Rodney J. Burn

Waterlow Park, Highgate


Not on display

Rodney J. Burn 1899–1984
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1223 × 2723 mm
frame: 1480 × 2970 × 55 mm
Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1991

Display caption

Burn was a student at the Slade School of Art from 1918-22 and after graduating made his reputation as a painter of portraits and of landscapes. 'Waterlow Park, Highgate' is a significant example of the large scale planning and design prevalent among Slade School students. It is one of eight semi-circular canvases by Slade trained young artists that were painted in the hope that the London County Council would place them in prominent spaces in the newly built County Hall. The paintings were not acquired for County Hall and this is possibly the only one of the eight still in existence.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Technique and condition

The painting was made to fit one of eight lunettes along the vaulted ceiling of the main corridor of the recently built New County Hall on the South Bank of the Thames. Eight students from the London artschools took part in the project depicting London parks but the London County Council did not feel it had been properly consulted and had the paintings removed. Burn's painting was exhibited in an exhibition of decorative art at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1924.

The canvas, a commercially prepared linen, glue sized and primed with a white lead oil ground was supplied by Newman, Colourmen of Soho Square, London. Only the bottom tacking edge of the canvas remains as the irregular curve of the lunette shape has been cut to fit the vaulting.

The painting is sketchily executed in oil colours with drawing at all levels in graphite pencil, including squaring up of some features transferred from preparatory drawings, e.g. the woman right of centre. The muted tones of the painting are generally thinly scumbled on, rubbed and scraped down and reworked. Some figures are painted in more detail with more impasted opaque colours but many areas are left as tentative drawing or scumbles of colour.

The thin and abraded appearance of the painting is mainly due to the artist's technique but it has accumulated many minor damages, in the form of creases, distortions, surface scratches and small losses, particularly at the top. At some time the canvas had been lined onto a rectangular linen canvas with wax adhesive and stretched onto a flimsy stretcher. During this process the top of the arched canvas had been turned over the top edge of the stretcher. The surface of the painting was coated with a waxy film over which the losses were retouched.

The painting was not framed and its condition on acquisition was poor. The lining canvas had begun to separate from back of the buckling original canvas in small areas and the surface was covered with grime. The surface dirt, waxy film and darkened old retouchings were removed. The lining canvas was peeled away, wax which had penetrated into the original canvas extracted, and the small tears repaired and distortions flattened. The canvas was not relined but new tacking edges were attached to the perimeter on the back and it was stretched onto a new stretcher shaped to fit the curve of the canvas. Paint losses were filled and retouched and the surface sprayed with a thin coat of synthetic resin varnish. A frame was designed, incorporating a moulding featured in New County Hall, and fitted.

Roy Perry

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