Two almost identical paintings will be displayed next to each other for the first time ever in a new exhibition at Wallington, Morpeth.
The paintings of Susanna ‘Suky’ Trevelyan and Charlotte Walpole, the Countess of Dysart, are very similar in terms of content, showing both ladies in the same pose wearing white and gold satin dresses. The works of art are almost 250 years old, but no-one knows why they are so similar.
The portrait of Suky was painted by Thomas Gainsborough in 1761. But last year the National Trust revealed that Trevelyan family rumours that the original portrait had been over-painted were in fact true. The painting by Gainsborough was the subject of extensive re-working with approximately 80% of the original portrait having undergone change.
It is not known yet whether the adaptations to the painting are by Sir Joshua Reynolds or one of the artists working for Reynolds at the time. But it remians without doubt that Reynolds directed the change. This is the conclusion reached because the dress in a portrait done by Reynolds of Charlotte Walpole in 1775 is almost identical to the one of Suky.
The portrait of Suky is at Wallington, while the Charlotte Walple painting is usually in Ham House in Richmond upon Thames.
Lloyd Langley, House and Collections Manager for the National Trust at Wallington, exclaimed that it is extraordinary that the Trust has in its collection a painting potentially by not one, but two, of England’s greatest artists. “This is unusual and of great interest. Last year we were delighted to be able to prove scientifically that the over-painting of Suky was not just a rumour.
The paintings will be together at the National Trust’s A Tale of two Dresses. The exhibition will also reveal the scientific work of NicolaGrimaldi of the Conservation Department of Northumbria University and show just what it was in Suky’s portrait that was over-painted.
Lloyd explained that the National Trust learned last year that as much as 80 percent of the Suky painting was re-worked. “But now we know a lot more about what was in the originally picture. X-rays show that she was in fact wearing a hat and a Van Dyke style blue dress with extravagant ruffles, and, that she was holding a little white dog, similar to those in other paintings we have at Wallington commissioned by Sir Walter Calverly Blackett, Suky’s uncle.”
According to the Trevelyan family, which owned Wallington, the changes to the original portrait of Suky were done after a dismissive comment by Arthur Young, an influential 18th Century social commentator and agriculturist. On a visit to Wallington in the 1760s Young described the portrait as a “painting of hat and ruffles”. This remark aparently greatly irritated Sir Walter Blackett, who asked his friend Reynolds to work his own magic on the picture.
The exhibition A Tale of Two Dresses will be on display at Wallington from Saturday April 28 to July 1. The house is open daily except Tuesdays from 12noon to 5pm, last entry 4.00pm. After the 1 July the exhibition will move to the Trust’s Ham House in Richmond upon Thames.