The annual memorial ‘Primrose Day’ was held to commemorate British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli’s death on 19 April 1881. Named after his favourite flower, the anniversary was encouraged by Queen Victoria and promoted by the Primrose League.

Numerous artists, including Frank Bramley and Ralph Todd painted the subject of ‘Primrose Day’. The paintings portray mournful young women sorting primroses for posies or wreaths, usually worn and placed at Disraeli’s statue in London on the day of the anniversary. Although the meaning and practice of Primrose Day is now largely forgotten, its depiction still serves as an emotive Victorian genre painting.

The Art Gallery of South Australia has a version of ‘Primrose Day’ in their collections painted by English painter, Edward Stott in 1885.

The painting came to Artlab for a routine treatment following an extended loan. It had not been conserved previously and was found to have a heavily discoloured varnish layer, together with retouches which had equally yellowed over time. The old retouches extended over areas of damage and had to be mechanically removed, whereas the aged varnish layer remained easily soluble. The resulting clean revealed a much brighter and contrasted image, the flowers now clearly visible as a pale yellow against the white dress and dishes.

Edward Stott
Primrose Day
1885, Eversham, near Worcester
Oil on canvas
50.1 x 35.6 cm
Elder Bequest Fund 1899
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

Primrose Day before treatmentThe painting by Edward Stott before treatment at Artlab Australia.

Painting during treatmentDetails of the painting during the cleaning process, above and below.

Painting during treatment

Primrose Day after treatmentPrimrose Day by Edward Stott, 1885 after treatment by paintings conservators at Artlab Australia.