Painting the statues in Studley Royal water garden

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The statues of the water garden are key elements in this eighteenth-century designed landscape. And now they're wearing a new shade of white...

The moon ponds sit in the formal centre of the water garden and are part of John Aislabie’s original design. 

The clipped yew hedges, classical statues, geometric shapes and reflective ponds form an early part of the designed landscape at Studley Royal, which is an outstanding example of the ‘English’ garden style that swept across Europe during the eighteenth century.   

When the National Trust purchased the Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal estate in the early 1980s one of the first projects was to work on the temples, statues, water features and lawns around the moon ponds. This work helped to achieve the UNESCO designation of World Heritage Site.

Over time some of the detail within this part of the garden has been lost and our plan is to continue restoration work here over the next three years in certain key areas.

We started by repainting the lead statues, and next we'll be re-instating planters, creating new benches based on those illustrated in eighteenth century paintings and continuing our work restoring the yew 'bosquet' hedges which have grown and lost their original shape.

What’s happened so far?

Specialist conservators spent a week in September working to return the statues in the moon ponds to their original eighteenth century appearance. 

We know from research and contemporary images that the statues would have been an off-white colour.

In common with other eighteenth century gardens, they are made of lead and would have been painted to mimic a marble finish, giving the appearance of marble statues at a fraction of the price of real marble.

Restoration of the statues also took place in the 1980s. Some of the techniques used caused damage to the surface of the statues and removed all traces of the original paint. We have relied upon research and evidence at similar gardens to identify the correct colour.    

Conservators carried out the restoration work on the four statues in the heart of the water garden - Neptune, the Roman god of the sea, Bacchus, the god of wine and revelry, the Wrestlers and Galen.

The work involved removing any existing modern grey paint using specialist paint stripping equipment and high pressure steam. The surfaces of the statues were then primed and any areas of damage filled, before two topcoats of an off white/grey colour masonry paint were applied to complete the work.

It took the team of four conservators five days to complete. The work was completed by Rupert Harris, Metalwork Conservation Advisor to the National Trust and the leading conservators of metalwork and sculpture in the UK.

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