£30,000 painting restoration starts at Petworth House

One of the many school groups which comes to admire the paintings at Petworth House
One of the many school groups which comes to admire the paintings at Petworth House

A MAJOR painting conservation project is about to get under way at Petworth House.

The six-month project is among the most significant painting conservation treatments ever undertaken in the country on behalf of the National Trust.

It will see the £30,000 restoration of Sir Joshua Reynolds’ Macbeth and the Witches which has – until now – been viewed as one of the ‘gloomiest’ and ‘dullest’ artworks in the mansion’s gallery.

Curator of collections and exhibitions at Petworth House, Andy Loukes, said: “For many years, the darkened appearance of his painting has understandably given visitors the impression that our collection is uncared for. The traditional conservation view has been that the painting is so dark because the artist used bitumen in his pigments – which he did on occasion.”

Measuring an impressive 272 x 366cm, the painting hangs prominently in the stately square dining room at Petworth House. It depicts three successive stages in Act IV of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, showing Macbeth facing three witchy apparitions.

It is the largest piece in the historic house’s collection and the largest and most expensive commission ever from the artist.

The £30,000 restoration has been made possible from donations and raffle-ticket sales, with the shortfall made up by resources put aside by Petworth House.

The painting will be removed on Thursday, 
July 31, and a giant reproduction will take its place, enabling visitors to see the minute detail which once existed on the original.

The Reynolds’ conservation coincides with another major project which will dramatically improve the lighting of the painting collection, which is the most important collection in the care of the National Trust – using newly-designed bespoke picture lights.

Around 50 outstanding paintings will be re-lit at Petworth House over the next two years, including famous examples by Turner, Gainsborough and Van Dyck.