One of Birmingham’s artistic treasures has been conserved and protected for future generations after a sensitive conservation project was successfully carried out.

Edward Burne-Jones’ The Star of Bethlehem is the world’s largest watercolour and a project has been completed to replace its fragile Victorian glazing, as well as carefully studying and conserving the artwork.

Birmingham Museums Trust (BMT) raised £50,000 to support the conservation of the Burne-Jones masterpiece, which has now been reglazed and placed into safe storage.

For 130 years The Star of Bethlehem has been on display at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery – home to the world’s largest collection of art and design by the Pre-Raphaelites and their associates.

The museum and art gallery is currently partially open while major electrical works are completed across the museum and adjoining Council House. While maintenance work is being carried out BMT continues to care for important collections so that visitors can enjoy them in the best possible condition when the museum fully reopens.

The important conservation work of the Star of Bethlehem has been made possible with generous donations from the public, The Pilgrim Trust, The Friends of Birmingham Museums, and an in-kind donation of US-based arts glazing specialists Optium Museum Acrylic by Tru Vue, Inc.

Measuring approximately 8ft by 12ft, The Star of Bethlehem had not moved in decades and due to the fragile, thin original Victorian glazing, the painting could not be inspected, conserved or redisplayed due to a high risk of the glazing shattering and damaging the art.

Upon inspection it was found that the painting is in a close-fitting inner frame, shaped like an open-fronted box. This means conservation experts still can’t see the back of the painting as this inner frame would need to be dismantled to remove it and to do so risks damaging the painting. This means some of its secrets will remain secret!

Experts have been able to see all the details of the painting, however, and Edward Burne-Jones’ signature was revealed in the bottom right corner: the first time it had been seen for 130 years.

Victoria Osborne, Curator of Fine Art, said: “We’re so grateful to all the donors and funders who supported BMT’s appeal to conserve and reglaze one of the treasures of Birmingham’s collection. The new low-reflect glazing will protect The Star of Bethlehem for the future and will make it easier for visitors to see and enjoy the picture in all its rich colour and detail. We’re excited to reveal it again when the Museum fully reopens.”

Find out more about Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery’s partial reopening for 2022 at birminghammuseums.org.uk/bmag

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