Art restorers find 'monstrous fiend' hidden in painting from 1789

Art restorers find 'monstrous fiend' hidden in painting from 1789
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Paintings aren’t always what they seem on the surface, as one team of restorers proved recently in surprising circumstances.

In fact, many famous artworks feature layers and layers of paint as artists worked and re-worked their compositions in search of perfection.

Now, a piece of art has been restored 230 years after it was first painted to reveal a spooky, hidden demonic figure hiding in the background.

The painting in question is the 1789 work by English artist Joshua Reynolds titled ‘The Death of Cardinal Beaufort’.

It’s been restored by the National Trust, and the work the team have done has revealed a very unusual new feature.

The painting features a scene from the Shakespeare play Henry VI, Part 2.

Henry says “O! beat away the busy meddling fiend” in the scene, as he begs for a merciful death for Cardinal Beaufort.

At the time, Reynolds painted a demon in the background of the painting to reference the “busy meddling fiend” referenced in the dialogue.

However, the painting wasn’t well received at the time and that was at least partly due to the depiction of the demon in the background.

Three years after it was painted, people attempted to cover up the demon but left a blur on the canvas. Now, the cover up job has been removed and the painting presents as the artist originally intended to mark what would have been Reynolds’ 300th birthday.

It wasn’t the easiest of tasks, with several layers of paint and six layers of varnish to uncover.

The National Trust’s senior national curator for pictures and sculpture, John Chu, said: “It didn’t fit in with some of the artistic rules of the times to have a poetic figure of speech represented so literally in this monstrous figure.

“When it was first shown at the Shakespeare Gallery in 1789 it generated more controversy than any other work on show.”

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