Two paintings by William Hogarth on the walls of a grand staircase at St Bartholomew’s hospital in London are to be restored with the help of a £4.9m grant from the National Lottery heritage fund.
Hogarth, an artist, critic and satirist, depicted two biblical stories in the works, the Pool of Bethesda and the Good Samaritan, in the 1730s. They feature 2.1-metre (7ft) high figures, some drawn from real life.
The paintings will be restored as part of a project to conserve and rejuvenate the art collections and historic buildings of the City of London hospital, known as Barts. The spaces include the Grade I-listed north wing, which has a great hall and staircase decorated by Hogarth.
The artist, who was born in 1697 in Bartholomew Close, near the hospital, was furious to discover that an Italian painter, Jacopo Amigoni, had been invited to paint the staircase. Hogarth stepped in to offer his services free of charge, even though he had never painted on such a scale.
The Pool of Bethesda depicts a man who has been unable to walk for years being healed by Jesus. Hogarth’s painting includes sympathetic portraits of people afflicted with disease and injury. The conditions of patients from the hospital, such as gout, rickets and jaundice, are recognisable to the trained eye. The painting is still used as an educational tool.
Hogarth requested that the canvases never be varnished. But when they were cleaned in the 1930s, seven coats of varnish were removed. They were cleaned again in the 1960s.
Now, specialist cleaning and conservation are required to remedy structural issues caused by the wooden “stretcher” framework behind the canvases.
The stair hall will also undergo extensive work to restore it to its former glory, including repairing and strengthening the timber staircase and conserving the 18th-century chandelier.
Will Palin, the chief executive of the Barts Heritage charity, said: “The Hogarth stair is a genuine ‘hidden treasure’ and is just one element of our ambitious project, combining the much-needed restoration of the one of the most important historic hospital buildings in the UK with a pioneering heritage and health programme.”
Eilish McGuinness, the chief executive of the National Lottery heritage fund, said the paintings were “truly a treasure to marvel at” .
Barts is the oldest hospital in Britain, having dispensed free healthcare on the same site for nearly 900 years.