West's Portraits At Quebec House

Quebec House in Kent has recently purchased, with the help of The Art Fund, two Georgian paintings connected to General Wolfe and his childhood home. Both portraits are the work of Benjamin West, a founder member of the Royal Academy, and depict military hero James Wolfe and his lifelong friend George Warde.

Wolfe and Warde; a lifelong friendship

In his youth whilst living in Westerham James Wolfe established a lifelong friendship with his neighbour George Warde of Squerryes Court. Squerryes Court was a place Wolfe knew well; he played in the grounds as a child and as an adult would receive the letter for his first army commission here. 

These paintings allow this tale of friendship to be seen and help create the connection with the young Wolfe and his childhood in Westerham, which is central to the story at Quebec House.

George commissioned these two companion paintings; ‘Portrait of George Warde (1725 – 1803)’ and ‘Portrait of General James Wolfe (1732 – 1759)’ which were completed in 1777 by West, some years after Wolfe’s death.

Conserving West's work

Early in 2018 the paintings went away to a specialist paintings conservator for necessary treatment before returning to Quebec House looking almost brand new.

Over the last 250 or so years the varnish on both oil paintings had become yellowed and cracked. The paint underneath was therefore no longer fully protected - in some areas it had become raised and cracked leading to small paint losses, particularly on the portrait of George Warde.

Our conservator quickly got to work, with the deteriorating varnish being completely removed before a re-varnish. Surface treatment was also required before the varnish could be reapplied though due to the flaking paint.

Any paint losses were consolidated and stabilised to stop any possible further flaking.  On the posthumous portrait of General Wolfe, there was a small dent and tear to the canvas and this was carefully mended and restored. 

What A Difference A Varnish Makes

West's painting of George Warde before conservation work at Quebec House

Before Conservation Work

Here you can see the prior state of the paint. Colours are dull and dark, and the paint has become cracked and is flaking off. Such problems are typical of old paintings but can be rectified with the help of a specialist conservator.

Benjamin West's painting of George Warde at Quebec House, a National Trust property in Kent

After Conservation Work

On returning to Quebec House the paintings are now full of life and colour. The detailing around the bird cage and colours in the background are particularly vibrant now, and a new varnish will help protect the painting over the coming years.

It's fantastic to see the difference this conservation work has had on the paintings, with the new varnish bringing back to life the vibrant paint colours that faded over the years.

With thanks to our specialist conservators and your support these paintings can now be enjoyed and appreciated by visitors for many more years to come.

Thank you

Every visit helps protect another canvas

Your support enables our specialist conservators to look after our Georgian paintings