Anti Restoration

The thoughts of Ruskin were gradually diffused and taken over by many others, and, in 1877, the main points were summarized by Sidney Colvin (1845-1927), Slade Professor of Fine Arts at Cambridge, in his Restoration and Anti-Restoration. He conceived a building as a work of art, but different from a statue completed at one time; buildings, instead, may exhibit the action of many modifying forces, and the more they bear the marks of such forces, the greater is their historic value and interest. Referring to Ruskin, Colvin stated that due to its picturesqueness and age value, a historic building had a twofold charm; it was venerable, which implied, first, that old workmanship in architecture was more beautiful than new; and second, that it was more interesting and suggested more solemn thoughts (Colvin, 1877:457). He accused restorers of lacking a true historical sense, and quoted a writer, who had said that an old church was frequently not one, but many churches in one. He maintained too that it was madness to destroy later structures for the sake of archaeological research, ritual propriety, artistic continuity, or with the excuse of repair. He referred to the recent translation of Viollet-le-Duc's article, 'On Restoration', in which restoration was accepted as a shock to the building, and insisted that whatever discoveries might be made, they were at the cost of the integrity of the structure and the continuity of its history.

The right lover of art can see the virtue of one style without being blind to the virtue of another. He is perfectly sensible that the great, the inspired system of Middle Age architecture during its organic periods is a thing of very much higher beauty and import than the systems of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and he acknowledges that history often thus leaves its mark at the expense of art, and that a building, in accumulating historical value, often deteriorates in artistic value. But all the same, he can see that Queen Anne design is rich, well-proportioned, and appropriate in many uses, especially in decorative woodwork; and he will infinitely rather have the genuine product of that age than the sham mediaeval product of to-day. (Colvin, 1877:460)

Following the same line of thought as Colvin was John James Stevenson (1832-1908), a Scottish architect remembered principally for school buildings in the Queen Anne style; he was especially shocked by the restoration of lost parts in such a way that the new and old became indistinguishable. As an example he told about his visit to Sainte-Chapelle in Paris guided by Viollet-le-Duc. In describing the pains and care taken in the restoration and repainting of some polychrome niches, Viollet-le-Duc had appeared 'unintentionally amusing'; 'after portions had been restored in exact imitations of the old colouring, it was found necessary sometimes completely to repaint them, in consequence of the discovery in the old work of some colour with which the new work would not harmonize. From this we may judge of the uncertainty of the restoration, and its authenticity in telling us what the old work was'.3 He insisted that a manufactured document of a later date than the time it professed to belong to, was 'worse than useless'; it was misleading and a falsification, and he referred to Carlyle, who had stressed 'his reverence for absolute authenticity', and contributed to the ending of this sort of faking in the field of literature (Stevenson, 1881). He also pointed out the example of the mutilated Elgin Marbles that sculptors earlier would have liked to complete and restore, but were now prevented from so doing 'by their culture'. Stevenson attacked the work of Sir Edmund Beckett (Lord Grimthorpe) for his proposed rebuilding of the west front of St Alban's Abbey, accusing him of destroying valuable historic documents. Beckett answered him, refusing to accept any of the criticism.4 Earlier, Stevenson had criticized Scott for his schemes in the same building, and Scott, rather taken aback, had given a lengthy answer to him. Beckett's plans were actually carried out, leaving 'little to be enjoyed outside' the church (Ferriday, 1957:93; Clifton-Taylor, 1977:272).

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