened marble.
What is original material and what is plaster is neither clearly shown nor satisfactorily concealed.
The metopes of Centaurs and Lapiths are not yet replaced. If this arouses misgivings as to their condition, the persistent reticence of the Museum officials does nothing to dispel them. To what extent some of the scars may even be the result of the recent drastic handling cannot be estimated.
The Museum trustees say that "They found that unauthorised methods of cleaning were introduced in some instances" and that "since this was done without the knowledge of the officers of the Museum who were responsible for the cleaning, it has not yet been possible to determine precisely the extent to which these methods were applied."
The rearrangement and the cleaning of the sculptures was made possible by the generosity of Lord Duveen.
The Elgin Marbles were brought to England from Greece by the seventh Earl of Elgin. They were bought by the British Government in 1816.
Tuesday May 23, 1939
The Daily Telegraph and Morning Post
Beauty Lost in Cleaning
by T. W. Earp
I understand that the cleaning of the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum is nearing completion. In the process it is widely rumoured certain damage has been sustained by these famous sculptures.
The damaged pieces are in the new gallery presented to the Museum by Lord Duveen.
This has not yet been opened to the public, and my request for admission to view them was met by a categorical refusal.
With regard to the Marbles that have undergone cleaning, in the Elgin room, it is my opinion that a change has not been made for the better by this refurbishing.
In their new-found brightness the precious relics of Greek art have lost much of their former aspect of mellow antiquity.
It is the surface mellowness, the patine which is time's gradual imprint, which for many was so important an element in the beauty of the sculptures as a whole. It knit them in a single unity, and made less obvious the hurt sustained in rough usage at some past period.
Now the defacements and marks of old accidents stand out with a startling and confused effect in the lightened line of the stone.
The presence of such blemishes contradicts the argument of those who favour the drastic renovation on the ground that it brings closer the work's appearance when it left the sculptor's hand.
The ancient artists had the accretion of patine in view as part of their marble's ultimate beauty. Wounds, and not the original finish, are accentuated by severe cleaning.
Letter from Jacob Epstein to The Times Thursday May 25 1939
CLEANING OF MARBLES
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES
With regard to the Elgin Marbles and the Demeter of Cnidus, Sir George Hill in his letter in your issue of to-day imagines that I took no cognizance of the letters and statements following my letter of May 2, 1921. He mentions Professor Percy Gardner's letter of May 4, 1921, in which as I recall the professor indulged himself in what was to my mind merely a scholastic discussion and ignored the vital issues at stake.
All these letters and statements, as I pointed out in my letter of your last issue, were directed towards one purpose, which was to point out how wrong I was in criticizing the British Museum authorities, and I summed them all up there by saying simply, "My protest went unheeded." The proof of this statement is that there is now a very grave question about the cleaning of the Elgin Marbles.
Sir George Hill was a keeper at the British Museum during the years 1921-30, he will doubtless be able to recall that far from the Demeter's restorations being removed immediately, they were only removed in February, 1923, about two years later, when Dr. Bernard Smith, exasperated beyond endurance by the obduracy of the museum authorities, had squirted coloured juice on to the head of the Demeter, thereby forcing the museum to take action.
Sir George is at circumstantial pains to prove that I was unacquainted with the original marble and that, as he disingenuously suggests, I may have mistaken a plaster cast shown during the War for the Demeter. My memory of the Demeter goes back to 1904, not very much later than that of Sir George's. I am not mistaken when I assert that the head of the Demeter of Cnidus was drastically treated in 1921.
It is not a question of only "a mellow golden patine" but of what is far more important the scraping of the surfaces, and the effect of that scraping on the planes of the marble.
I have myself seen the workmen at the museum at work on the marbles and have been horrified by the methods employed.
Sir George ignores the statement of the chief cleaner, Mr. Arthur Holcombe, three days ago, in the Press, that he had been in the habit at the museum, under all of the last four directors, of cleaning all the marbles with "a blunt copper tool" and that he started on the Elgin marbles about two years ago and used this tool. "Copper is softer than stone" he says. The absurdity of "the softer than marble theory" is manifest. Has Sir George never heard of the bronze toe of the statue of St. Peter in Rome kissed away by the worshippers' soft lips?
"Putting me in my place" seems to be of greater importance to the museum officials than the proper care and protection of the Greek marbles.
The whole thing boils down not to an academic discussion on cleaning and patination, but to the grave question as to whether the Elgin marbles and the other Greek marbles are to be kept intact, or to be in the jeopardy of being periodically treated, and perhaps, in the end, being permanently ruined by the museum officials through their lack of sculptural science.
The public is dissatisfied with the present state of affairs, and clearly uneasy about the present condition of the Elgin marbles, and must consider the answer for the Treasury in Parliament by Captain Crookshank to a question about them, as both equivocal and misleading. It was an admission of damage with an attempt to minimise the responsibility of the Trustees of the British Museum.
18, Hyde Park Gate, S.W.7. May 22.
Letter to The Times Friday May 26 1939 from George Hill
THE CLEANING OF MARBLES METHOD AUTHORIZED BY MUSEUM TRUSTEES
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES
I have no wish to continue with Mr. Epstein a correspondence which appears to be taking a personal turn, and I should be the last to wish to "put him in his place," as to which we have all of us made up our minds by this time.
But I repeat that the only method of cleaning the marbles authorized by the Trustees was and is washing with soap and water. It would be valuable to know what exactly were the methods which Mr. Epstein says he saw used to his horror, and whether they were being applied to marble or to plaster.
I must admit Mr. Epstein's correction as to the length of the period during which Demeter wore her false nose; I will not therefore quarrel with his assumption that there is not much difference in the length of our familiarity with the marbles (to be exact it is a matter of 20 years). We must, I fear, agree to differ on his statement that the head was "scraped" in 1921.
The public may well feel uneasy, owing to the agitation which, as Mr. Epstein's own experience will remind him, can be only too easily worked up artificially; but how far they can trust those who seek to instruct them in the public Press may be inferred from the fact that they have been asked (though not, of course, by Mr. Epstein) to believe that the group of "Cecrops and his Daughter" has been a victim of such drastic "cleaning" that it now seems "little better than withered stone." Since the original is still in its place on the Parthenon and is represented in the British Museum only by a plaster cast, it is hardly reasonable to hold the Trustees responsible for its present condition.
I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
12, Sussex Place, Regent's Park, N.W.1. May 25.
Extract from The Daily Telegraph and Morning Post, Friday May 26 1939
Worried over Elgin Marbles
Lord Duveen had been worried over the Elgin Marbles controversy during the past two or three months.
He had hoped to be present when the new Elgin Gallery to house them, of which he was the donor, was opened by the King later this year. Unfortunately he was so ill when he arrived in London from New York at the end of April that he was unable even to see the now practically completed gallery.
I hear that he took very much to heart the suggestion that the cleaning which the Marbles have lately undergone was in some way his responsibility. As I pointed out a few days ago, he had absolutely nothing to do with this.
I see that Lt.-Cmdr. Fletcher is putting a question on the cleaning of the Marbles to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to-day.