Restored painting of county namesake achieves new life
The Earl of Craven got himself a $ 4,500 facelift and looks handsome.
For all newbies out there, Craven County is named not for the moral negligence of its people, but for a real earl who ruled our colony in the late 17th century. He died in 1697 (in London’s theater district of all places) 15 years before our county was named in his honor.
As our county’s namesake, it’s no surprise that his portraits can be found in town. In the district court, for example, we have a somewhat stiff and shiny count wearing armor and leaning on a table because an enemy may have kicked him in the shin (he had wounds in the past and was captured in battles) big, fluffy Hair that deserves a role in “Hairspray”, its slightly modified VanDyke gently calls the ladies.
But another higher quality portrait has been hidden from the public eye since the 1970s. It used to hang in the courthouse, said county manager Jack Veit, “when people could smoke in the courtroom.” The painting became “very weathered,” and smoke and grime slowly drowned its original colors. It was broken down where damage continued to build up with storage – temperature fluctuations warped its frame and tore as long as four inches of its fabric appeared. Paint was peeling off on one corner.
“It’s been in my office since at least 2012,” said Veit. “It was brought here to be preserved and to determine what could be done.”
Retired county clerk Gwen Bryan was shopping for restorers in the Raleigh area, but “every time we woke up we came back dejected because it was so expensive,” said Veit. Bryan received estimates in the range of $ 45,000 – “We knew we could never get that far,” said Veit.
The story of the painting
In 1926, local artist Ruth Huntington Moore – a relative of the same family who owns the New Bern BBQ area – finished the painting based on photographs and studies she had made of the portrait of the Earl of Craven at the National Portrait Gallery in London . England.
The original portrait was made around 1630 by Gerard van Honthorst (1592-1656), a Dutch painter who, according to Wikipedia, is known for “his depiction of artificially lit scenes”.
He had a penchant for painting brightly lit portraits of “ordinary” people such as musicians, soldiers, and singers who often laughed and held a cup of wine or made their voices right. He also painted larger scenes – biblical scenes or ordinary people having good times, like ladies singing on a spinet and a curious female soldier fumbling with a lady’s exposed chest while indifferently lighting a candle from a burning marshmallow (I’m not an art historian, so I can’t prove that the blazing thing is actually a marshmallow.
The earl named William was a wealthy young man whose father was the Lord Mayor of London. He became a soldier in Europe for Frederick V, fell head over heels in love with Fred’s wife Elisabeth of Bohemia, and spent the rest of his life pursuing her.
He also financially supported the English King Charles I, who was to be executed by the Puritans during the Civil War in England. When the Puritans learned of Williams’ generosity, they confiscated his property. When Charles’ brother Charles II ascended the throne, he rewarded William by making him Earl of Craven and presenting him with a piece of the Carolinas in America. It was a generous gift: in the 1600s, “Carolina” referred to land that stretched from Virginia to Florida and from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
The Count would never see his country, but he helped rule it from across the pond.
A couple of interesting little things: Our Earl of Craven may have been a rock hunter, but he was a kind man. He stayed in England during the plague to tend the sick and donate land for the burials of the dying, and he was also known to be in London to help people through the Great Fire of London. He knew the famous diary writer Samuel Pepys, who referred to him as both “helmsman” and “my good friend”.
In his county of the same name, Jack Veit spoke to the director of the Craven Arts Council, Jonathan Berger, about the damaged portrait some 350 years later. “He gave me Ed (Macomber’s) number and said you won the lottery,” said Veit.
Ed Macomber isn’t just a well-known local artist. He is also a restorer who has restored numerous paintings including a Picasso from a private collection.
Macomber offered a price that was only 10 percent of the price of other restorers, and Veit got approval for the funds.
Macomber went through its restoration carefully. “There were tons of tears and scratches and a lot of dirt and stuff,” he said. He carefully photographed the work, then removed the canvas from the wooden stretchers (the wooden frame to which a canvas is attached) and stretched them, re-moistening them with acetate and moisture. Then he glued new linen to the back, sealed the two with a heated vacuum table, reinforced the piece and sealed the tears.
Then the dirt and old paint was removed. “Lacquer is made from damar lacquer and it yellows after 30-40 years,” said Macomber. So by the age of 100 it was getting pretty dark. When I took off the paint (the original color) it came through. “
The color never fades as the pictures get older, he noted: it’s the varnish and the dirt.
He had to touch up damaged parts of the painting with his own colors – he protected the original work by applying a coat of varnish before adding his colors so that future restorers could get beyond his work to the original. He said his touch-ups were light – more than 90 percent of the painting you see is the original color.
Macomber also convinced the county to replace the scope of work. “It was in a modern style, like the 1960s style, and I said you have to find something that is a little more contemporary with the painting,” he said. He found what he needed through rehearsals at Ballantines on Craven Street.
He started his work in January and ended on March 17th.
Moore’s painting is a marked improvement over the Earl hanging in the courthouse – the details sharper, the color more interesting, the expression more real. That little strip of Van Dyke beard is missing from the restored work – maybe he had just missed the shave spot before sitting down for the court painting.
But unfortunately, the new, improved Earl of Craven isn’t going to get a major public reveal. Veit said it will be placed in the commissioners’ meeting room in the courthouse annex, where the public can enjoy it, and it will receive a quieter, if publicly welcome, reveal during an upcoming meeting.
Veit said the change from the beginning to the end of the restoration was remarkable. “I had the work jotted down when I passed it in this office because it attracts your eyes,” he said, but now “there are subtleties” that stand out. “It’s just great because it brings out so much more detail. It’s a great story here. “