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A closer look at a Gainsborough portrait

1 February 2008 by Sam

detail of eyes from a painting

The recent refurbishment of Sudley House gave our conservators the opportunity to spend some quality time with the paintings and objects on display there. A new online feature about the conservation of one of Sudley’s paintings, Gainsborough’s portrait of ‘Viscountess Folkestone’, reveals some interesting discoveries that conservators have made about the materials and techniques used.

Their analysis has shown that Gainsborough completely changed the composition of the portrait, painting over the initial landscape in the background to move the setting indoors. This may seem quite considerate for the elderly Viscountess, bringing her inside into the warmth (especially on a windy day like today). However, he also abandoned her initial seated pose and made her stand up in the finished painting, which is no way to treat an elderly widow if you ask me.

The study of the painting has also revealed information about the pigments and paint medium used. It’s a great example of how conservators use modern techniques to study old objects in the collections and try to piece together information about their past.

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