The conservation treatment of Gainsborough's Viscountess Folkestone during the refurbishment of Sudley House (2007) provided an ideal opportunity to examine the materials and technique of this remarkable portrait. As well as identifying pigments and paint medium, our study has revealed a radical change to the composition, altering not only the position of the sitter but also the setting. It is one of Gainsborough’s masterpieces, a sensitive study of old age that also displays his dazzling painting technique at its finest. Gainsborough painted the portrait in 1778, after he had left Bath and established a studio in London. There are no surviving documents relating to the commission, although we know she had been a widow for nearly twenty years and that around the same time Gainsborough was commissioned by the Royal Society of Arts to paint a posthumous portrait of her husband. In 1895 William Agnew (London art dealer) described Gainsborough's portrait as being unlined and to have never been varnished. He goes on to say
By April 1956 the painting was considered to have been so badly cleaned at some past time that varnish removal would not be prudent; exploratory cleaning tests made at the time were photographed and then completely concealed. Therefore it was with some trepidation that further cleaning tests were made in 2005. After the conservation work, the painting has been treated and cleaned back to original condition. This is a must see wonderful piece of work by Gainsborough! If you would like to know more about this painting, come along to our free talk on 14 November and discover the long hidden secrets revealed by conservation work done on Gainsborough’s painting.
"As far as my experience goes, it is absolutely unique in condition... the most perfect masterpiece I know."