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Wednesday, May 31 • 2:55pm - 3:20pm
(Treatment: Going Big) Puvis de Chavannes’ Philosophy: Condition Issues and Strategies for the Removal of a Severely Detached Mural, its Conservation Treatment and Remounting

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This paper describes condition issues and strategies for the treatment of Puvis de Chavannes' Philosophy mural, one of nine canvasses at the Boston Public Library. Painted by the artist in France on linen canvas, the 14' x 7' mural was shipped to America and marouflaged to the plaster wall with a lead white in linseed oil adhesive in 1896. For more than half a century, intermittent moisture infiltration had caused gradual partial separation of the canvas support from the plaster. In 2015, however, it was discovered that 80% of the canvas had completely detached. Furthermore, failure of a large section of plaster and metal lath support near the top of the mural was exerting outward pressure on the already loose canvas causing it to sag downwards, forming large undulations and a severe bulging crease. Left unchecked, collapse of the plaster would have ultimately led to catastrophic damage including tearing of the canvas and extensive paint loss. Any potential structural intervention to treat the mural was complicated by a number of factors. The mural is set within a marble faced niche making access to the edges of the canvas difficult. During the initial examination, attempts to detach the portions of the canvas still attached to the plaster using a micro-spatula revealed that both the paint and canvas are extremely brittle. The deteriorated condition of the plaster and other factors precluded the possibility of re-adhering the loose canvas to the wall. Although several structural treatment options were considered, it became evident that removal of the mural from its niche was necessary. It was recognized from the outset that the procedures required to perform such work would be complex, challenging and not without considerable risk. The brittleness of paint, ground, canvas and lead white adhesive excluded the possibility of detaching the mural at the interface between the canvas and the wall. Moreover, the strong bond between the undetached canvas and plaster along the left and bottom of the mural dictated that a partial stacco a masello process be employed, all the while, keeping the canvas intact and minimizing paint loss. The mural was first faced with Kozo tissue adhered with UVLS artist's varnish emulsified with a small amount of water followed with linen canvas adhered with the same adhesive fortified with BEVA Gel. The plaster was then severed from the bottom up while lightweight rigid support panels were progressively attached to the face of the mural and locked together to form a continuous solid support. Once it was completely detached, the mural was lowered face down and transported to a work space in the Library. There, removal of plaster from the reverse of the canvas was carried out followed by removal of facings, lining of the mural onto an aluminum honeycomb panel and reinstallation in its niche. The discussion will focus not only on the successes of the treatment but also underline the challenges and problems encountered during the project and aspects of the process that warrant improvement.

avatar for Gianfranco Pocobene

Gianfranco Pocobene

Principal, Gianfranco Pocobene Studio
Gianfranco Pocobene is the Principal of Gianfranco Pocobene Studio specializing in the treatment of easel paintings and murals. He is also the Chief Paintings and Research Conservator at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. From 2004 - 2018 he was the museum's John L. and Susan K... Read More →

avatar for Ian Hodkinson

Ian Hodkinson

Emeritus Professor, Queen's University
Ian Hodkinson received an M.A with honours in fine art and an art teaching diploma from Edinburgh University and the Edinburgh College of Art respectively in 1958. He then spent a year at the Istituto Centrale Per Il Restauro in Rome after which he joined the staff of the National... Read More →

Wednesday May 31, 2017 2:55pm - 3:20pm CDT
Crystal Ballroom A Lobby Level, West Tower