84-year-old original artwork rediscovered in Whitechapel
11:15 13 October 2016
Construction workers renovating a grade II listed building have discovered a collection of original artwork dating back to the 1930s.
The nine panel frieze, by Jewish artist Archibald Ziegler, was rediscovered within the Lecture Hall of Toynbee Hall, in Old Castle Street, Whitechapel, on Tuesday.
Employees from construction firm Thomas Sinden rediscovered the frieze, which runs all around the hall above oak panelling, overturned in its original hanging and painted over in white emulsion.
The artwork was originally unveiled to the public in 1932 to critical acclaim and provided a turning point in the artist’s career.
“We knew that Ziegler had painted this frieze but we had no real evidence it remained here,” said Toynbee Hall archivist Liz Allen.
“We felt there was a slim chance the boards above the wooden panelling in the Lecture Hall were the frieze painted over in white.
“So we were astonished that the builders were able to reveal the frieze intact on the reverse of the boards.
“This is an incredible find and with good conservation we will be able to restore and carefully place the frieze back in its original location.”
Unfortunately one of the pieces has been badly damaged from water leaks in the ceiling but the rest of the artwork is said to be in remarkably good condition considering the pictures have been hidden from daylight for eight decades.
Toynbee Hall’s chief executive, Graham Fisher, said the news ‘came as a complete surprise’ and hailed it as a ‘momentous discovery’ which he hopes to preserve for future generations.
“This has been a truly remarkable and emotional day for us all at Toynbee Hall and we greatly look forward to the conservation and restoration of these incredible paintings,” said Graham.
“It would be wonderful if we are now able to secure funding to conserve them and then return the frieze to its rightful place in the Lecture Hall for generations to be able to enjoy in the future.
“This is also a great illustration of our rich cultural heritage and just how integral the Jewish community was to Toynbee Hall in the 1930s.”
The paintings will be placed in conservation whilst Toynbee Hall looks into the costs of restoring the frieze.
Regeneration work, partly funded by the National Lottery Heritage Trust, at the Estate is ongoing as they look to secure the remaining £500,000 needed to complete the restoration of the hall.