The Reynolds 'Macbeth and the Witches' painting restored

Macbeth and the Witches (from William Shakespeare's 'Macbeth') (unfinished) by Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA (Plympton 1723 - London 1792)

Sir Joshua Reynolds' 'Macbeth and the Witches' is the largest painting in the Petworth colection. Sadly Reynolds used unstable pigments when creating his masterpiece so it became a mere shadow of what it once was. Follow the journey of the painting in the video below as it underwent conversation and restoration work to bring it back to its former glory for future visitors to enjoy.

The history of the painting

Commissioned in 1786 by Alderman Boydell for his Shakespeare Gallery, the Reynolds piece was an attempt by Boydell to get British artists to give up painting well paid portraits and to try more elevated literary themes with this particular painting inspired by the Shakespearean tragedy 'Macbeth'.

Unfortunately in 1789 Reynolds had to leave the painting unfinished when he began to go blind. Things then went from bad to worse, over the years because of the unstable pigments Reynolds used the painting began to deteriorate.

Vital conservation work

In July 2014 the painting was removed from Petworth for six months of intense conservation and restoration work. Thanks to the vital work new details of the painting are revealed including very fine features like the red tongues of the witches.

The time lapse video here shows the paintings triumphant return as the team created a brand new frame and canvas for the painting before unrolling and attaching the restored painting and then rehanging the masterpiece once more where it belongs in the Square Dining Room.

How it came to Petworth

It's likely The 3rd Earl of Egremont acquired the painting after the Shakespeare Gallery's contents were dispersed by lottery in 1804. In 1827 Turner painted a watercolour of the far wall of the Square Dining Room where the painting appeared and it's from this the National Trust were able to reconstruct the picture hang as it would have been in the 3rd Earl's time giving Reynold's masterpiece pride of place.

You can see the artist, Sir Joshua Reynolds, in the little oval self portrait painting above Macbeth and the Witches.

Thank you

If you are a National Trust member or have ever donated gift aid when buying your ticket then your generosity has gone in to helping us raise the funds to complete these large scale projects.

It's in part thanks to you that the 'Macbeth and the Witches' masterpiece is as visible as it is today for others to enjoy and we couldn't be more grateful.