Christ Healing the Blind, Eric Gill
Dismantling, Cleaning, Repair & Replication
Following our extensive restoration programme at Moorfield’s Eye Hospital, London Stone Conservation was asked to remove, conserve and produce a replica of the Christ Healing the Blind sculpture. The piece was carved in situ by Eric Gill to commemorate the opening of the King George V Extension in 1935.
The sculpture is a large apex stone, constructed in a single block of Portland limestone. It is carved in high relief depicting Christ Healing the Blind and bares the inscription “DOMINE UT VIDEAM (LORD, THAT I MAY SEE)”. The sculpture is located on ground level of King George V Extension at Moorfield’s, in an exposed location just above City Road. Measuring 90 cm. x 90 cm. x 40. cm, it weighs nearly 800 kgs, and is perched 6 meters above the entrance portico of the working hospital.
The aesthetic and legibility of the carving had been seriously undermined by heavy build up of atmospheric soiling and deposits of sulphation crust in the undercut areas. The surface had also suffered loss of detail and sharpness in the more exposed areas that are continually washed by the rain and unprotected from the weather. At some point, a cementitious shelter coat had then been applied, in an attempt to protect the carving from further erosion. Unfortunately, this shelter coat had filled some of the incised letters making them illegible from ground level.
The Hospital requested that the sculpture be removed from the façade, to protect it from further deterioration or irreversible damage, and create an accurate reproduction. Following assessment of the condition, fixing method, and risks involved, a carefully sequenced plan for deinstallation was agreed. Working alongside specialist art handlers, the sculpture was lifted from its position on the facade using a hydraulic crane. The piece was then safely installed in a bespoke transportation case, before transporting to London Stone Conservation’s workshops.
On arrival at the workshops the first stage was to clean the sculpture was using a combination of manual processes and low concentration poultice treatments. This removed the hard impermeable shelter coat and reduced the overall staining and sulphation deposits. To produce an exact replica of the carving a silicone rubber skin mould was taken with a lightweight rigid jacket for support. It was applied as a two-part mould with a vertical seam located in the centre, to facilitate removal and avoid damage to the sculpture. The entire stone surface was treated with a barrier of methylcellulose to prevent the silicone leaching into the host material. Methylcellulose is easily rinsed off with water on completion of the casting process. The intervention layer was applied in multiple thin coats to prevent any loss of detail. The replica was then cast in colour matched Jesmonite AC730, an exterior grade composite casting system. On completion the surface of the cast was acid etched to further match the appearance of weathered stone.