Bringing our paintings off the wall

Conservator looking at Shugborough's horizontal wall painting with a torch

Throughout 2019 we will be conserving all eight wall paintings in the Room of Imaginary Landscapes. We hope to discover all the hidden secrets of these paintings, whilst protecting them for years to come.

A brief history

The paintings are believed to have been commissioned when a new wing was added to the mansion by 1748. The room, clearly Italianate in design, has fine stucco work by Francesco Vassalli and was likely influenced by the Grand Tours which Thomas Anson made in 1724-5. The paintings are currently attributed to Pietro Paltronieri, but it seems that various artists may have worked on them. 

The paintings are inset into Vassalli’s gilded frames around the walls of the room – and may be why they survived a grand sale in 1842 when Anson’s collection of antique sculpture, old masters and the Library were sold.

The room was altered in 1794 when it was changed from a drawing room into a dining room with the two doors through to the west, either side of the fireplace, blocked. It was likely to be at this time that two of the paintings were expanded to cover these newly created areas expanses of wall. They were greatly enlarged with new canvas sewn on to extend them and the new areas painted by the artist Biagio Rebecca.

What do the paintings show?

These capricci paintings show fantasy landscapes of ruins and buildings that are said to have inspired the creation of the Ruin, the Shephards Monument and the Cat's monument. The paintings are very unusual in being painted mostly in distemper, a medium where the paint pigment is mixed with glue size. They are part of just a handful among the Trust’s collection of over 13,500 paintings created in this medium.

What is distemper?

While popular in theatre sets for being quick drying, distemper dries to a light and chalky appearance giving them a different tone to traditional oil paintings. They are also prone to absorbing moisture, especially when used on canvas, which makes them more likely to deteriorate, especially in places with varying temperature and humidity. The deterioration of the paintings is thought to have begun in the 19th Century as most of the paint used in restorations has pigments not used before the 1800s.

Come and see

On your visit, you will be able to see all stages of this project, such as witnessing our conservators looking after the paintings first hand. Make sure you keep coming back and revisiting to see these paintings returned to their former glory.

We hope that this project will help us reveal some undiscovered secrets. Just a few of the questions we hope to answer are: who actually painted the paintings, what were their true context within the room and how exactly were they conserved previously? We're embarking on an exciting journey, that you can follow below.

Conservator working on one of Shugborough's wall paintings

Conserving our wall paintings 

Check the progress of the careful conservation of our wall paintings

We would not be able to do this project without the help from your membership, visits and spends in our tea-room.