The Yates family have had a dig through their Archive of Peter Yates’ works and have uncovered some remarkable colour glass sides of the mural taken by Peter Yates. They are thought to be from before the building was officially opened in 1954. Indeed one of the photos is taken through the aperture where the bust of Ernest Bevin was placed for the opening in 1954. These amazing colour slides lead the project to two realisations.
1) the mural that we have today has been completely overpainted at some point before 1989
2) when Peter Yates first painted this scheme, he gave the bull two wings!
So far, the best photo that we had of the mural in the past was the photo that one of the original residents, Carol, gave us. She took the photo on 20 January 1989 and it shows the mural we know today in a good state of repair and not vandalised. The Yates’ Family Archive photos clearly show that there has been a wholesale over paint of Winged Bull Day and Night at some point between the opening of the building and the 1980s.
The team have done some digging at RIBA archive too and found some photos of the mural taken by John McCann in 1954, the year that the mural opened. These photos are in black and white, but they clearly show that the same differences in the finish of the mural as shown in the Yates Family Archive slides.
The main points of difference are in the detail of the Well, the Bull and a loss of detail in the buildings and the dolphins. Although surprisingly, the bull only has one wing as today – a mystery indeed!
At this point in the project we had to discuss what route we could take with the restoration of the mural as we were clearly working with a later rendition of the work. Tom and his team walked us through the different options open to us, the residents and the family. In unison our team decided to try and restore as much detail of the original as we could.
To this end the Yates family, very kindly, had the colour slides they hold professional scanned to retrieve as much detail from them as possible. RIBA too provided us with high resolution images of the images of the mural they hold. Tom and his team started studying the photos, cross sectioning the images to create a map of the original. They started to take some of the over painted top layers off the mural and we found some amazing evidence of the past life of the mural.
The Yates family also scoured their achieve for studies and sketches of the mural and we compared these to the scheme. In many of his sketches for this theme, he uses a bull with one wing, but sometimes, the bull has two!
The John MaCann photos of the mural are dated to 1954 at the time of the buildings opening. In these images the bull only has one wing. Therefore we can hypotifsise that Peter Yates may have painted the bull with two wings, photographed the mural and then changed his mind and painted the second wing out before the opening of the building.
You can find out more about the process of restoring this mural by listening to Tom Organ’s talk on Restoring Yates.