'Sir Thomas Jackson' 1906
This statue depicts Sir Thomas Jackson, the former chief manager of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) between 1870 and 1902. It stands in Statue Square in Central Hong Kong. It is cast in bronze and has been assembled from a number of separately cast pieces.
After the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong in World War II most of the statues, including that of Sir Thomas Jackson, were sent to Japan to be melted down. In September 1946 the statue was discovered in Kobe amongst the Osaka army’s arsenal. There are deep scratches and indentations on the surface of the bronze that would have resulted from extremely forceful impacts, probably during this time. It was said that the toe of one of the statue’s boots was rubbed for good luck, and that Chinese women had a ritual of surrounding the statue with joss sticks in times of trouble; a ritual that continued for years after Jackson’s death.
The sculpture had been painted black at some point in its history, although during our initial examination it was not clear why. More recently there had been some losses to the paint surface; in places these had been painted over with new paint in a patch application so that the overall effect had become unsightly. Photographs taken of the sculpture before the black paint layer was applied suggested that traditional chemical patina had been applied after casting to give the finished bronze an overall brown colour. The client therefore wanted us to remove the paint to see if the original appearance could be restored.
We established that the sculpture had been painted in a number of layers: a white priming undercoat followed by two or three layers of glossy black paint. The preliminary stage of the work involved the complete removal of all paint layers using a specialist solvent gel chosen for its effectiveness and with an awareness of public health and safety because we were working in a public square in the centre of Hong Kong. This was then removed with a steam pressure washer.
When we removed paint on the base of the sculpture, we found that a large quantity of black tar had been used to level the base where it was set into its current plinth. Removal of this tar in test areas showed that the base of the sculpture originally represented a low mound on which the figure was standing and therefore sloped downwards at the edges. Presumably the tar had been added to prevent water gathering in channels where it met the base.
Examination of the fully cleaned surface revealed the original decision to paint the sculpture: a build-up of heavy green corrosion on the surface that usually occurs as a result of natural weathering. Unfortunately, the decision had been taken to remove the corrosion prior to painting with an extremely harsh abrasive that had removed original bronze on all the high points of the surface, resulting in bright reflective marks all over the sculpture. These were in stark contrast to the dark original patina that was still intact in crevices and low points. It became clear that it would be necessary to chemically repatinate the high points to reintegrate the surface appearance so that it more closely resembled the original.
For this process a chemical solution was applied to the surface of the bronze with a brush and heated with a blowtorch to develop the colour. The sculpture was then treated with wax that was gently warmed into the bronze with a blowtorch so as to penetrate the micro-pores in the surface and provide some protection from the weather conditions in Hong Kong. Finally, the sculpture was buffed to a shine to show off the restored deep brown patina.
With thanks to:
Thomas Warren and HSBC Bank Hong Kong.
Roger Griffith of Two Sticks Inc. and Christopher Moore who assisted with this project.
Lixia Adamcova for her practical assistance and translation.
'Sir Thomas Jackson' 1906