Damage to 'Abraham & Isaac' at Margam Castle

05 July 2018

Hanging in the ballroom at Margam Castle is a large oil painting, ‘Abraham & Isaac’, painted by the American-Born artist Benjamin West. Following a spate of vandalism in the park grounds, it was brought to the estate administration’s notice that some damage had occurred to the painting.

Key points

  • Unexplained damage to 18th century oil painting
  • Specialist loss adjustors appointed to examine, report and recommend
  • Initial conclusion of vandalism revised to accidental damage and conservation work began based on proposal from a painting conservator
  • Repair and conservation work carried out by leading specialists in lining and specialist art handlers
  • Painting returned in considerably better condition than it had been prior to the damage. 

An unresolved mystery - what happened

There is restricted public access to the castle and the door to the ballroom is kept closed, and locked at night. Facing out onto the parkland, it has secure windows and doors. There was no evidence of illegal access and no witnesses to the event that caused the damage.
When the administration advised Ecclesiastical of the damage, we appointed specialist loss adjusters to examine and report on the damage and make recommendations. The initial conclusions had been that the damage was as a result of vandalism but having examined the painting, the loss adjuster gave the opinion that something hard and sharp had fallen against it. But, as the report stated, this could only be speculation an

As the report stated

This could only be speculation. It is unlikely that the true cause or culprits will be established.

Extent of the damage

The damage, which was the subject of the claim for conservation of the painting, consisted of four deep cuts which had sliced through both the original and the lining canvases. This caused severe distortion to the canvass, paint loss and flaking over the entire painting surface. There was also some paint loss and areas where the paint was abraded almost to the canvas.
A painting conservator advised that treatment of the flaking paint and cleaning would be necessary before the damage could be repaired.

A painting restored

Although the painting was not in prime condition prior to the incident, Ecclesiastical recognised that the gashes were caused by a specific and insurable event, accidental damage. The recommendation of the loss adjuster for the repair of the painting was accepted and extensive repair and conservation work went ahead based on the proposal put forward by the painting conservator.
Initially, the lining and dry lining canvases and adhesives were removed on site and the painting was re-lined and stretched. This work was carried out by an acknowledged leading specialist in lining, particularly of large canvases.
Specialist art handlers then transferred the painting to the studio where the repairs and conservation work were carried out.

Going the extra mile

The painting that was returned to Margam Castle was in considerably better condition than it had been prior to the damage.
Indeed when rectifying damage to antique paintings or furniture, it can be the case that a degree of ‘betterment’ to its overall condition occurs.
In the process of repairing and restoring an object it may sometimes be necessary to rectify damage that was not caused by the specific insured incident.

Fine Art Director at Ecclesiastical

"Our objective is always to give the best treatment for the item in question and this can mean taking a holistic approach, as was the case with the Margam Castle painting. It would have been impossible to have carried out the repairs to the damage without worsening the general condition of this valuable painting. 

In a situation like this which necessarily involves additional restoration work, we will work with the owner to agree the settlement and ensure that we achieve the most appropriate solution for the piece in question. ”