Saint-Gaudens’s Diana originally crowned the top of the tower of Madison Square Garden in New York City, where it was placed in 1893 to serve as a weather vane. The building was demolished in 1925 and the sculpture was put in storage, its gilded surface severely abraded. In 1932, the sculpture was acquired by the Museum, and over the decades it has become an iconic symbol of the building, occupying a place of honor in its Great Stair Hall.
Timothy Rub, The George D. Widener Director and CEO, said: “Philadelphians have long revered this graceful masterwork for its beauty and monumentality. Today, they can appreciate Diana more fully than they have in the past, glowing once again with a gilt surface, as the artist intended her to be. We thank our exceptional team of conservators, led by Andrew Lins, The Neubauer Family Chair of Conservation and Senior Conservator of Decorative Arts and Sculpture, who have admirably interpreted the artist’s vision, working in close consultation with Kathleen A. Foster, The Robert L. McNeil, Jr., Senior Curator of American Art, and her curatorial colleagues in the Department of American Art. We are deeply grateful to Bank of America for funding this project. The bank has generously provided an extraordinary benefit to the Museum, the artist, and the community we serve.”
Thomas C. Woodward, Pennsylvania President for Bank of America, said: “We are delighted—and honored—by the fact that Diana welcomes every visitor to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It has been a great privilege to work with the staff of the Museum to ensure that this masterpiece will be preserved and enjoyed for years to come. The Bank of America Art Conservation Project preserves cultural treasures from around the world that have great art-historical importance and speak eloquently about the cultures that created them. Today, we celebrate a stellar example of the program’s success.”
Kathleen Foster commented: “Many people who remember Diana in a green, somewhat battered state will be surprised at how different she now appears after gilding, and especially after the finishing touches. When she was new she gleamed outdoors hundreds of feet above the street. For our indoor placement, we took our cues from Saint-Gaudens’s letters and his gilded sculptures of the 1890s that were intended to be seen at close range. Our Conservation team accordingly developed an approach to for the gilding to soften the shine, and this exquisite fine-tuning was an act of interpretation that offered a pathfinding solution.”
Conservator Andrew Lins stated: “One of our goals was to control the light reflections that result from gilding. We wanted the surface of the statue to glow, but not to be overly reflective. To accomplish this effect we applied a coating containing a matting agent and also installed new lighting to show the sculpture to best effect. Overall the treatment has yielded new insights into the use of sheet copper for sculpture in the late 19th century and the skill of the artisans who converted this beautiful sculpture into a unique and elegant weathervane—a truly remarkable feat of engineering for its time.”
The regilding required a close art-historical study of the artist’s methods and several phases of technical preparation. Research focused on the sculpture’s manufacture and appearance in the 1890s, and the structural condition of its sheet copper, armature, and rotating mechanism. The treatment plan included corrosion removal, surface preparation for the application of gold size, and the laying of leaf, followed by adjustments necessary to improve the appearance and lighting of the sculpture. Conservators applied 180 square feet of gold leaf over the 700-pound work. More details of the sculpture’s fabrication and treatment are available on the Museum’s website: www.philamuseum.org/conservation/21.html.
This project has been funded through Bank of America’s global Art Conservation Project, one of 25 initiatives in 17 countries selected for grant funding in 2013. Since 2010, the Bank of America Art Conservation Project will have funded the conservation of more than 57 projects in 25 countries.
Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848–1907) rendered the goddess Diana in an archer’s pose, ready to fire her arrow, a fitting weather vane for Madison Square Garden’s sporting and entertainment arena below. Many were shocked by the figure’s nudity, during the last decade of the 19th century, but the work ultimately became emblematic of the Gay Nineties, the best-known work of an artist then recognized as the country’s finest sculptor.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art acquired Saint-Gaudens’ Diana in 1932. It was joined in 2005 by his luminous Angel of Purity (Maria Mitchell Memorial) of 1902, one of the most beautiful of the artist’s works in marble, giving the Museum and the adjacent Fairmount Park (where two bronzes by Saint-Gaudens are installed) a collection of the artist’s finest work.