Experts begin conservation work on rare landscape paintings at Shugborough

Press release
Conservator Lucy Critchlow working on the conservation of one of the Trust's largest paintings at Shugborough in Staffordshire.
Published : 04 Feb 2019 Last update : 06 Feb 2019

Conservators are tackling problems with some of the National Trust’s largest paintings, at Shugborough in Staffordshire.

The set of eight rare, very large, paintings show fantasy classical landscapes, known as ‘capricci’ depicting ruins and buildings. The paintings were found to need conservation treatment, in particular the stabilisation of areas of flaking paint. 

The 18th Century paintings are very unusual in being painted mostly in distemper – a medium where the paint pigment is mixed with glue. They are part of just a handful created in this medium among the Trust’s collection of over 13,500 paintings and have a lighter, more chalky appearance than traditional oil based paintings. 

Trials

Due to the unusual paint, the Trust conservators commissioned detailed trials and tested several different techniques for surface cleaning and treatment to ensure the long term stability of the painted surfaces and improve the appearance of the paintings. 

Tina Sitwell, the Trust’s Paintings Conservation Adviser explains:

“We will be using an adhesive to soften and reattach the flaking paint and stabilise the canvas, assisted by small delicate tools including a heated spatula to lay the paint back onto the canvas,

“It is a daunting task on such large paintings. Six of them are nearly three metres high with the largest two being over three and a half metres wide. Two of the paintings were enlarged when the room was altered to close off two doors, with new canvas being sewn on which adds to the interest of understanding and conserving them.”

Painted in Bologna

The paintings are mostly of the ruins at Bologna in Italy and attributed to Pietro Paltronieri (1673 - 1741), also called Il Marandolese. However, it seems that various artists may have worked on them subsequently, and researching their attribution is one of the aims of the conservation project. 

They are believed to have been acquired when a new wing was being added to the mansion at Shugborough in the mid-18th century by owner Thomas Anson. The room, clearly Italianate in design, has fine stucco work by Francesco Vassalli and is likely influenced by the Grand Tours which Anson made in 1724-5.

Technical Analysis

The National Trust is also taking the opportunity to carry out technical analysis to understand the materials and techniques of these unusual paintings.

The deterioration of the paintings is thought to have begun in the 19th century as most of the paint used in earlier restorations shows pigments not used before the 1800s. But there have also been several recent phases of conservation from the 1960s to 1990s which included removal of some dark overpaint revealing original, brighter colours.

The conservation work on all eight paintings and their frames will be done at various times throughout this year. The mansion at Shugborough reopens on 18 March when visitors will be able to see the paintings and learn more about the upcoming conservation work.

Hayley Mival, General Manager at Shughborough Estate, said: 
“Visitors love to take a look around the beautiful historic properties in our care, and their support is helping us tackle the huge amount of work that goes into the protection of them. 

“Just maintaining Shugborough requires an ongoing programme of repairs and conservation – with things such as dust, light and temperature all having a negative effect over time. The work is intensive, but we hope visitors would agree, very worthwhile.”