John Constable's biggest painting exhibited after 270 hours of cleaning
- Credit: National Trust Images/James Dobson
John Constable's biggest painting has undergone more than 270 careful hours of cleaning and is now back on display.
National Trust experts say the East Bergholt-born artist's The Embarkation of George IV from Whitehall: the Opening of Waterloo Bridge, 1817, is now back to its "full glory" after layers of varnish and paint were removed during the conservation work.
The painting shows London's Waterloo Bridge and the view across the River Thames on the second anniversary of the victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo.
Since its restoration, it has been rehung at Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire where the panels and shelves are made from timber salvaged from the piles of the original Waterloo Bridge when it was taken down in 1936.
Sarah Maisey, a senior conservator at the National Trust, said: "This has been a painting which has been dramatically transformed by the conservation treatment.
"There had been some earlier tests which showed that this painting would respond really well to varnish removal but it has been a particular delight to see the quality of the improvement.
"There were challenges. It had been painted, and varnished, at different stages so care had to be taken to ensure that the solvents being used to thin and remove the varnish layers didn’t also affect the paint layer.
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"We are delighted with the final result."
The painting hangs alongside a much smaller work which has recently been discovered to be by the Suffolk master.
Measuring just 10cm by 15cm the oil sketch Summer Evening, Stoke-by-Nayland was suspected to be an imitation but has now been reattributed to Constable.
Art historian Anne Lyles was the first to recognise the work's true painter.
She said: "I thought straightaway this sketch looked ’right’. Indeed one – to me – giveaway feature helping lead to the reattribution, even before looking at it in the flesh, was the out-turned tacking edge at the top, a way Constable often treated his canvases.
"I was subsequently invited to Anglesey Abbey to look at the sketch along with the rest of the works thereby or attributed to Constable and it became much more clear that this was an original sketch by John Constable."