Art lovers have been served a real ace by British tennis’s leading official after a chance appeal.
The Friends of the Lytham St Annes Art Collection are aiming to restore a number of prized artworks and among those in most urgent need of attention is The New Curate by Percy Robert Craft.
The painting, last exhibited at the Fylde Gallery at Booth’s store in Lytham in January, is more than 100 years old and needs more than £4,000 spending on it.
Because it features a tennis scene, the Friends wrote to the Lawn Tennis Association – the governing body of British Tennis – on the off-chance to ask if officials would be interested in sponsoring its conservation.
And to the delight of the Friends, LTA president Peter Bretherton – who happens to be an art lover as well as a Lancastrian – wrote back to say he would be willing to personally fund the work – because it brought back memories of the county in which he was brought up.
“We are absolutely thrilled,” said Friends chairman Margaret Race.
“When we had our last exhibition of paintings, The New Curate was hung in it deliberately to show how damaged and dirty it was. People were drawn to it because Heather Davis, curator of the Collection and in charge of its conservation, had cleaned small areas to show how beautiful it would be when all cleaned and repaired.
“We received some donations towards the work, for which we were very grateful, but the work is so urgent that we thought sponsorship might be the answer to finding such a large sum and, after a visitor to the exhibition suggested it because of the tennis scene in the painting, we thought an approach to the LTA was worth a try.
“But we had no idea about the president’s roots and never imagined that we could receive the reply that we did. We are so grateful to Mr Bretherton.”
Born and raised in New Longton, near Preston, Mr Bretherton took over as LTA president in 2010.
He said: “I have cherished memories of the local Booth’s representative cycling round to check our grocery order every week at our home. Fifty years later, after a lifetime of playing tennis for Lancashire and collecting art, everything came together when I saw the The New Curate housed in the Booth’s Gallery.
“Nostalgic probably, but also a way of saying thank you to my home county and its artists and entrepreneurs.”
In return for Mr Bretherton’s generosity, a plaque will be attached to the frame acknowledging his contribution and he will be able to hang the picture in a place of his choosing – likely to be the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton – for six months.
Mrs Race said the restoration work on the painting will involve two conservators for a total of more than 100 hours.
“The painting has a lot of surface dirt and grease, there are two small tears, scratches, stains and scuff marks,” she said. “The frame is dirty and dusty and bits of it are missing.
“This will all be put right and the painting will be glazed to protect it.”