7 October 2016 at 12.03pm | Comment on this article
If you keep your eyes peeled on a visit to the Royal Opera House, you’ll see many pieces of art, sculpture and historic furniture dotted around the building. These items tell the story of the theatre, of staff and artists who have made particularly special contributions to the ROH and the art forms performed here. Many of the pieces are by world-renowned artists, including David Hockney, Maurice Lambert and Elisabeth Frink. One of the jobs of ROH Collections, the archive of the Royal Opera House, is to care for and maintain these objects, so they can be enjoyed by future generations.
Every summer the Royal Opera House closes to audiences. During this quiet period ROH Collections selects a group of items to undergo conservation work. In summer 2016 work focussed on several bronze busts in the pit lobby (of such figures as Ninette de Valois, Alicia Markova, Georg Solti, Frederick Ashton, Constant Lambert and Colin Davis) and the marble busts of Nellie Melba, Adelina Patti and conductor Alfred Mellon. The large marble statue of Frederick Gye, manager of the second and current theatre on our Covent Garden site, received a much-needed clean, and the movements of our precious 18th- and 19th-century clocks were also attended to.
Many of the sculptures have very textured surfaces, creating hundreds of nooks that trap dust. Although it may seem harmless, dust is very abrasive, and if left over time will cause significant harm. Conservators Plowden and Smith removed embedded dirt and dust from each piece and then applied a protective coat of wax. The statue of Frederick Gye had to be cleaned twice in order to fully remove the dirt – no doubt because of its position in the opening foyer, opposite the main doors on to Bow Street. The marble of the Gye statue is naturally yellow in tone, whereas Patti and Melba are now gleaming white.
The beautiful and elaborate clocks that usually live in the Crush Room and the Royal Retiring Room are precious antiques, and need regular specialist maintenance. Both of the clocks had their movements removed and taken away for a full service.