Conservation underpins all of The Harley Foundation’s work, from the craftspeople that we support to the fabric of our buildings.

The Harley Gallery was built in the ruins of Welbeck’s Victorian gas works, and in 1994 won the first Civic Trust award for architecture in Nottinghamshire.

The Portland Collection museum building itself won the 2016 RIBA East Midlands Conservation Award, as it sits within the Victorian walls of the Tan Gallop.

Utilising a disused horse training yard, the building creates a subtle design that sits perfectly in the grounds of the grade 1 listed Welbeck Abbey.

Read more about our architecture here.

A team of expert conservators and restoration specialists care for the works in The Portland Collection, led by Curator Dr. Sophie Littlewood.

Conservation of The Portland Paintings

Mark Roberts Conservation Studio has been working with The Portland Collection for more than 20 years. They have worked on many old master painting conservation projects, including a recent project to restore a portrait of a young boy, once believed to have been by Rembrandt.

Head Conservator, Sarah Freeman, undertook the painstaking three-month painting restoration project to transform the portrait. Centuries of surface dirt had darkened the painting and flattened the colours, rendering many details completely invisible.

Despite the portrait being signed and dated Rembrandt, 1634, modern scholars now believe that it was painted by a pupil of Rembrandt’s who was learning his craft by copying paintings in the Rembrandt style. Nonetheless, we felt sure that it was a remarkable painting even though its beauty and details were hidden. As the restoration took place, we saw the painting as the Duchess bought it 300 years ago; a beautiful, lively little boy with plump rosy cheeks, speaking to us from across the centuries.
Lisa Gee, Director of The Harley Foundation

Among the Studio’s many projects for The Portland Collection has been the restoration of works from a series of 12 enormous horse paintings commissioned by William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Newcastle.

The paintings were painstakingly conserved before going on show in The Portland Collection, and the painting of a chestnut horse needed particularly extensive work. Layers of overpainting, varnish and old mends were carefully removed. This revealed such bad damage the conservators nicknamed it ‘Swiss Cheese’, as what appeared to be dozens of small pellet holes were revealed.

After many months of care and attention, the beautifully restored work was shown in The Portland Collection museum from 2016-2019.