Skip to content

Reynolds in the studio

Conservator cleaning portrait painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds using a cotton swab
Conservator cleaning a portrait of Theresa Robinson by Sir Joshua Reynolds | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

To celebrate the 300th birthday of Sir Joshua Reynolds, we're carrying out conservation treatment on two of his portrait paintings in the Royal Oak Foundation Conservation Studio at Knole this year.

Reynolds in the Studio

This July marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of Sir Joshua Reynolds. It is fair to say he is one of England’s most celebrated portrait painters.

To mark the anniversary, the team at the Royal Oak Foundation Conservation Studio are working on two portraits painted by Reynolds. This is a collaborative treatment where both the paintings and their frames are worked on by our skilled conservators.

The first portrait we welcomed was that of the Hon. Theresa Parker from Saltram House. The Parkers were friends of Reynolds and they commissioned him to paint Theresa’s portrait to hang in their newly remodelled Robert Adam saloon in the house.

It's been examined using a range of techniques, including inspection under ultra-violet light, which revealed discoloured areas of old varnish. This technical report was added to information about the painting's original appearance from a historic mezzotint (a print made from an engraved metal plate). This informed the conservator’s approach to removing varnish and overpaint layer by layer, area by area.

The portrait can be found at The Box in Plymouth until the end of October 2023, as part of their ‘Reframing Reynolds: A Celebration’ exhibition. Reynolds was born in nearby Plympton St Maurice.

Conservator cleaning portrait painting of Hon. Theresa Robinson by Sir Joshua Reynolds
Conservator cleaning portrait painting of Hon. Theresa Robinson by Sir Joshua Reynolds | © National Trust Images / James Dobson

Closer to home

The second portrait is one that has come from just across the courtyard at Knole House; the state portrait of young John Frederick Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset.

The condition of this portrait will be investigated at the Studio by capturing images under ultra-violet, infra-red and X-ray. This will help us understand the history of its care and plan its conservation. The 3rd Duke of Dorset was a close friend of Reynolds and an important patron of his work. The portrait is due to be with us in the Studio until January 2024.

Our Studio is open to visitor from 11am to 4pm, Wednesday to Saturday. Our volunteer room guides will be happy to welcome you and explain all about the important work our team are doing to care for the collections of the National Trust.

The Hon. Theresa Robinson, Mrs John Parker (1745-1775) by Sir Joshua Reynolds is accepted in lieu of estate duty by HM Government in 1956 and on loan to the National Trust for Saltram House.

You might also be interested in

Painted image of Sir Joshua Reynolds sitting at a desk

Highlights from the Sir Joshua Reynolds collection 

Sir Joshua Reynolds was the leading portrait painter of the 18th century, admired for being able to capture an individual’s distinctive personality. We look after the largest collection of his works in a historic house setting, including 76 oil paintings.

Conservator at work at The Royal Oak Foundation Conservation Studio at Knole, Kent

What to see at Royal Oak Foundation Conservation Studio 

Discover what you can see and do at the unique Royal Oak Foundation Conservation Studio, plus more about the distinctive building.