Artist Pierre Puvis de Chavannes’ Philosophy panel on the wall of the grand staircase in the McKim building at the Central Library in
Copley Square is undergoing restoration. The panel is one of eight allegorical murals that surround the Central Library’s grand staircase, each panel depicting an academic discipline, including Astronomy, History, Chemistry, Physics, Pastoral Poetry, Dramatic Poetry, and Epic Poetry.
Chavannes’ panels were painted on linen canvas in Paris and adhered to 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 has weakened, jeopardizing the panel.
Conservators, led by Gianfranco Pocobene, head of conservation at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum will stabilize the mural and detach it bit by bit until the entire canvas can be safely removed in one piece for relining onto a stable solid support and re-installation. This ambitious procedure has rarely been attempted on a marouflaged canvas, making the project complex and extraordinary.
The conservation team will work in the McKim building’s Cheverus Room for six to eight weeks to restore the work, addressing any areas of paint loss and lining the canvas with a rigid honeycomb support. The panel is expected to return to its location on the grand staircase in April 2016.
BPL is thrilled to further their commitment to preserve the institution’s treasures for future generations. This masterpiece – like every other artwork in the building and collection – is freely accessible to the public.