Hidden painting discovered in the collections at The Higgins Bedford

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Recent conservation as part of the work on upcoming exhibition, Going to Town – 200 Years of Bedford’s Art, has revealed the discovery of a hidden painting in the collections at The Higgins Bedford.

For every art exhibition at The Higgins Bedford, staff check on the condition of the paintings to identify which will need conservation before going on public display. This exhibition celebrates artists’ views of Bedford and the surrounding area from the past two hundred years, with the artworks forming part of the local landscapes collection. Most of them came to The Higgins Bedford from Bedford Borough Council and many haven’t been on public display in several decades.

Seven artworks were selected and taken to the conservator to be removed from their damaged frames, mounted in museum board and have any foxing that had caused any discolouring corrected.

Whilst working on a watercolour sketch by Bedfordshire artist, Stanley Orchart, the conservator was surprised to discover another artwork hidden behind the frame. The artwork is a fully finished oil painting depicting a picturesque country cottage.

No artist’s signature has been found but further investigation has revealed that two sides of the painting had been cut down to make it fit behind the frame. The signature was most likely removed in this way.

While the artist, date of the painting and the location of the country cottage remains a mystery, there will be a lot of fun in trying to finding out more.

Victoria Partridge, Keeper of Fine and Decorative Art, said: “Having artworks conserved is always an exciting process. When works come back they are always so bright and fresh, but this is the first time that a new artwork has been discovered. I look forward to finding out more about it”.

Councillor Doug McMurdo, Portfolio Holder for Leisure and Culture, said: “The discovery of this new, hidden oil painting is really exciting and at the moment, shrouded in mystery. While we don’t know much about the painting at the moment, we’re looking forward to finding out more.

“Make sure that if you do visit The Higgins Bedford, you follow all guidance on slowing the spread of COVID-19, including the ‘Hands, Face, Space and Fresh Air’ advice.”

Going to Town – 200 Years of Bedford’s Art opens at The Higgins Bedford on Saturday 10 July 2021 and will feature artworks by JMW Turner, Dora Carrington, Thomas Fisher and Stanley Orchart, highlighting their fascination of Bedford and the River Great Ouse.