Object of the month Sir Daniel Gooch Portrait

June 2023

Opaltype Portrait of Sir Daniel Gooch

Last year the Museum was donated this very special portrait of Sir Daniel Gooch (1816-1889).  It came from a donor in France and we were not sure what to expect.  When it arrived we were thrilled to find it was a hand coloured opaltype portrait – one of only a few colour images of Gooch we know of in existence.

Portrait of Sir Daniel Gooch

The framed portrait of Sir Daniel Gooch as it looked when in came to the Museum in June 2022. © STEAM – Museum of the GWR

An opaltype is a positive photographic image on opaline, or milky, glass.  The technique was developed in the 1860s and used through to the 1930s and 1940s.  The images could either be left black or white, or hand painted with watercolour like our Gooch portrait.

The portrait depicts Gooch in later middle age, probably at a time when he became Chairman of the GWR. It is beautifully hand painted and includes some delicate details – it really brings the photograph to life.

A close up of the delicate watercolour detail on the face of Sir Daniel Gooch. © STEAM – Museum of the GWR

The opaltype was in quite bad condition when it arrived at the Museum.  It had many cracks to the surface, a damaged frame and smoke stained glass.  With funding from the Friends of Swindon Railway Museum we were able to send the portrait off to the Wiltshire Conservation & Museums Advisory Service in Chippenham for some urgent work.

The work on the portrait proved to be fairly challenging.  Previous repairs to the cracked surface had been damaging and in some places irreversible.  The highly delicate watercolour also restricted some work to be undertaken.  However, despite this, the conservator was able to remove old adhesive, fill and retouch cracks where possible, repair the frame and fit the portrait with UV filtering glass.

The cracked surface of the portrait had to be separated to remove old adhesive.

The results are amazing!  The conservation work has given new life back to the portrait and we are excited to have such an unusual type of photographic image in our collection.  Gooch’s blue eyes have their twinkle back!


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