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Feibusch Painting, St John’s Waterloo

Restoration of the Feibusch painting in St John’s Waterloo

St John's was built as one of the Commissioner churches in 1822–24 to cater to the rapidly growing population of London. The marshy land of Lambeth in which it stands had been used first as market gardens, then as pleasure gardens and in the 19th century had finally been industrialised. The church was renovated by Blomfield in 1885 and was struck by a bomb in 1940, destroying the roof and much of the interior. The building stood roofless for ten years until it was restored and remodelled internally by Thomas Ford in 1950. In 1951 the church was rededicated as the Festival of Britain Church.

German-born Jewish artist Hans Feibusch (1898 –1998) was commissioned to paint a crucifixion for the church in 1951. Feibusch had already a reputation as a painter in Germany but with the rise of Nazism his work was labelled ‘degenerate’. He came to Britain in 1933. His work was known for its intensity of vision and bold use of colour and during his lifetime Feibusch worked on around separate 30 churches across the country. He converted to Christianity in 1965 but in the last years of his life reverted to Judaism and was buried with a Jewish liturgy at Golders Green Jewish Cemetery.

This altarpiece was executed in 1951 and appears to have been painted with house paints, reflecting the limited access to artists’ materials post-war. It was executed in thin, fast strokes, and has no varnishes or other coatings.

A survey revealed that the mural had deteriorated considerably. There were areas of delamination between the paint and ground layer and areas of flaking and loss. The painting is on a thin infill panel in the east window and the reduced thermal mass in comparison to the adjacent walls meant that the microclimate around the painting was fluctuating. This was exacerbated by spotlights directed towards the lower part of the painting. Restoration involved improving the thermal performance of the wall as well as consolidation and conservation of the paint layers.

The painting restoration, funded by HOLT, is one of the central features in the broader redevelopment of the church, which included removal of two adjacent and modern paintings. The history of the church and of the area is publicised with regular exhibitions within the church space.

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