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John Cheere Sculptures, Queluz Palace, Portugal

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Background

In the mid-eighteenth century John Cheere ran a thriving business in Hyde Park Corner mass-producing lead and plaster statues and busts. Cheere produced several copies of a specific subject but in many cases it is only at Queluz that a surviving example of a given subject can be found.

Many of his garden statues were from moulds of famous antique Greek or Roman statues which would have been familiar to his aristocratic clients who had seen the originals on their Grand Tour. Cheere designed the sculptures in the fashionable rococo style; leaping dolphins, monkeys holding castanets, serpents with water jets and dancing putti decorate Robillion’s lavish fountains. The themes of the works also range from classical and mythological figures to allegories of the arts; all according to contemporary taste.

DSC00029The original Queluz collection was commissioned by the Portuguese ambassador in London – the Marques de Pombal, for the Infante Dom Pedro and shipped to Portugal upon completion. The Portuguese Ambassador to the Court of St James was following the latest fashion when he placed the commission for the Queluz sculptures. The surviving works are the most extensive group in existence.

 

How we helped

The long-term maintenance of monuments relies on the preservation of traditional craft skills. This is the key to our work at Queluz. We began by forging a partnership with the expert sculpture conservator Rupert Harris. Not only were some of the sculptures brought back to his workshop in London, but more importantly, he ran the training workshops in Queluz that will ensure their future.

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WMF Britain lead the restoration work to the Cheere sculptures, many of which were significantly damaged and need sophisticated repair. Lead restoration techniques had developed greatly in the last ten years, and the Rupert Harris Conservation workshop was an international leader in the field.

Before they were returned home to Queluz Palace, Wedding of Bacchus and Dido and Aeneas were exhibited at Tate Britain for 6 months from October 2008. Gallery 6 provided a temporary home for the masterpieces. They sat amongst a series of landscapes of a similar age, deliberately imitating the alfresco surroundings in which these sculptures would be accustomed. The exhibition followed the successful display of Anchises and Aeneas and The Rape of Persephone at the Victoria and Albert Museum in early 2004.

The first workshop in Queluz successfully ran in October 2006 with further taking place in 2007.  The training will ensure the protection of these outstanding garden sculptures and other leads throughout Portugal.

Why it matters

DSCN0464Adonis, Neptune and Samson are just three of the figures to be found in the gardens of Queluz Palace, the former residence of the Portuguese royal family. Over 100 varied sculptures by the English sculptor John Cheere once adorned these lavish gardens, and even in their dilapidated state they still exert a strong and emotive effect. Today only twenty now survive, and after years of being subjected to theft, vandalism, poor previous conservation, chemical erosion and biological degradation, these sculptures were in dire need of help.

 

The surviving sculptures by Cheere at Queluz are from the zenith of garden and country house design. The conservation of the largest collection of English lead sculpture outside the country is of high importance, not only to the Palace of Queluz but internationally as fine examples of a material form of sculpture that was only truly in vogue for one century.

Rupert Harris, Rupert Harris Conservation