Terrifying figure uncovered in 230-year-old painting after restoration

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By stefan armitage

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A terrifying figure hidden within a 230-year-old painting has been uncovered following a recent restoration.

In a stunning revelation, a "devil-like figure" hidden for over two centuries has been rediscovered in a painting by Joshua Reynolds, a prominent 18th-century artist, Fox News reports.

This discovery was made possible through meticulous restoration work conducted by the National Trust on Reynolds' artwork, which depicts a scene from Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part 2. The painting, titled The Death of Cardinal Beaufort was originally showcased at the Shakespeare Gallery in 1789, and has now regained its original intrigue thanks to this recent conservation effort.

The unearthed figure - described by the Trust as a "fiend", demon, or evil spirit - has been concealed under layers of paint and varnish. Its placement in the painting, hovering ominously above Cardinal Beaufort's deathbed, was a bold artistic choice by Reynolds.

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The original painting prior to the restoration. Credit: National Trust

It was deemed controversial at the time due to the literal representation of a metaphorical concept in visual art. According to John Chu, the Trust’s senior national curator for pictures and sculpture, such literal depictions were frowned upon, and there were debates about painting out this demonic figure.

"It didn’t fit in with some of the artistic rules of the times to have a poetic figure of speech represented so literally in this monstrous figure," Chu said. "While it was considered acceptable in literature to introduce the idea of a demon as something in the mind of a person, to include it visually in a painting gave it too physical a form."

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The demon-like figure was uncovered after the restoration. Credit: National Trust

Chu added that Reynolds resisted calls for an alteration, preserving his original vision.

The painting's journey is as fascinating as its content. Commissioned as a commercial project for the London-based Shakespeare Gallery, Reynolds received 500 guineas for this piece. The gallery, known for producing prints for sale and export, had an engraver, Caroline Watson, create plates for prints of Reynolds’ work. Interestingly, the first copies included the fiend, but attempts to remove it from the printing plate were made following his death in 1792.

Reynolds' experimental techniques posed challenges for contemporary conservators. Becca Hellen, the Trust’s senior national conservator for paintings, explained the difficulty in restoring the artwork, especially the area containing the fiend.

"Reynolds is always difficult for conservators because of the experimental way he worked, often introducing unusual materials in his paint medium, striving for the effects he wanted to achieve," Hellen said.

The slow-drying earth browns and dark colors used in the shadows led to shrinkage effects, compounded by multiple layers of varnish and restorative paints over the years.

The conservation process involved the painstaking removal of non-original, darkened varnishes and ensuring the fiend's form remained true to Reynolds' original composition. This meticulous work was vital in preserving the integrity of the large painting and allowing the fiend to re-emerge, offering a glimpse into Reynolds' artistic vision and the sensibilities of the era.

Now, after extensive treatment, The Death of Cardinal Beaufort has returned to its display at Petworth House in West Sussex, bringing with it a renewed appreciation for Reynolds' bold artistic choices and the complexities of art restoration.

Featured image credit: National Trust

Terrifying figure uncovered in 230-year-old painting after restoration

vt-author-image

By stefan armitage

Article saved!Article saved!

A terrifying figure hidden within a 230-year-old painting has been uncovered following a recent restoration.

In a stunning revelation, a "devil-like figure" hidden for over two centuries has been rediscovered in a painting by Joshua Reynolds, a prominent 18th-century artist, Fox News reports.

This discovery was made possible through meticulous restoration work conducted by the National Trust on Reynolds' artwork, which depicts a scene from Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part 2. The painting, titled The Death of Cardinal Beaufort was originally showcased at the Shakespeare Gallery in 1789, and has now regained its original intrigue thanks to this recent conservation effort.

The unearthed figure - described by the Trust as a "fiend", demon, or evil spirit - has been concealed under layers of paint and varnish. Its placement in the painting, hovering ominously above Cardinal Beaufort's deathbed, was a bold artistic choice by Reynolds.

size-large wp-image-1263236545
The original painting prior to the restoration. Credit: National Trust

It was deemed controversial at the time due to the literal representation of a metaphorical concept in visual art. According to John Chu, the Trust’s senior national curator for pictures and sculpture, such literal depictions were frowned upon, and there were debates about painting out this demonic figure.

"It didn’t fit in with some of the artistic rules of the times to have a poetic figure of speech represented so literally in this monstrous figure," Chu said. "While it was considered acceptable in literature to introduce the idea of a demon as something in the mind of a person, to include it visually in a painting gave it too physical a form."

size-large wp-image-1263236546
The demon-like figure was uncovered after the restoration. Credit: National Trust

Chu added that Reynolds resisted calls for an alteration, preserving his original vision.

The painting's journey is as fascinating as its content. Commissioned as a commercial project for the London-based Shakespeare Gallery, Reynolds received 500 guineas for this piece. The gallery, known for producing prints for sale and export, had an engraver, Caroline Watson, create plates for prints of Reynolds’ work. Interestingly, the first copies included the fiend, but attempts to remove it from the printing plate were made following his death in 1792.

Reynolds' experimental techniques posed challenges for contemporary conservators. Becca Hellen, the Trust’s senior national conservator for paintings, explained the difficulty in restoring the artwork, especially the area containing the fiend.

"Reynolds is always difficult for conservators because of the experimental way he worked, often introducing unusual materials in his paint medium, striving for the effects he wanted to achieve," Hellen said.

The slow-drying earth browns and dark colors used in the shadows led to shrinkage effects, compounded by multiple layers of varnish and restorative paints over the years.

The conservation process involved the painstaking removal of non-original, darkened varnishes and ensuring the fiend's form remained true to Reynolds' original composition. This meticulous work was vital in preserving the integrity of the large painting and allowing the fiend to re-emerge, offering a glimpse into Reynolds' artistic vision and the sensibilities of the era.

Now, after extensive treatment, The Death of Cardinal Beaufort has returned to its display at Petworth House in West Sussex, bringing with it a renewed appreciation for Reynolds' bold artistic choices and the complexities of art restoration.

Featured image credit: National Trust