OLD COLONY MEMORIAL – The restoration of one of America’s most historic paintings begins soon at Pilgrim Hall Museum, and thanks to a funding delay, thousands will have an unexpected opportunity to watch.
Photo courtesy of Pilgrim Hall Museum
Henry Sargent’s “Landing of the Pilgrims” measures 13-by-16 feet and has hung in Pilgrim Hall Museum since it opened nearly two centuries ago.This photograph, circa 1860, shows two women sitting in the Pilgrim Hall Museum in front of Henry Sargent’s “Landing of the Pilgrims.” In 1836, the women of Plymouth helped raise funds for a gilt frame crafted by John Doggett (1770-1857) of Roxbury, one of the nation’s most prominent frame makers and furniture gilders.
By Rich Harbert
The restoration of one of America’s most historic paintings begins soon at Pilgrim Hall Museum, and thanks to a funding delay, thousands will have an unexpected opportunity to watch.
Beginning in early April, Henry Sargent’s massive painting, “Landing of the Pilgrims,” will undergo a three-month restoration that will clean away nearly two centuries worth of dirt and grime.
The entire process will be part of the public display at the museum of Pilgrim artifacts and antiquities. Visitors will be able to watch restoration crews clean the painting inch by inch in the same hall where it has hung since the museum opened 190 years ago.
At 13 feet tall and 16 feet wide, that’s nearly 30,000 square inches of oil on canvas, a monumental undertaking that will restore the rich hues muted by time.
Olin Conservation Inc., of Great Falls, Va., has been hired to restore the painting. David Olin, the chief conservator, has restored many of the nation’s most historic works, including portraits of the founding fathers on display in the Smithsonian Museum, the National Archives and the U.S. Capitol.
The restoration is made possible by a $215,000 state grant included in last year’s budget.
Work was supposed to start while the museum was closed in January, but stalled funding on Beacon Hill forced a three-month delay.
Pilgrim Hall Museum Executive Director Patrick Brown said the delay will work to the public’s advantage. More people will watch the restoration because the meat of the project will now occur during May and June, two of the museum’s busiest months.
Work is set to start by April 6 and will immediately resolve a bit of mystery. As the painting has not moved since the 1870s, many are anxious to see what lies behind it.
Workers will start by removing the painting’s equally massive gilded frame.
Once the frame is off, the painting will be removed from the wall and shipped to Virginia, where Olin and his crew will line the back with canvas to give the painting added stability and strength.
The painting will then be returned and be hung from a vertical cradle that will suspend it in the air while workers clean it. The final step will be to restore small bits of Sargent’s paint lost over the years.
Best known for his portrayals of Boston’s high society in the early 19th century, Sargent dabbled in historical landscape just once in this long career as an artist.
He painted “Landing of the Pilgrims” between 1818 and 1822 and loaned the painting to the museum for its opening in December 1824.