Come and see what lies behind at Upton

This section of the page features an image gallery, so if you're using a screen reader you may wish to jump to the main content.

The Picture Gallery has re-opened.  The paintings are going back and, until 18 March, some backs will face forward. Backs to the Future is fusing two of Upton's most important themes; conserving the collection of old masters - the Backs - and future plans for interpretation and contemporary art.

Have you ever thought what lies behind a canvas? Those who handled the frame throughout the life of a painting put their mark on the piece, leaving 'signatures' of their own which are not only fascinating in themselves but can be just as important in identifying authenticity and provenance as the signature on the face of the painting.

Visitors can now share the unique thrill that's normally experienced only by Upton's staff. They enjoy the privilege of being able to see these eclipsed worlds regularly, but now for a few weeks some of the paintings will be turned around enabling visitors to read for themselves the hidden stories which normally lie out of sight.

You may find hints about when Lord Bearsted bought the painting, handwritten notes of conservators or labels and scripts of gallery owners. You'll see first-hand how the panels were put together and where the hand of the conservator has worked to help preserve the painting.

A passionate collector

Lord Bearsted was an influential supporter of artists. He used his chairmanships of both the National Gallery and the Whitechapel Gallery to encourage their work. Even as chairman of Shell he exercised the same influence through giving leading artists of the generation the chance to create artwork for the company's celebrated advertising campaigns.

He was also a passionate collector of art. The need to accommodate his extensive collection in one place, better still to display it at its best, was a driving force behind his choice of Upton House as a country retreat. It was to be a place to relax and entertain guests and his first squash court was an early addition to the property. But its open space and quality of light led to Viscount Bearsted  converting it to a picture gallery and it remains devoted to that purpose to this day.

Beginning soon, throughout 2014, Upton will be celebrating Lord Bearsted as an art lover, a business man, a man of means and a philanthropist.