The Philadelphia Museum of Art will undertake a major project to regild Diana, the thirteen-foot-tall sculpture of the Roman goddess by Augustus Saint-Gaudens that commands the Museum’s Great Stair Hall and was once mounted atop the tower of Madison Square Garden, which was completed in 1890 to designs by the American architect Stanford White. Made possible by a grant from Bank of America, this work will be undertaken by the Museum’s Conservation Department in consultation with its department of American Art and is expected to last approximately four months.
“Thanks to the exceptional support of Bank of America, this celebrated work will be restored to its original appearance through the efforts of our talented conservation staff,” said Timothy Rub, the George D. Widener Director and CEO. ”Saint-Gaudens’s celebrated sculpture of Diana is widely recognized as one of the great icons of our collection, but most people do not realize that the sculpture’s gray-green surfaces once gleamed in gold.”
The treatment plan will consist of corrosion removal, surface preparation for the application of gold size, and the laying of 180 square feet of gold leaf. This regilding project involves several phases of preparation: research on the manufacture and appearance of the sculpture in the 1890s, and an assessment and documentation of the current structural condition of its sheet copper and armature, including the rotating mechanism of the weather vane.
The treatment of this work has been funded through Bank of America’s Global Art Conservation Project, one of twenty-four initiatives in sixteen countries that have been selected for grant funding in 2013. “Art has a unique ability to connect people and communities and to help economies thrive,” said Rena DeSisto, Global Arts and Culture Executive at Bank of America. "The works we have selected can provide a lasting reflection of people and history. As a company with clients in over one hundred countries, we are funding the preservation of these important works to contribute to the cultural enrichment and advancement of future generations."
“As art conservation consumes ever greater portions of tightened museum budgets, the need for private arts funding has become even more critical,” added Thomas C. Woodward, Pennsylvania president for Bank of America. “We are honored to help preserve Diana.”
Andrew Lins, The Neubauer Family Chair of Conservation and Senior Conservator of Decorative Arts and Sculpture at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, noted that the treatment plan of corrosion removal and the laying of leaf will be followed by any adjustments necessary to improve the appearance and lighting of the sculpture. “During the years that it served as a weather vane at Madison Square Garden, its gilding apparently was significantly eroded, and the cleaning and repairing of the sculpture before it was installed in 1932 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art further altered the original surface,” he said.
Kathleen Foster, the Robert L. McNeil, Jr., Senior Curator of American Art, said: “Saint-Gaudens had a genius for public sculpture that melded the classical past with a very modern naturalism. His work captured the finest spirit of his era and in Diana he beautifully expressed the playful, sophisticated, buoyant aspects of the gay nineties. Remembering that we call this era the “Gilded Age,” I find it appropriate—and exciting—to restore the golden surface of such an icon.”
The Museum will carefully document each step of the conservation process. It will install a camera to record the ongoing treatment, and the public will be able to see its progress on a monitor nearby.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Saint-Gaudens’s graceful figure originally ornamented the famous tower of New York’s Madison Square Garden, designed by Stanford White. Brightly gilded and installed in 1893 above the city’s first electric floodlights, the sculpture glittered for miles as the highest point in Manhattan. Saint-Gaudens rendered the goddess of the hunt in an archer’s pose, ready to fire her arrow, making her a fitting weather vane for the sporting and entertainment arena below. Many were shocked at the time by the figure’s nudity, but it became the best-known work of an artist then recognized as the country’s finest sculptor. When the building was demolished in 1925, the sculpture was put in storage until 1932. It was acquired by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and placed in its Great Stair Hall, where the sculpture stands today.
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