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Suffolk painter Constable's largest painting on display in Cambridgeshire after 270-hour restoration



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Constable's largest-ever painting has gone on display for the first time after a painstaking 270-hour restoration.

The masterpiece, measuring eight-foot-wide and five-foot-long, depicts the opening of Waterloo Bridge in London in 1817.

It is the largest known work by Suffolk-born artist John Constable, who is famous for his landscape paintings.

The masterpiece, measuring eight-foot-wide and five-foot-long, took 270 hours to restore. Picture: SWNS
The masterpiece, measuring eight-foot-wide and five-foot-long, took 270 hours to restore. Picture: SWNS

Now it has gone on display at the National Trust site Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire after a huge restoration effort.

Experts devoted 270 hours to conserving the painting, which has revealed an impression of early 19th-century life in London.

Sarah Maisey, a conservator at the National Trust, said: "We are delighted with the final result.

It is now on display at National Trust site Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire. Picture: SWNS
It is now on display at National Trust site Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire. Picture: SWNS

"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."

Staff at the National Trust’s Royal Oak Foundation Conservation Studio in Kent removed varnish layers to restore the bright blue skies depicted in Constable's painting.

The painting - called The Embarkation of George IV from Whitehall: the Opening of Waterloo Bridge, 1817 - records the scene of the second anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.

The painting is called called The Embarkation of George IV from Whitehall: the Opening of Waterloo Bridge, 1817. Picture: SWNS
The painting is called called The Embarkation of George IV from Whitehall: the Opening of Waterloo Bridge, 1817. Picture: SWNS
The present-day view of the location of the painting. Picture: SWNS
The present-day view of the location of the painting. Picture: SWNS

In modern times, it reveals how the area around Waterloo Bridge has transformed since 1817.

Waterloo Bridge itself was replaced in 1942 by a modern concrete structure, and, with the building of the Embankment and many grand Victorian age buildings alongside it, the waterfront is very different today.

One of the remaining features is the view of St Paul’s Cathedral in the distance.

The painting is on show alongside other works by Constable at the abbey, including a view of the village of Stoke-by-Nayland in the painter's home county of Suffolk.

The painting is being shown alongside other works by Constable. Picture: SWNS
The painting is being shown alongside other works by Constable. Picture: SWNS

John Chu, curator of paintings and sculpture at the National Trust said: “Constable’s painting of Waterloo Bridge, full of the pageantry and colour of urban life, is a significant contrast to the quiet country scenes he is more famous for, such as The Haywain.

"This large-scale depiction of modern events and the London metropolis was a big departure at this point in his career.

"The Opening of Waterloo Bridge remained in his studio for the rest of his life."