Press Room

Boston Public Library Restores Treasured Artwork Using Unprecedented Conservation Technique

by rlavery

desktop296Philosophy Panel Returns to the Grand Staircase at the Central Library in Copley Square

Artist Pierre Puvis de Chavannes’ Philosophy panel, approximately 14’ x 7’ in size and 160 pounds, has been successfully restored and returned to its location on the walls of the grand staircase in the McKim building at the Central Library in Copley Square. This section of the Chavannes’ mural was conserved using an unprecedented innovative technique and returned to its alcove after months of careful restoration. The ambitious procedure has rarely been attempted on a marouflage canvas, as artwork adhered in this way is not expected to be removed once permanently affixed to its backing structure.

“Preserving Boston’s dynamic arts and culture will always be an important part of our city’s heritage,” said Mayor Martin J. Walsh. “Visitors at the Central Library can once again enjoy the Pierre Puvis de Chavannes mural in its entirety. I welcome all to visit the mural, and see a great work of art in Boston.”

French artist Pierre Puvis de Chavannes is considered one of the preeminent European artists of the 19th century, and the Central Library contains his only mural installation outside of France. Philosophy is one of eight allegorical scenes – each depicting an academic discipline – that surround the Central Library’s grand staircase. Other panels in the cycle include Astronomy, History, Chemistry, Physics, Pastoral Poetry, Dramatic Poetry, and Epic Poetry. A ninth, broader panel flanks the entrance to Bates Hall and depicts “The Muses of Inspiration Welcoming the Spirit of Light.”

“Preserving all our Special Collections so that they remain accessible is a priority of the Boston Public Library, and this mural is an integral component of the McKim building art and architecture that is viewed and appreciated by millions of visitors each year,” said David Leonard, President of the Boston Public Library. “I am immensely grateful to Gianfranco Pocobene and Ian Hodkinson for their masterful work and dedication to this project; their expertise and cutting-edge methods ensure this mural will be enjoyed by future generations to come.”

“It was an exhilarating experience to work on this historic piece so valued by the Boston Public Library and I am confident the procedure used will enable the panel to stand the test of time back in its niche,” said Gianfranco Pocobene, Head of Conservation at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and a conservator in private practice.

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes’ panels were painted on linen canvas in Paris and adhered on the library walls in 1895-96 using the “marouflage” technique, binding canvas to plaster support with an adhesive paste. Over time, the plaster and adhesive behind Philosophy weakened, jeopardizing the panel. Conservators, led by Gianfranco Pocobene, carefully removed the panel from the wall in February 2016 and restored the work, addressing areas of paint loss and lining the canvas with a rigid aluminum honeycomb support to protect the art.

Image Credit (photo at far right): Sheryl Lanzel


Boston Public Library has a Central Library, twenty-four branches, map center, business library, and a website filled with digital content and services. Established in 1848, the Boston Public Library has pioneered public library service in America. It was the first large free municipal library in the United States, the first public library to lend books, the first to have a branch library, and the first to have a children’s room. Each year, the Boston Public Library hosts thousands of programs and serves millions of people. All of its programs and exhibitions are free and open to the public. At the Boston Public Library, books are just the beginning. To learn more, visit


# ##

Tags: , , , ,