Rehousing the Derby porcelain ‘Figurine of Neptune’ c.1770


Rehousing the Derby porcelain works Figurine of Neptune c.1770 with Danielle Hastie, Preventative Conservation Technican / Photography: Natasha Harth

This time lapse video shows the construction of a customised storage box for the c.1770 Derby porcelain ceramic Figurine of Neptune purchased in 1989 from the estate of Lady Trout with a special allocation from the Queensland Government. Objects in the Gallery’s Collection often require rehousing to protect them from scratches, cracks and breakages and as a Preventive Conservation Technician, my role is to mitigate deterioration or damage and rehousing objects is an important part of conservation practice.

This c.1770 Derby porcelain ceramic has delicate decorative features and gilded edges, therefore the first task was to determine the type of protective box required. Some objects can be safely lifted out from the top and a simple base and lid design is normally then used, however this work is too fragile to be pulled out from the top. Its new home is constructed with a ‘drawbridge’ design, so the porcelain could be removed from the side, additionally, in order to fully support the work, close fitting foam supports were needed to prevent any upwards movement.

The foam supports are all hand carved to fit the surface profile of the porcelain and it takes multiple attempts to trim the foam so that protruding decorative features sit within concave impressions, avoiding any unwanted pressure on the object while still providing adequate support. Each foam support is covered with a layer of Dacron wadding and polyester silk to create a soft and protective smooth layer against its surface. When the rehousing is complete the porcelain cannot move up, down or sideways and is completely supported and the risk of damage is greatly minimised.

The Gallery’s Collection Storage Upgrade project requires the rehousing of over 1,200 decorative arts objects and these consist of ceramic, glass, textiles, jewellery and small sculptures, with each unique object requiring and individual approach to problem solving. Throughout the rehousing process we asked ourselves these questions: 1. Is this object prevented from unwanted movement even if the box is moved, tilted or shaken?  2. Can the object be removed and placed back into the box safely without obstruction or awkward handling?  and 3. Does the object have a delicate surface or protruding parts?

Every rehousing job is a puzzle and with the fascinating and diverse range of our Decorative Arts Collection, my role as a Preventive Conservation Technician is seldom predictable.

As we are preparing to expand the Queensland Art Gallery’s collection storage space in line with architect Robin Gibson’s original intend for a mezzanine storage level within the existing collection space, the task of moving the collection is now in progress and on track to be ready for the start of construction at the beginning of September 2016 with the project to be completed in September 2017.

Danielle Hastie, Preventative Conservation Technican / Photography: Natasha Harth

Derby porcelain works, England / Figurine of Neptune c.1770
Soft-paste porcelain figure of Neptune standing in a yellow-lined floral cloak, the mound base moulded with a polychromed dolphin, shells and seaweed surmounting polychromed gilt edged rococo scrolls.

The first Derby porcelain factory was functioning in an experimental way by 1750, and had possibly been started by Thomas Briand of the Chelsea factory c.1745 with James Marchand. In 1756 William Duesbury from Chelsea joined a banker John Heath and Andre Planché, a ‘china-maker of Derby’, in an agreement to start a factory and this presumably became the first Derby Porcelain Factory. No regular mark was used until 1770 but many pieces are securely attributed to this period.

Their best examples are statuettes, especially pastoral figures frolicing in front of leafy ‘bocages’. A new period, known as the Chelsea-Derby period, began in 1770, when Duesbury acquired the Chelsea factory, and lasted until he closed it in 1784.