New life breathed into historic garden statues at Wrest Park in Bedfordshire

Experts have begun restoring 18th century statues in the gardens of Wrest Park in Bedfordshire.

The statues were created in the 1700s by sculptor John Cheere and painted to look like marble.

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.

But wear and tear meant the 'marble' paint had begun to peel on the statues, revealing the surface underneath.

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.

One of the statues which has yet to be restored Credit: ITV Anglia

So far two statues have been restored, featuring Venus and Adonis and Aeneas and Anchises, but English Heritage says more are being renovated in the 90 acre site.

There are more than 70 statues in the grounds of Wrest Park.

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 statue of Aeneus carrying his father, the elderly Anchises, out of the city of Troy, after it had been ransacked by the Greek army. Credit: ITV Anglia

The 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 was wonderful to see the statues restored to the way they would have looked 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.

Peter Moore, Curator of Collections, English Heritage

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.