Appendix 3 - The case against F.N Pryce, and his reply

Letter from Forsdyke to Pryce.

8th November 1938

F. N. Pryce, Esq.,

Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities

Dear Pryce,

I enclose extracts from the Report of the Trustees' Board of Enquiry into the damage done to the Parthenon sculpture, which refer to your own part in this matter. They are in effect a charge of neglect of duty against you.

You should let me have your answer to the charge in writing before Saturday next, November 12th, in order that the Standing Committee may consider it with the Board of Enquiry's report. You should also be ready to appear before the Standing Committee at that time, in case they wish to examine your case further.

Yours sincerely,

E. J. Forsdyke

Director and Principal Librarian



Mr. F. N. Pryce

The portions of the Parthenon sculptures in question are three in number, namely, the Selene horse's head, the Helios group and the figure of Iris, all belonging to the East Pediment. On the 16th of September Mr. Pryce left the Museum on short holiday leave. The three pieces of sculpture were then in their proper places in the Elgin Room. Before he went away Mr. Pryce gave no instructions either to Mr. Hinks, who took charge in his absence, or to anyone else with regard to either moving the sculptures or cleaning them beyond a direction to Holcombe to prepare a mounting for the Iris figure which involved its removal from the pedestal. The Director informed the Board that he had previously reminded Mr. Pryce that this figure must not even be washed without the authority of Dr. Plenderleith in view of the precarious condition of its surface. While Mr Pryce was absent it came to the notice of the Director on the evening of Thursday, 22nd September, that tools had been used in the cleaning of the Parthenon sculptures. He instructed Mr. Hinks on the morning of 23rd September to see that improper methods were not being used. On Sunday, 25th September, the Director happened to have occasion to pass through the basement of the Department. He was surprised to find there the Helios group in process of cleaning. On the bench he observed a number of copper tools and a piece of coarse carborundum, and from the appearance of the sculptures he at once saw that tools had been used on the sculptures. On Monday morning, 26th September, the Iris was found by Mr. Hinks to be undergoing similar treatment in an annex of the new Duveen Gallery, and the Selene horse's head in the Foreman Mason's workshop.

Although Holcombe denied that he had used any copper tool in cleaning the horse's head, which he dealt with himself personally, the Board are satisfied that copper tools were used by Holcombe and the labourers under him in cleaning all the three pieces of sculpture in question. Holcombe admitted that apart from the instruction to prepare a mounting for the Iris figure he had received no specific instructions from the Keeper or the Assistant Keeper either to remove or to clean the sculptures. He appears to have assumed that he was at liberty to proceed at his own hand with the process of removing and cleaning. He apparently had obtained some strips or rods of copper from the store and had fashioned those into tools of various shapes by flattening and sharpening the ends. He said that he had used similar tools on other occasions for cleaning marble and he apparently regarded himself as entitled to use them on the Parthenon sculptures. No effort was made to conceal them and they were lying exposed to full view on the bench when the Director first observed them.

In the course of the evidence given by Holcombe and the labourers it emerged that they had used tools in cleaning the metopes and frieze on which they had previously been engaged for some time. The Board did not think it to be within their duty to make a detailed examination of the metopes and frieze with a view to ascertaining the extent of the damage done, but they were impressed by the fact that such improper methods of cleaning had been allowed to be in operation over so long a period.

While the damage to the sculptures was directly occasioned by the unauthorised actions of Holcombe, it is impossible to acquit the Keeper and the Assistant Keeper of serious dereliction of duty. Their main responsibility is the preservation and protection of the valuable works of art committed to their care. Nevertheless, owing to absence of direction and to inefficiency of supervision in the Department, Holcombe was able to remove the Helios group and the Selene horse's head, and to undertake the cleaning of all the three sculptures in question at his own hand without the knowledge of either the Keeper or the Assistant Keeper who was in charge of the Department at the time. This can only be taken as indicating a most unfortunate slackness and want of system in the administration of the Department.

In the case of Mr. Pryce, it is true that he had in the course of this year been suffering from ill health necessitating his absence from work for two periods, and also that he was on holiday leave when the particular unauthorised actings of Holcombe with the Pediment sculptures took place. But the work of cleaning the Parthenon sculptures was a long and delicate process, calling for a definite programme and careful and systematic supervision. It was the duty of Mr Pryce to see to these matters. It should have been made clear to the staff that no piece of sculpture must be removed and no piece of sculpture must be cleaned without specific orders from Mr. Pryce himself, or, in his absence, his deputy. No such step was taken, with the result that Holcombe considered himself entitled to remove the Helios group and the Selene horse and to start to clean those two pieces and the Iris figure on his own initiative. The necessity for specific instructions with regard to the cleaning of each individual piece was all the more imperative by reason of the fact that the condition of the sculptures varies considerably and special care was necessary in certain cases, for example, the Iris figure. Mr. Pryce informed us that when the cleaning first began he gave instructions to Holcombe that it was only to be done according to the approved methods. But it was his duty to see that these instructions were being carried out. In this duty he failed, with the result that tools were improperly used in cleaning the metopes and the frieze without his ever knowing it. The improper practice thus begun was continued in the case of the Pediment sculptures during Mr. Pryce's absence. But the fact that he was absent on that occasion does not free him from responsibility for the damage done to these sculptures since if he had exercised proper supervision when the cleaning of the metopes first began the practice would have been stopped at the very beginning. Moreover, when he left for his holiday he ought to have given proper instructions to his deputy, Mr. Hinks, with regard to continuing the work of cleaning the sculptures, but he failed to do so. Mr. Pryce's neglect of his duties is all the more serious in view of the fact that he had been Deputy Keeper since 27th November, 1934, and Keeper since 25th June, 1936, and had had the management of the Sculpture Galleries and workshops from 1925 to 1932, during Mr. Walters' Keepership, and was presumably conversant with the proper procedure to be observed in connection with the moving and cleaning of the sculptures under his charge. When questioned as to how this occurrence could have taken place if there had been proper supervision Mr. Pryce was unable to answer, and when asked as to what steps should be taken to prevent the possibility of the recurrence of such an incident he exhibited little faculty of resourceful suggestion.


Statement in answer to the charge of neglect of duty

Mr. F. N. Pryce

1. I would emphasise that I had no intention of beginning the washing of the pedimental figures at the period under review. Other and urgent work was before us (in the Third Graeco-Roman Room, which had begun before I returned). Further, I wished the washing of the pediments to be the last of the Elgin Room activities, not only that the marbles might be freshly cleaned for the opening, but because much labour would be saved if, after washing, these heavy masses could be transferred directly to their new mounts. February 1939 seemed to me the suitable date on which to begin the washing. It was for this reason that I had not yet consulted Dr. Plenderleith as to how far we should wash, and for the same reason I said nothing about washing to Mr. Hinks when I handed over to him.

2. The instructions I gave Holcombe on leaving were to take down the Iris, prepare its mounting, and set it up in the new gallery. This was at Lord Duveen's request conveyed through the Director. I explained the matter fully to Mr. Hinks, emphasising that he should personally check the position of the mount. Holcombe moved the Iris half-way, then deviated from his instructions. The job would have occupied the men until they were wanted elsewhere; had it been finished more quickly, there are always various jobs of a routine nature on which the men can be usefully employed. There was no necessity to begin washing, to find employment for the men.

3. The standing instruction in the Department is that no sculpture is moved without express authority. Holcombe had not acted without authority in the past and I had no reason to anticipate that he would act on impulse in my absence.

4. When the washing began, I asked Holcombe if he and the men understood the proper process, and he replied in the affirmative. At the outset I spent much time with the men, and the washing whenever I was present was being done in accordance with regulation. I have reexamined the slabs of the frieze which were first washed (in the S.W. angle of the Elgin Room), and can see no trace of the use of copper tools. On this point I consulted Dr. Plenderleith who, I believe, concurs. It would appear then that the proper process was known to the men and at first followed by them, and that I had reason for being satisfied on this point. Subsequently I spent less time in the workshop, but when on duty I regularly visited the men daily. I never caught them in the use of unauthorised tools. There was of course a long period in the spring of this year when washing was in progress and when I was absent or under medical treatment.

F. N. Pryce

11 November 1938