The Three Graces at Clandon Park

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The origin of our plaster cast of The Three Graces is a mystery. It is almost identical to Antonio Canova’s marble sculpture commissioned by the Duke of Bedford in 1814, but there are no records of how this plaster cast came to be made.

The sculpture

Canova’s sculpture depicts three entwined female figures, Euphrosyne, Aglaea and Thalia, the daughters of Zeus. Together they’re known as the Charités or, in English, The Three Graces. They represent joy, festivity and beauty.

The Duke’s original marble was left to the nation and is jointly owned by the V&A and the National Galleries of Scotland. No record exists of a cast having been taken of this original sculpture and there was no relationship between the families to suggest it was a favour from one to the other. We do know that before the house was left to us the Three Graces was set in Clandon’s garden grotto.

Conserving the Three Graces

In 1994 extensive conservation work began, undertaken by the City & Guilds’ Conservation Department. The cast had suffered considerable damage from its long exposure to the elements, including severe water damage to the plaster and the iron armature.

During conservation, the armature was removed and stabilised and the weak plaster was repaired. Old restorations were removed and replaced and the cast received a mechanical, chemical and laser surface clean.

By 2010, much conservation work had been completed, but the statue was still missing a head, a hand and a foot. To recreate these pieces the original sculpture was extensively researched with drawings and photography at the Museum of Canova in Italy and at the Scottish National Gallery.

The fragile cast made reinstating these new elements a challenge so a lightweight solution was devised. Traditional plaster and iron was replaced with thin polyester plates, acrylic resin and glass microcells. These elements were then retouched to blend with the original material.

Returned home

After a grand total of 17 years of painstaking restoration, the Three Graces was returned to us in 2011. You can see the remarkable results of this work at the foot of the Oak Stairs at Clandon.