Unknown Artist, Hidden Painting © The Higgins Bedford

The upcoming exhibition at The Higgins Bedford, Going to Town – 200 Years of Bedford’s Art, celebrates artists’ views of Bedford and the surrounding area from the past two hundred years.

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.

Most of them came 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.

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.”

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.

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.”

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

A safe and enjoyable visit

Measures are in place in line with Government and public heath guidance to help ensure that visitors have a safe and enjoyable experience.

Visitors must book a timed entry ticket in advance and must only visit with groups of up to six people or two households. Visitors must wear a face covering unless they have a legitimate reason not to.

The Higgins Bedford is collecting contact details for visitors to support NHS Test and Trace in the prevention of further local COVID-19 outbreaks. All visitors aged 16 or over, who have not booked online, will need to provide their contact details by scanning the NHS QR code using the Test and Trace app, or by filling out a paper form at the front desk.

Limiting visitor numbers will allow everyone to maintain a 2 metre social distance, and there is a one-way system in operation with separate entrance and exit routes. Hand washing and sanitising facilities are available throughout the building.

Customer toilet facilities are open with clear queuing systems in place, and cleaning has been increased. Interactive displays have been removed as well as shared information folders about the displays, but visitors will be able to access these on mobile devices by scanning QR codes.

Staff and volunteers are on hand to help visitors have a safe and enjoyable time, while measures such as screens are in place to help ensure everyone’s safety.

Stanley Orchart, Demolition of the Christie Alms Housed with the Prison in the Background, 1962 © The Higgins Bedford