The Erard piano came into the conservation workshops for a major clean and repair prior to the Victoria and Albert exhibition which was held in The Queen’s Gallery, 2010.
The decoration of the piano is made up of a water gilded surface, with elaborate oil painted scenes to the lids and sides and finished off with a varnish.
The main challenge was to remove the substantial surface dirt that had collected on the two main lids and the upper surfaces during the piano’s lifetime (it was purchased by Queen Victoria in 1856). There were also large areas of loss to the varnish on the lids where damage had occurred over time.
Losses of carving to the ornate legs and other parts of the piano also required attention. The first step was to undertake various solvent tests in discreet areas, to ascertain the best method of safely removing the dirt. The solvent which proved most efficient was Industrial Methylated Spirits which allowed the dirt to be lifted from the varnish without affecting the lower layers and, more importantly, not disturbing the painted decoration.
The large areas of loss to the varnish on the main lids were replaced using a dried version of the varnish and building this area back up to tie in with the original surface. These small, dried pieces of varnish were adhered with a dissolved version. Losses to the carved elements on the legs and piano sides were re-carved in lime wood and smaller areas were replaced with a special putty used for gilded surfaces. These replacements were re-gilded with gold leaf and toned to match the original gilding. The other areas of gilding were cleaned with a conservation grade mild soap to remove the excess dirt. Any losses to the painted decoration were retouched with acrylic paints. A final layer of varnish was added to the lids to protect and bring together the new varnish with the old. The metal mounts were cleaned with a conservation grade metal cleaner.
The whole project took the conservator approximately 12 months to complete and the piano can now be seen in the White Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace – one of State Rooms open to the public during the summer opening.