As I get ready for another busy summer of maintaining the outdoor sculptures here at the IMA, I thought I would share some information about some work I completed last summer with the fine help of intern Cydney Campbell (she is also an undergrad at Herron and a world-renown Irish dancer – here’s a picture of her in mid dance).
During the muggiest weeks of August we completed a pretty major treatment on one of the more important sculptures on the Oldfields estate, the Three Graces. Consisting of a solid piece of carved white marble perched on a limestone base, the sculpture had become pretty dirty over recent years. Here’s how it look before we got started:
Side note #1, though we have a good idea of when and why the sculpture was placed in this important location of Percival Gallagher’s landscape design we don’t have a clear sense of who actually made it. (Side note #2, I desperately wanted to put a link to Gallagher’s Wikipedia article, but sadly one doesn’t exist. There is some info on him in the book Pioneers of American Landscape Design, published by LALH)
While Bradley Brooks has completed considerable research on this sculpture, he remains stumped as to who actually carved it. Do you know anything about it? Who carved it, when and where? Have you seen one like it before, if so where?
Here’s an official request for information from Bradley:
“During the 1920s, Oldfields owner Hugh Landon selected a figural group of the three Graces to serve as the terminus of an elm allée that extended from the front of the house. We have no documentation of the sculpture’s origin, though it was probably newly produced. At one time, the sculpture was thought to be a copy of a work by Thorvaldsen, but it is almost certainly modeled on a painting of the subject by Canova, though it bears little resemblance to his well-known sculpture of the Graces. We would love to know who first rendered this version of the Graces as a sculpture. Thanks for your assistance!”
Side note #3, you can learn much more about the landscape and the Lilly House in Bradley’s fine book Oldfields, which I think is only available through the IMA’s gift shops.
Below is an image of Canova’s first version of the sculpture on display in the Hermitage. While you can go the Hermitage’s web page and see the official image, this one is from Haylstorm’s Head’s photostream on Flickr.com:
I agree with Bradley, this doesn’t look much like ours: the poses of the three figures are rather different from ours, and this one has, well, more dimensionality.
Side note #4, I think we are fortunate that our version of the three Graces has so far suffered no controversy by comparison to the second Canova version that was formerly owned by the Woburn Abbey. Maybe there is some benefit to our anonymity.
Here’s an image of the painting by Canova to which Bradley refers, The Grazie and Venus dance before Mars:
This painting is located at the Canova Museum at Possagno, Italy and is listed as being painted in tempera with a date of 1798?. I grabbed this image from their web page. Again, I agree with Bradley that there are similarities between the painting and our Graces, with the poses and gestures. What do you think? Here’s a close-up of ours:
But I digress; I wanted to tell you how we cleaned this marble sculpture and its base last summer. Because the sculpture has been exposed to the elements for the last 80 years or so, the surface of the statue has become somewhat granular and is sugaring (it actually feels like granules of sugar). The areas that are not affected as much by precipitation (which, in Indiana, is slightly acidic) are noticeably different upon inspection. It is in these areas that you can feel how smooth the surface of the sculpture would have been when it was newly carved.
** A point of caution here (and side note #5): since I work in conservation, I’m allowed to touch the sculptures if I need to, but we kindly ask that visitors not touch them. Imagine if everyone decided to touch a sculpture; eventually it would get worn away and possibly destroyed. Besides, the IMA has an excellent security staff that keeps a close eye on all of the artworks. If you want to meet some of the folks in PSD, watch this video and you’ll also feel the Need for Reed! **
As I was saying, we noticed that there was a significant amount of dirt and biological growth on the upper half of all three figures (you can clearly see this in the pictures). This distorted much of the detail in the carving and made the sculptures look a lot less beautiful. The backside of the figures had more dirt and biological growth than the front.
To remove this dirt, grime, and biological growth, the sculpture and base were washed with Orvus WA Paste and gently scrubbed with plastic-bristle brushes. This removed a considerable amount of dirt and grime, and some of the biological growth.
The sculpture and base were then washed with Prosoco brand products to remove the rest of dirt and biological growth. Finally, the sculpture and base were rinsed with a Prosoco after wash product.
Here’s how it looked when we were done:
Obviously, the sculpture now appears whiter, as much of the dirt, grime, and biological growth has been removed. However, some remains in the areas that were heavily soiled, for example, on the chests of the three figures, and on the back of the sculptures.
I think the appearance of limestone base also was greatly improved. However some of the spots of concentrated biological growth were difficult to completely remove (if you look carefully you can see some of these spots on the base).
Side note #6, I looked around on Flickr.com to see if I could find any recent pictures of our sculpture, but only found ones from before we worked on it. Here’s what I found when I searched. I’m a fan of amysbirds “Narnia” picture, but there are a few others that were cool, like zenluvsfun’s black and white image and susannelein’s close up.
Finally, I’d like to say thanks to Cyd for working with me last summer, getting lots done, and have a little bit of fun along the way. I would show you a picture of the two of us working on the sculpture but we didn’t take any pictures while working. I don’t think either one of us would be pleased to see pictures of ourselves from those hot, summer days – we were both sweaty and kind of gross through the whole thing.
Filed under: Conservation