Our collections here tend to be fairly static because of their very nature; we are not a Walter Scott museum and don't buy filler material on a theme or on the man as a general rule. We exist to showcase the Abbotsford collection, care for this building, repatriate items that may have been lost over the years and to share our passion and celebrate our commitment to caring for Scott's legacy. For this reason, new acquisitions are somewhat rare. And they don't get much more unusual than a stunning Regency period harp! Those of you that have visited us before might be scratching your heads right about now, muttering under your breath that you were sure that there was already a harp at Abbotsford...and of course you would be right. Here she is, a gilt and black Sebastian Erard harp with neoclassical decoration, manufactured in 1820 according to her unique serial number and purchased by a Mrs J. Lockhart (nee [Charlotte] Sophia Scott):
|Sophia Scott's 1820 harp|
"A young woman, pretty, lively, with a harp as elegant as herself, and both placed near a window, cut down to the ground, and opening on a little lawn, surrounded by shrubs in the rich foliage of summer, was enough to catch any man's heart."
Or perhaps I am getting carried away..!
|Lady with a Harp: Eliza Ridgely", portrait by Thomas Sully, 1818|
"Sophia is rather too much with her harp... I wish she would take example of old times and hang it up."
|Portrait of Anne Scott in the Abbotsford Drawing Room|
So without further ado, enter stage left: harp number two! This piece was discovered in Oxfordshire in the hands of a private owner who thoughtfully approached the Abbotsford Trust in March 2014 with details of the piece and its supposed connection with Anne. Further research by our team using the serial number on the harp traced it through the company archives to its original purchase for Anne Scott in 1818. It's another Erard double-action harp, but it is distinct in its design. Although the applied plasterwork with it's Grecian assortment of caryatids, winged lions, gryphons, Greek masks and acanthus leaves is a constant, the soundboard decoration is very different and the colour of the the harp's body, a luscious green now sun-bleached in places, is beautiful. We were fortunate enough to be able to purchase the piece through the kind donation of a benefactor, and this donation has also enabled us to send both harps off for treatment with furniture conservator, Sarah Gerrish.
The arrival and unveiling of Anne Scott's 1818 harp
The majority of specialist treatment was reserved for the new piece, with Sophia's instrument undergoing a full conservation clean, using a combination of dry brushwork, white spirit on the areas of copper alloy and 5% Tri-Ammonium Citrate and water on the gilding. The body of the harp was then waxed with a micro-crystalline product to protect the finish. Anne's harp needed a lot more in the way of 'consolidation' work, i.e., stabilising the piece, particularly the gilt on the soundboard and body of the harp. Rabbit glue was used on the many loose elements (animal glues are always used in conservation repairs) and the decorative losses on the soundboard were 'tinted in', meaning that instead of attempting to actually recreate the decoration itself to fill gaps which is not really what we want to be doing, Sarah uses water-based acryllic paint to infill the gaps to match the surrounding base colour. This makes areas of loss less visible and the surrounding areas less prone to flaking without trying to reimagine the piece. The two harps arrived back at Abbotsford last week and the difference in their appearance was astounding. The important thing now is to ensure that we minimise the danger of light damage to Anne's harp by closing the shutters in the Drawing Room whenever we can and positioning the piece in such a way that its delicate soundboard is protected.
|The soundboard of Anne's harp before and after tinting|
Now, having already established that the black and gold harp is not the one Sophia played here when she was an adolescent, we are left with a bit of a conundrum. In 1818 when the green harp was purchased, Sophia was 19 and Anne, 15/16. It is implausible that there was no harp at Abbotsford preceding this date and this missing instrument would have presumably belonged to Sophia. This lost harp may even have been exactly the same model as Anne's 1818 instrument, although whether a doting father would have opted for that course of action is open to debate! The whereabouts of this third harp are now unknown but it was presumably replaced by our elaborate 1820 harp purchased in the year of Lockhart and Sophia's marriage. The most likely scenario is that Anne received the green harp as a sixteenth birthday present and perhaps Scott was further encouraged to make this purchase by Lockhart's simultaneous arrival on the scene, heralding the countdown to the spiriting away of his favourite musical entertainer, Sophia. The supposition is that following her marriage, Sophia initially keeps her 1820 black and gilt harp at their Great King Street residence in Edinburgh before the family move to London in 1825, when it is decided the 1820 instrument will be stored at Abbotsford for use during the family's summer vacations. Perhaps she took her original harp, the mystery third instrument, with her to London, or perhaps it was sold off at this point. Anne would have then found herself with the 1820 harp at her disposal for the majority of the year whilst nursing her father through his financial strife and final years of ill health. There would have been no need for her 1818 instrument and it could well have been sold on or gifted to somebody at this point. How it ended up in Oxfordshire all those years later is a mystery, but at least one with a happy conclusion.
|The two harps on display together|
Thanks for reading!
Collections and Interpretation Manager