Reconstruction of the ‘Charity’ Window after Reynolds
for the Soane Museum
Alison Gilchrist and Keith Barley, Barley Studio, York
All images are reproduced courtesy of Barley Studio, unless otherwise stated.
This month’s feature highlights the fascinating history of a window in the Sir John Soane Museum in London, copied from a window designed by Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792) in New College, Oxford. Reynolds’s design on is based on an antique statue of Niobe, which he may have seen during his Italian travels, or which may have been familiar from sources closer to home, such as Richard Wilson’s Destruction of Niobe’s Children. He used as his model Elizabeth Ann Sheridan (née Linley, 1754–1792). Elizabeth was the eldest daughter of the composer Thomas Linley (1733–1795), and achieved great success as a singer before her marriage to the eminent playwright and theatre manager Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751–1816): ‘ … & the best & most critical Judges pronounce her to be infinitely superiour to all other English singers’.
In 1829, the architect and collector Sir John Soane paid Mr William Collins £50 on account ‘for his window painted on glass after Sir J. Reynolds’; a further payment of £95 was made in 1832. By 1835, the window – a copy of the famous Reynolds-Jervais ‘Charity’ window in New College Oxford [Fig. 1] – was installed in the Tivoli Recess off the main staircase of Soane’s house in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. By this time, the Tivoli Recess had become a small display area for sculptures by Thomas Banks, John Flaxman and Sir Francis Chantrey [Fig. 2], the only area of contemporary work within the Soane collection.
After Soane’s death in 1837, the house was opened to the public as Sir John Soane’s Museum. James Wild, curator 1876–92, undertook a major rearrangement of the stained glass in the collection, including moving the ‘Charity’ window down one floor to the Shakespeare Recess in 1890, where it remained until it was destroyed during the Second World War. The curator’s diary for 15–16 October 1940 notes: ‘At night land mine exploded SE corner of L[incoln’s] I[nn] Fields. Much damage … Reynolds window gone’. The curator’s report to the trustees of the following year stated that ‘The stained glass window on the staircase, an early copy of Sir Joshua Reynolds figure of Charity in the Oxford window was completely shattered. It was always delicate being of thin glass enamelled and had been protected by clear glass outside, but this perhaps added to the destruction and only the bottom panel now remains.’ This surviving piece, the central part of the classical pedestal, was held in the museum stores [Fig. 3]. A second panel, comprising a further part of the pedestal, still held within its metal framework, was also discovered while clearing the plaster store in 2012 as part of the current phase of work at the museum (see below, Fig. 9).
The Tivoli Recess had already been altered in 1917, when it was converted to a toilet during the ‘Sanitary Crusade’. As part of the multi-million pound Opening up the Soane project the Tivoli Recess has now been reconstructed as it was at the time of Soane’s death in January 1837. Barley Studio was commissioned to recreate and install the ‘Charity’ window in its east elevation.
Sources for the Reconstruction
The Reynolds-Jervais window in New College Oxford has been called the ‘most celebrated Georgian scheme of monumental glass-painting’. Certainly the figures of the Christian Virtues in the lower register have been much copied, notably by William Eginton for St Margaret’s Church, Great Barr (1816), now in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery; further versions survive in London, Fareham, Kidlington, Craster, Papplewick and Goodshaw among others. Reynolds’s preparatory sketch for the New College ‘Charity’ is held in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, and the original cartoon is preserved in a private collection [Fig. 4].
A detailed engraving of the Soane ‘Charity’ window appears in Soane’s 1835 Description of the Residence of Sir John Soane [Fig. 2], and the preparatory watercolour painting, held in the British Library, gives an idea of the original colouring. A sketch in the Soane Museum’s 1837 ‘Inventory of Works of Art’ includes later annotations noting various damages to the window, including a stone impact at the top of the window in 1849, peeling enamel from the green dress of the child on the left, and cracks to the lower border panel ‘without any apparent cause’, on 9 September 1851 [Fig. 5]. The crack pattern matches several of the breaks in the surviving piece.
The surviving panel itself is particularly important, not only as evidence of the enamel painting technique used, but also as this pedestal was not copied from the New College window; Collins’s classical design, in place of the Gothic ornamentation of the original, was presumably made to suit Soane’s surrounding collection.
Surviving black and white photographs of the Soane window when in the Shakespeare Recess give tantalising glimpses of its appearance [Figs 6 and 7]. The outer borders had been removed by this stage in order to fit the window into its new location, and unfortunately neither photograph shows the whole window. On close inspection, however, it can be seen that the surviving pedestal panel appears to be upside down relative to its appearance in the earlier watercolour and etching, perhaps suggesting that this broken piece was replaced (and the original taken into store) when the alterations were made to the window to fit it into its new position; this might explain why this panel alone survived the land mine blast in 1940.
The Maker – William Collins
William Collins, not to be confused with the Royal Academy painter of the same name, ran a china and glass business at 287 The Strand, London (near Temple Bar). It is not clear whether Collins was himself a glass-painter, but it is known that he employed painters, including Charles Muss (1779–1824), described as ‘possessed [of] talent far superior to those generally engaged in that vocation’ and ‘enamel painter to the King’; John Martin (1789–1854), a landscape painter who exhibited at the Royal Academy and supervised the completion of Muss’s unfinished works after his death; and Edward Jones, who worked with Bontemps at Choisy le Roi near Paris, and later joined the Chance Brothers near Birmingham. Jones is thought to have painted figures of Faith, Hope and Charity for St Elizabeth’s Church in Paris, which were exhibited in Collins’s name at the Luxembourg in 1826;[11a] a further set of Faith, Hope and Charity were apparently made for St Peter’s, Calcutta, and exhibited at Collins’s showrooms in 1828. The delay between Soane’s initial (1829) and final (1832) payments to Collins for his ‘Charity’ window suggests that it was commissioned rather than bought. It is therefore possible that Soane’s commission was inspired by one of these other ‘Charity’ figures, seen in Collins’s showroom during their collaboration on the glazing of St Peter’s Church, Walworth (c.1829).
By 1829, Jones had moved to Paris and set up the Choisy le Roi workshop with Bontemps, so it seems unlikely that he painted Soane’s ‘Charity’. Muss trained a number of other glass-painters, including Nixon, Hoadley and Backler. George Hoadley went on to work with Antony Oldfield, and in 1832 they exhibited a number of glass-paintings at 375 The Strand, including Belshazzar’s Feast (after Martin), and The Group of Charity (after Reynolds). In 1837, they exhibited again, the windows this time including the Opening of the Sixth Seal (after Danby). The east window of Redbourne Church, Lincolnshire, is also an Opening of the Sixth Seal, after Danby, signed by Collins, and thought to have been installed between 1835 and 1845; this could either be the exhibited window with added canopy and pedestal, or a newly painted version. It seems likely therefore that Hoadley (and possibly also Oldfield) was working for Collins, as well as exhibiting on his own account, and so could have been the painter of Soane’s ‘Charity’. This could even be the painting exhibited in 1832, prior to its installation at the Soane in 1834–35.
The Hamburg Collins ‘Charity’
By a remarkable coincidence, a second Collins ‘Charity’ window, also in need of extensive restoration, was discovered during the research phase of this project. This window was installed in the 1830 villa of Christian Bauer, a wealthy businessman in Hamburg. If the window was installed at the same time as the villa was built, it is also possible that Soane saw this window in production, or on display, in Collins’s studio. The design of this ‘Charity’ is slightly different to that of the Soane version, with a different pedestal and ornamental border, and shaped lead lines following the design of the cartoon [Fig. 8]. The window is signed by W. Collins and the lead framework by John Bradley & Co., Stourbridge.
The Hamburg ‘Charity’ window provides important evidence for another aspect of the Soane window: the surviving framework shows that Collins was using T-section composite metal glazing bars of lead and tinned steel in place of the more usual H-section lead calmes used in stained-glass windows. These T-section bars, similar to those developed for the production of fanlights, were also used in the Collins east window (Opening of the Sixth Seal) at Redbourne.
The discovery in the Soane museum store of a further small section of the lower panel of the window, comprising two pieces of painted glass (one complete, one damaged) and surrounding framework, confirmed that this type of framework was also used for the Soane ‘Charity’ window [Fig. 9]. The original framework section was constructed of an inner face lead profiled with a flat base, having a centred triangular ridge that is rounded at its peak [Fig. 10]. The section resembles the mouldings seen on wooden window glazing bars elsewhere in the building. The lead profile is attached by solder to a tinned flat steel bar down the central line to form a T-section glazing bar. The lead profile appears to have been originally painted black as small areas of exposed lead show no evidence of oxidization.
The Reconstruction Process
By relating the size of the surviving piece to the 1837 sketch and 1911 photographs of the window, a full-size cutline was developed, which shows the window dimensions to have been around 3048mm high by 1270mm wide (120″ by 50″); this accords well with the dimensions of the original opening, in the east elevation of the reconstructed Tivoli Recess [Fig. 11]. The lower section also matches precisely the panel found in the museum store. Close examination of this section shows the original presence of a central vertical dividing lead in the lowest glass piece of the window, which is not shown on either the 1834 watercolour view or the 1837 inventory sketch. It is possible that it was removed either at Soane’s request, or when the window was moved to the Shakespeare recess. It was decided to reinstate it in the new window for structural reasons.
Replicating the Metal Framework
The glazing system used in the Soane ‘Charity’ and other Collins windows was recreated using 10mm (3/8″) U-section lead with an 18mm (3/4″) tinned brass strip soldered into the lead groove [Fig. 12].
The prepared T-section bar was then cut to length, bent to shape, put together over the cutline, and the joints soldered into place [Fig. 13]. The outer edges were screwed directly into the solid oak frame. Finally, an additional lead detail was attached to the front face using neutral curing black silicone [Fig. 14], and the complete lead section painted black [Fig. 15].
Recreating the Glass-painting
A photograph of the original Reynolds cartoon and the 1911 Spiers photograph were both suitably enlarged to act as guides for the cartoon of the newly recreated window [Figs 16 and 17]. Comparison showed that the positions of the figures were altered only slightly from the Reynolds original in order to fit within the framework used in the Soane window. The renowned glass painter Jonathan Cooke was entrusted with the task of replicating Collins’s painting style, cartooning the new window, and applying glass paint, enamels and stain onto large pieces of thin float glass.
The original borders of the window, which are shown in the early watercolour and engraving but not in the later photographs (as they were removed when the window was resited to the Shakespeare recess), were reconstructed based on the detail visible in the 1835 engraving [Fig. 2] and painted glass rosettes used elsewhere in the Soane Museum [Fig. 18], probably supplied by Soane’s glazier William Watson.
As part of his preparatory work for the glass-painting, Jonathan Cooke closely studied the surviving piece of the pedestal as well as other Collins windows, at Christ Church, Hilderstone, and St Elisabeth, Paris. By another happy coincidence, during the same period he was working on Collins glass of a similar date to the Soane ‘Charity’, from the Durham Heritage Centre, offering the opportunity to put his trials into practice on a smaller scale before embarking on the Soane painting. Jonathan carried out painting trials using various pigments, enamels and media, and produced samples for approval, before painting the final pieces of ‘Charity’ [Figs 19 and 20].
Installing the New ‘Charity’ Window
Incorporation of the surviving section of the lower panel [Fig. 9] into the newly recreated window was considered, however, this would have involved the removal of the glass pieces in order to solder the old frame section onto the new. The loss of original putty and likely damage to both glass and frame in the process led to the decision to keep the original section as an historic artefact to be displayed for interpretation. The separate glass piece [Fig. 3] has, however, been conserved and incorporated into the new window.
Once the metal framework and oak outer frame had been installed into the original window opening, the individual glass pieces were dry glazed into the framework and pointed in using blackened linseed oil putty [Fig. 21]. The new stained glass window is protected by a secondary glazing layer of laminated glass.
1. Peover and Dorey 2003, p. 205.
2. On the Tivoli Recess as a display area, see Dorey 2003a, p. 24.
3. Ibid., p. 30; Peover and Dorey 2003, p. 205.
4. Dorey 2003b, p. 87.
5. Ibid., p. 88.
6. On Opening up the Soane, see Knox 2010, p. 2.
7. Harrison 2003, p. 110.
8. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, accession number 1900M196.2.
9. Peover and Dorey 2003, p. 205; Dorey 2010, p. 12.
10. BSMGP 1959–60, p. 331.
11. For the quotations on Muss, see Warrington 1848, p. 70, and Cust 2004–10. For Martin, see Redgrave 1878, p. 288, and Anon. 1824. For Jones, see BSMGP 1960–61, pp. 397–98; Godwin 1840, p. 218.
11a. See n. 10.
12. For the church in Paris, see BSMGP 1960–61, p. 397. For that in Calcutta, see Harrison 2003, p. 113.
13. Dorey 2003a, pp. 34–35; Harrison 2003, p. 113.
14. Cable 2008, p. 274.
15. Godwin 1840, pp. 217–18.
16. BSMGP 1960–61, p. 394.
17. Binnall 1960-61, p. 408.
18. Personal communication, Peter Bishop, 2009.
19. King 1960–61, p. 410.
20. Dorey 2003a, pp. 30–31.
Anon., ‘Obituary: Mr Charles Muss’, Gentleman’s Magazine, xciv, 1824, p. 186
P. B. G. Binnall, ‘The east window of Redbourne Church, Lincolnshire’, Journal of the British Society of Master Glass-Painters, xiii/2, 1960–61, pp. 408–410
BSMGP, ‘Glass Painters 1750-1850’, Journal of the British Society of Master Glass-Painters, xiii/1, 1959–60, pp. 326–38
BSMGP, ‘Glass Painters 1750-1850, Part II’, Journal of the British Society of Master Glass-Painters, xiii/2, 1960–61, pp. 390–407
M. Cable (trans.), Bontemps on glass making: the Guide du Verrier of Georges Bontemps, Sheffield, 2008
H. Dorey, ‘“Exquisite hues and magical effects”: Sir John Soane’s use of stained glass at 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields’, Journal of Stained Glass, xxvii, 2003, pp. 7–31
H. Dorey, ‘The history of the installations of stained glass at 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields since Sir John Soane’s death in 1837’, Journal of Stained Glass, xxvii, 2003b, pp. 41–89
H. Dorey, ‘The research and preparation for recreating the William Collins stained glass window, after Reynolds, in the Tivoli Recess’, Sir John Soane’s Museum Newsletter, 24, spring/summer 2010
G. Godwin, ‘On the present state of the art of glass painting in England and France, and on the necessity for efforts in its favour’, Civil Engineers and Architect’s Journal, 3, July 1840, pp. 217–19
M. Harrison, ‘Monumental, spectacular and Gothick: Soane and Georgian glass-painting’, Journal of Stained Glass, xxvii, 2003, pp. 107–117
D. G. King, ‘Technical note by Dennis G. King, F.S.A.’, addendum to Binnall 1960–61, Journal of the British Society of Master Glass-Painters, xiii/2, 1960–61, p. 410
T. Knox, ‘Letter from the Director’, Sir John Soane’s Museum Newsletter, 24, spring/summer 2010
Peover and Dorey 2003
M. Peover and H. Dorey, ‘Catalogue of the stained glass collection of Sir John Soane’s Museum’, Journal of Stained Glass, xxvii, 2003, pp. 131–291
S. Redgrave, A Dictionary of Artists of the English School, 2nd edn, London, 1878 (repr. 1970)
W. Warrington, A History of Stained Glass, London, 1848