Paintings of ‘Petworth Beauties’ have their legs restored by the National Trust

Paintings of ‘Petworth Beauties’ have their legs restored by the National Trust

So the ‘Petworth Beauties’ are a set of
eight paintings and they date from the 1690’s. And they were installed here in the Beauty room at Petworth by the sixth Duke and Duchess of Somerset. They were originally full-length portraits but they were cut in the 19th century and became 3/4 lengths. The National Trust discovered that the bottoms of the canvases had survived, and it has now decided to restore the pictures to full-length. We’ve got the two paintings. This one we’ve taken to a level that we can display the whole painting. But it was like that painting. So that section which is about a third of the painting is bent over the back and still on that one, and then tacked in place. So with the painting laid down flat on the table we could simply cut through the gap, release the tacks from the back, and lift this whole section off. If you want to get rid of the the bottom section but don’t want to make it a permanent decision, what you would normally do or what you can imagine would be the normal situation was you would simply bend it round and tack it to the back. But that’s not what we’ve got here. The original painting was completely cut so that the two pieces were separate. And you can see with this one that the bottom section isn’t quite aligned. So the next step will be to totally clean the painting. We’ve got a lot of layers but they are beautifully soluble, and you can see that the way the varnish is lifting onto the swab very easily with the minimum of difficulty. The paint layer underneath is totally solid. One of the really exciting things about the dials going to Tate Britain for this exhibition is that London visitors and other people from across the UK and abroad will see the pictures for the first time in nearly 200 years as they were intended, and lit in a museum environment will make them think about them in a different way out of context. So we’re here at the Tate Gallery in London and the paintings have arrived. They’ve been framed at the Tate and now we’re about to install them in the gallery . And it’s wonderful to see the Beauties because they are fantastic. Not only have we unfolded their legs from here down to here, you can see now the paintings in full-length as they were intended. And the colours are simply fantastic. We have an article from the archives of about 1840 which describes the colours of these two paintings. And what’s fascinating is the colours described there are exactly what we see today. So after the exhibition the paintings will return to Petworth, so I encourage you to see them there as well. Ideally one day we could restore the room back to how it was intended as one of the great Baroque spaces in this fantastic Baroque palace in the South Downs.

One thought on “Paintings of ‘Petworth Beauties’ have their legs restored by the National Trust

  1. Incredible to think the original paintings were violated in that way when there was a less permanent solution to shortening them – if that was such a vital goal. They look so vibrant now restored and what a coup to have discovered the severed sections still existed.

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