John Singer Sargent’s mural ensemble for the Boston Public Library, Triumph of Religion, was his most ambitious and imaginative achievement. Created between 1890 and 1919, it was a complete art installation, embellished with relief elements, sculptural groupings, and textured surfaces, set into Sargent’s speciﬁed architecture and accompanied by lighting the artist designed. Time and pollution diminished the power of the murals, however, and partial restorations distanced them from Sargent’s original production.
This book is the story of a 2003–4 project that undertook the long-awaited comprehensive restoration of those murals. A team led by conservators and scientists at the Harvard Art Museum’s Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies not only returned the murals to their initial brilliance but also unearthed new evidence of the artist’s experimentation in creating them. The ten essays in this volume, superbly illustrated, describe the project and its ﬁndings, detailing both how the murals came to be and how, through an inspired combination of art and science, they were renewed.
Followers of Sargent’s work will appreciate the insights oﬀered here into the artist’s methods, including his use of preparatory sketches and three-dimensional models. Curators and conservators will welcome the technical analysis of materials and their application: in addition to oil paint, Sargent used plaster, papier-mâché, gilt, glass “gems,” and a particular type of embossed and gilded Victorian wallpaper. As the latest restoration reveals, the murals embody a degree of invention that makes them decidedly modern.
Narayan Khandekar is senior conservation scientist at the Harvard Art Museum/Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies. Gianfranco Pocobene is head of conservation at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Kate Smith is a paintings conservator in private practice.
With contributions by Angela Chang, Glenn A. Gates, Teri Hensick, Narayan Khandekar, Philip Klausmeyer, Katherine Olivier, Gianfranco Pocobene, Kate Smith, Miriam Stewart, Ruxandra Stoicescu, and Carol Troyen.