English Heritage Restores 18th Century Statues Adorning the Gardens at Wrest Park

  • Statues created in the 1700s by sculptor John Cheere and ingeniously painted to look like marble
  • Scenes depicting Venus and Adonis and Aeneas and Anchises are being restored by expert conservators
  • Wrest Park is in the care of English Heritage, and the 90 acre gardens are currently open to visitors who can pre-book tickets online

Expert conservators have begun work to restore a series of 18th century statues which can be found among the colourful flower beds in the French style parterre garden at Wrest Park in Bedfordshire. The 90-acre gardens, in the care of English Heritage, showcase three centuries of garden design, and the restoration of two statues – each over 3 metres tall, marks the start of a wider conservation project restoring statues in the famous parterre gardens which make up some of the 70 plus statues in the garden estate.

The statues, which conservators have begun the painstaking job of restoring were designed by John Cheere (1709-1787), an English sculptor who was known predominantly for his statues for gardens. Stone sculptures were an important feature of gardens in 18th century England but imported marble did not stand up well to the British climate. John Cheere worked with alternative material to create elaborate sculptures with precise detail. The white painted finish was intended to imitate marble from a distance.

Over recent years the 'marble' paint had begun to peel on the statues, revealing the underside and somewhat demystifying the marble effect. Expert conservators, Skillington Workshop Ltd, have been working to remove the peeling paint, without damaging the surface beneath using high-temperature steam, once the old paint is removed the statues are repainted to recreate their marble exterior.

The two statues which have 'kick started' this restoration project depict classic stories, the first the unrequited love story of Venus and Adonis, a story re-told many times in the history of art, with the sculptural retelling at Wrest Park portraying Adonis leaving Venus to go hunting – tragically he is then fatally attacked by a wild boar. The second statue conservators have been working on, titled Aeneas and Anchises, tells the story of Aeneas, a Trojan who left his home city and eventually ended up in Italy where he became the first true hero of Rome. The precise scene depicted is the moment when Aeneas carries his father, the elderly Anchises, out of the city of Troy, after it had been ransacked by the Greek army.

Peter Moore, Curator of Collections, English Heritage said:
"It is wonderful to see the statues restored to their former glory in the parterre garden, and to encounter them as they would have been when they first came to Wrest Park hundreds of years ago. Heritage gardens provide revealing insights into the people who created them, and there’s no better example than Wrest Park where there are over 70 statues and monuments to discover in the grounds. The care of these outdoor sculptures is just as important as the care of the collection inside the house."

The gardens and grounds of Wrest Park are currently open to visitors, with new social distancing measures in place. To ensure a safe and enjoyable experience both members and non-members must book in advance for a specific date and time slot via the English Heritage website. Tickets are now available to book for all dates between 29 March and 16 May 2021.

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