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Appendix 2 - The Interim Report

PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL

BRITISH MUSEUM

PARTHENON SCULPTURES

INTERIM REPORT

BY

THE BOARD OF ENQUIRY

APPOINTED BY THE STANDING COMMITTEE OF THE TRUSTEES

OF THE BRITISH MUSEUM AT A MEETING ON 8TH OCTOBER 1938

1. The Board of Enquiry was appointed by the Standing Committee at their meeting on 8th October, 1938 in the circumstances and with the terms of reference set out in the following extract from the Minutes:-

Damage to Sculpture of the Parthenon

"The Director reported that through unauthorised and improper efforts to improve the colour of the Parthenon sculpture, some important pieces had been greatly damaged. He asked for a Board of Enquiry to consider the nature of the damage and the policy of the Trustees in regard to publication of the facts; to determine the responsibility for the damage; and to advise upon the necessary disciplinary action. The Committee appointed Lord Harlech, Lord Macmillan, Sir William Bragg, Sir Charles Peers and Sir Wilfrid Greene as the Board of Enquiry, with power to take whatever action they should consider necessary."

2. The Board met at the Museum on the 11th and 20th of October and the 1st of November 1938, with Lord Macmillan in the Chair. At the first meeting Sir Charles Peers alone was absent, having unfortunately sustained an accident which prevented his attendance; at the two other meetings all the members were present.

3. The Board examined the following witnesses:-

Mr. F. N. Pryce, Keeper of the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities

Mr. R. P. Hinks, First Class Assistant Keeper

Mr. Sidney Smith, Keeper of the Department of Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities

Dr. H. F. Plenderleith, Deputy Keeper in charge of the Laboratory.

A. S. Holcombe, Foreman Mason

V. A. Fisher, Mason

J. E. Gorman/A. W. T. Lovelock, Mason's Labourers.

They had also the advantage of hearing and conferring with the Director who was present throughout the meetings. It may be noted that the Director before his appointment to his present office was Keeper of the Department concerned from 1932 to 1936.

The pieces of sculpture which were represented as having been damaged by the treatment to which they had been subjected were minutely examined by the members of the Board.

4. The portions of the Parthenon sculptures in question are three in number, namely, the Selene horse's head, the Helios group and the figure of Iris, all belonging to the East Pediment. On the 16th of September Mr. Pryce left the Museum on short holiday leave. The three pieces of sculpture were then in their proper places in the Elgin Room. Before he went away Mr. Pryce gave no instructions either to Mr Hinks, who took charge in his absence, or to anyone else with regard to either moving the sculptures or cleaning them beyond a direction to Holcombe to prepare a mounting for the Iris figure which involved its removal from the pedestal. The Director informed the Board that he had previously reminded Mr. Pryce that this figure must not even be washed without the authority of Dr. Plenderleith in view of the precarious condition of its surface. While Mr. Pryce was absent it came to the notice of the Director on the evening of Thursday 22nd September that tools had been used in the cleaning of the Parthenon sculptures. He instructed Mr. Hinks on the morning of 23rd September to see that improper methods were not being used. On Sunday 25th September the Director happened to have occasion to pass through the basement of the Department. He was surprised to find there the Helios group in process of cleaning. On the bench he observed a number of copper tools and a piece of coarse carborundum, and from the appearance of the sculptures he at once saw that the copper tools had been used on the sculptures. On Monday morning 26th September the Iris was found by Mr. Hinks to be undergoing similar treatment in an annex of the new Duveen Gallery, and the Selene horse's head in the Foreman Mason's workshop. The Director ordered all further cleaning operations to be stopped and instituted an enquiry into what had occurred. Mr. Pryce returned to duty on Tuesday 27th September.

5. Although Holcombe denied that he had used any copper tool in cleaning the horse's head, which he dealt with himself personally, the Board are satisfied that copper tools were used by Holcombe and the labourers under him in cleaning all the three pieces of sculpture in question. Holcombe admitted that apart from the instruction to prepare a mounting for the Iris figure he had received no specific instructions from the Keeper or the Assistant Keeper either to remove or to clean the sculptures. He appears to have assumed that he was at liberty to proceed at his own hand with the process of removing and cleaning. He apparently had obtained some strips or rods of copper from the store and had fashioned those into tools of various shapes by flattening and sharpening the ends. He said that he had used similar tools on other occasions for cleaning marble and he apparently regarded himself as entitled to use them on the Parthenon sculptures. No effort was made to conceal them and they were lying exposed to full view on the bench when the Director first observed them.

6. In the course of the evidence given by Holcombe and the labourers it emerged that they had used tools in cleaning the metopes and frieze on which they had previously been engaged for some time. The Board did not think it to be within their duty to make a detailed examination of the metopes and frieze with a view to ascertaining the extent of the damage done, but they were impressed by the fact that such improper methods of cleaning had been allowed to be in operation over so long a period.

7. The effect of the methods employed in cleaning the sculptures has been to remove the surface of the marble and to impart to it a smooth and white appearance. Mr. Pryce described the Selene horse's head as having been "skinned." The surface of the sculptures, showing the evidences of two thousand years of exposure to the climate of Greece, was a document of the utmost importance. There being no possible doubt about the history of the Parthenon sculptures they came to the Museum as authentic masterpieces of Greek work of the fifth century B.C. and for purposes of study and comparison they are of inestimable value. The damage which has been caused is obvious and cannot be exaggerated.

8. The Board inquired as to the staffing and routine of the mason's workshop and as to the methods of cleaning sculpture. The following statement prepared by the Director summarises the position:-

The Staff consists of 3 Masons and 6 Labourers. The latter are mostly needed for moving heavy statuary; they are not all masons' labourers by trade, and those who are have no skill in working stone and marble, and are not allowed by the rules of the trade to use tools.

The Foreman Mason is a foreman mainly in respect of the moving operations, which he directs and supervises but does not initiate. He does not direct the work of the other masons, but is responsible to the Keeper for the discipline and order of the workshop.

The Masons' work is done under the specific orders of the Keeper or the officer in charge of the Department, and demands his personal supervision. It consists mainly in mounting sculpture, with occasional mending, but cleaning is not masons' work.

All the officers of the Department knew several years ago that it is dangerous to let masons clean sculpture, because they are inclined to prefer their own trade processes to our scientific ones.

Washing the sculpture in the Galleries used to be done periodically by the labourers with ordinary water and hard brushes, but in 1932 this procedure was stopped, and the Research Laboratory was asked to devise a safer and more effective method. Dr. Plenderleith then prescribed a neutral solution of medicinal soft-soap and ammonia, and trained one masons' labourer to apply this in the proper manner with the proper brushes and distilled water. No other person washed or cleaned sculpture for the next 4 years, and no washing was done except by the Keeper's order and under his supervision.

It was the tradition of the Department that the Keeper or the officer in charge made his round of the masons' shop his first duty in the morning. Important moving operations or work needing direction during progress often meant a visit from the Keeper several times a day.

9. The Board have been unable to obtain any satisfactory explanation of the grave departure in this instance from the proper practice of the Department. They have, however, ascertained from Mr. Pryce that a foreman employed by Lord Duveen in connection with the new Parthenon Gallery had expressed Lord Duveen's desire that the sculptures should be made as clean and white as possible and this may very well have become known to the workmen.

10. While the damage to the sculptures was directly occasioned by the unauthorised actings of Holcombe, it is impossible to acquit the Keeper and the Assistant Keeper of serious dereliction of duty. Their main responsibility is the preservation and protection of the valuable works of art committed to their care. Nevertheless, owing to absence of direction and to inefficiency of supervision in the Department, Holcombe was able to remove and to undertake the cleaning of the sculptures in question at his own hand without the knowledge, of either the Keeper or the Assistant Keeper. This can only be taken as indicating a most unfortunate slackness and want of system in the administration of the Department. In the case of Mr. Pryce it is true that he had in the course of this year been suffering from ill health necessitating his absence from work for two periods, and also that he was on holiday leave when the particular unauthorised actings of Holcombe with the Pediment sculptures took place. But the work of cleaning the Parthenon sculptures was a long and delicate process, calling for a definite programme and careful and systematic supervision. It was the duty of Mr. Pryce to see to these matters. It should have been made clear to the staff that no piece of sculpture must be removed and no piece of sculpture must be cleaned without specific orders from Mr. Pryce himself or, in his absence, his deputy. No such step was taken, with the result that Holcombe considered himself entitled to remove the Helios group and the Selene horse and to start to clean those two pieces and the Iris statue on his own initiative. The necessity for specific instructions with regard to the cleaning of each individual piece was all the more imperative by reason of the fact that the condition of the sculptures varies considerably and special care was necessary in certain cases, for example, the Iris statue. Mr. Pryce informed us that when the cleaning first began he gave instructions to Holcombe that it was only [to] be done according to the approved methods. But it was his duty to see that these instructions were being carried out. In this duty he failed, with the result that tools were improperly used in cleaning the metopes and the frieze slabs without his ever knowing it. The improper practice thus begun was continued in the case of the Pediment sculptures during Mr. Pryce's absence. But the fact that he was absent on that occasion does not free him from responsibility for the damage done to these sculptures, since if he had exercised proper supervision when the cleaning of the metopes first began the practice would have been stopped at the very beginning. Moreover, when he left for his holiday he ought to have given proper instructions to his deputy, Mr. Hinks, with regard to continuing the work of cleaning the sculptures, but he failed to do so. Mr. Pryce's neglect of his duties is all the more serious in view of the fact that he had been Deputy Keeper since 27th November 1934 and Keeper since 25th June 1936 and had had the management of the Sculpture Galleries and workshops from 1925 to 1932, during Mr. Walter's Keepership, and was presumably conversant with the proper procedure to be observed in connection with the moving and cleaning of the sculptures under his charge. When questioned as to how this occurrence could have taken place if there had been proper supervision Mr. Pryce was unable to answer, and when asked as to what steps should be taken to prevent the possibility of the recurrence of such an incident he exhibited little faculty of resourceful suggestion.

As regards Mr. Hinks, who entered the employment of the Museum on 18th January 1926 and was promoted to his present rank on 22nd June 1936, the Board find that in his case also there was serious dereliction of duty. He was in charge of the Department when Holcombe removed the sculptures in question and set about cleaning them and yet he was quite unaware either of their removal or of the starting of the cleaning process. If he had been maintaining proper supervision he could not have failed to be aware of what was happening. Yet it was not till after the Director had discovered the mischief that Mr. Hinks, for the first time during Mr. Pryce's absence, visited the masons' workshop. He failed to carry out at once the orders given to him by the Director and he did not indicate any realisation of the seriousness of the matter. Being interested in other sections of the Department he appears to have shown little concern as to the Parthenon sculptures which were under his charge while Mr. Pryce was on leave.

11. As regards the disciplinary action to be taken, the Board have been given to understand that in accordance with the practice in the Civil Service an officer against whom any charge of default in duty is made is entitled to have a statement of the charge in writing and to be afforded an opportunity of answering it. If the Trustees should approve of this Interim Report it will accordingly be necessary that the relevant passages attributing fault to Mr. Pryce and Mr. Hinks be communicated to them and that any statements which they may make in answer should be considered. They should also have an opportunity of being heard by the Standing Committee, if they so desire.

Until this procedure is carried out it would obviously not be proper for the Board to deal with that part of their terms of reference which directs them "to advise upon the necessary disciplinary action," and they have also meantimes postponed the branch of their remit relating to the policy to be adopted by the Trustees with regard to the publication of the facts.

The Board have accordingly thought it right at this stage of their Enquiry to present this Interim Report for the consideration and directions of the Trustees.

British Museum

November, 1938