Conservation of 17th Century Still Life Dutch School painting at Cannon Hall

5th June 2024

The recently opened ‘Costumes from the Classics’ exhibition at Cannon Hall draws inspiration from the library there, and the latest conservation project funded by Barnsley Museums and Heritage Trust is of a painting which has hung there for many years.   

‘Still Life with Dead Game’ is an oil on canvas painting is inset into the wall above the fireplace and is believed to be one of only 2 paintings original to the house, placed in their respective positions by John Spencer who owned Cannon Hall from 1756 until his death in 1776.  

He extended the Hall with the help of the architect John Carr of York in the 1760s,  and being a great lover of books, added the Library in which the painting is located. Many of the contents of the Hall were sold off in the late 1940s making this painting a rare survival of the original contents and provides an insight into the tastes of the family during the mid-late 18th century.  

This genre of still life painting was popular in the 17th century and remained so during the 18th and 19th centuries. They reflected the leisure pursuits and interests of the gentility. John Spencer was well-known for keeping a stable of excellent horses and enjoyed riding and shooting.  

Having hung over the fireplace for more than 250 years, the painting was understandably in need of attention – with soot from the fireplace being a particular issue. 

The conservation treatment began with the removal of a dark grey layer of dust and sooty dirt from the surface of the painting.  Thick layers of yellowed and degraded varnish were then removed.  Various areas of the painting were found to be covered in heavy overpaint which had been applied by a previous restorer to cover old losses and damages. This over-paint had discoloured with age and so it was also removed.  The cleaning has revealed the true colours of the painting, and the finer details have become so much clearer.   

Other parts of the treatment involved consolidating small sections of unstable paint, cleaning the reverse of the canvas, carefully filling and retouching the paint layer losses along with abrasion caused by past cleaning. A final protective varnish layer was then applied.  

The conservation was carried out by Lucy Partridge from Critchlow and Kukkonen Ltd and took a hundred hours carried out over two months.  

If you are visiting the excellent, free ‘Costumes from the Classics’ exhibition which runs until 15th September, take a moment to look at this painting which still remains exactly where John Spencer placed it all those years ago! 

If you would like to help us conserve more treasures like this, you can donate via  

Conservation of 17th Century Still Life Dutch School painting at Cannon Hall