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Rare paintings restored at Trinity House

Two rare paintings are back on display at Trinity House maritime museum in Leith after essential conservation work.
The Trinity House collection includes four paintings by Sir Henry Raeburn. Most notable is a portrait of Admiral Duncan, who led the British fleet to victory against the Dutch at the Battle of Camperdown in 1797. This critical engagement in the Napoleonic wars made the admiral a national hero. Trinity House awarded him the Freedom of the Incorporation and commissioned Raeburn to paint his portrait for the walls of their headquarters.
One restored painting , dating from around 1885 and by an unknown artist, shows a Glasgow ship called the Loch Broom in full sail. The vessel was still in service as late as 1917, by which time it was in Scandinavian hands and renamed the Songdal, when it was sunk by a German submarine.The other painting, which dates from 1891, is by Bernard Benedict Hemy (1855-1913) and shows a steam tug towing a sailing ship.

Hemy’s family had emigrated to Australia in 1852, but he returned and settled in the north of England. Historic Scotland conservators Damiana Magris and Ailsa Murray carried out the work, which included cleaning and stabilisation of the oil paint.Ailsa said: “This is a lovely project to work on. The paintings at Trinity House give a real insight into the history of Leith and its role as a great sea port.

“But it’s also fascinating to find out more about the stories behind the paintings – the artists who created them and even what happened to the ships themselves.”The operation is part of a long-term project to conserve around 175 paintings which were transferred to the care of HS by the Incorporation of Mariners and Ship’s Masters in 2005.Hugh Morrison, Historic Scotland collections registrar, said: “Trinity House is a wonderful place and has a nationally important collection of maritime paintings and artefacts.

“Since the collection came into our ownership we have carefully catalogued what is there and assessed its condition so we can make sure that it is all properly conserved and protected for the future. The job of conserving the paintings will take many years, so we have started with those most in need of attention, and our experts are gradually working their way through them.

“The two pictures which have just gone back on display mark a remarkable point in history – the very end of the age of sail.

“In fact, it comes as quite a surprise to a lot of people that wooden ships like the Songdal would have been operating in an era when the oceans were being stalked by submarines.”

The incorporation, which was founded in 1380, had the mansion in Kirkgate built in 1816 and many of the paintings it contains were commissioned or donated by members. Historic Scotland’s Collections Unit spent two years carrying out a complete condition check and fully documenting the collection before starting work on the items in most urgent need of attention. Four paintings have been completed so far.