The Restoration of American Art: The Best Refurbishments of American Paintings

It is universally known that classic artwork is appreciated in a different way than contemporary art. However, some great paintings do not physically withstand the test of time, as they lose their color or just become less valuable due to wear. This is sometimes caused by the painting techniques the artists used. Art conservators take on the role of preserving art where they use careful techniques to restore art and artifacts to preserve their value and authenticity. 

American galleries and museums are pros at rejuvenating the great American paintings. You can even see many of them online! In this article, we will explore some incredible restorations of American artwork that aesthetes must hear about.

A Friend in Need by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge (1903)

This iconic painting from Coolidge was one out of eighteen in his Dogs Playing Poker series. The painting is universally recognized and has been featured in television shows such as The Simpsons

The motif of dogs and playing poker continued in eight of Coolidge’s other paintings in the series. In them, human-like dogs sit playing poker around a table in various situations.  In this painting, one dog is holding a weak hand, and the other is subtly giving him an ace under the poker table. While the dogs in the painting seem gleeful, we are sorry to say it doesn’t look like they will be giving us any great poker-playing tips any time soon! For poker enthusiasts seeking advice, check out these top 10 tips to win the poker game online for game improvements.

By critics, this painting has been viewed as comedic, so it has not been restored or displayed in any major museums or galleries. However, it has been restored in other ways in the form of prints and calendars! 

Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze (1851)

The title of this 1851 artwork by Leutze of George Washington crossing the Delaware River with the Continental Army in December 1776. The painting’s measurements are 21 feet wide and 12 feet high! It was restored in 1850 after a fire in Leutze’s studio and again after a bombing raid in 1942 during World War 2. 

In February 2007, the painting was damaged at the Museum of Metropolitan Art as it collided with a doorway, damaging the painting’s frame. The Met discovered a photograph by Matthew Brady in which the frame of the photo was not the original that Leutze used in the painting’s construction.

The museum’s conservators cleaned the painting’s surface and frame and replaced it with a new replica of the original.  The new frame was crafted from basswood and was covered in gold leaf when it was finished. It was completed inside the museum as the canvas was too large to remove!

The Baptism of Pocahontas by John Gadsby Chapman (1840)

This oil canvas painting was painted in 1840 by John Gadsby Chapman showing a kneeling Pocahontas being baptized by a minister, Alexander Whitaker, sometime after she arrived in England in 1613 or 1614 in Jamestown, Virginia. Like Coolidge, Chapman was also commissioned to paint this painting. However, Chapman was commissioned to paint something for the Rotunda in the US Capitol Building in 1837. 

The painting has had a variety of cleaning and repairing measures in the years since being displayed in the Capitol. However, after suffering years of damage due to the heat from the floor vents in the building, a new canvas was ordered from Brussels in 1980 and put on the painting.

The Gross Clinic by Thomas Eakins (1875)

Recognised as ‘one of the greatest American paintings ever made,’ The Gross Clinic illustrates a picture of a world-renowned surgeon, Dr. Samuel Gross, leading 5 doctors as they operate on a patient’s thigh. In the background, a depiction of Eakins himself is seen writing, as if taking note of Gross’ methods. In another area, a woman is seen flinching due to the visible blood from the operation.

For its time, the painting was shocking as it was considered to be ‘gross’ and ‘repulsive’ to some, due to the subject matter. It was restored in 2010 by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts’s vice chair of conservation, Mark Tucker. Cleaning the painting was attempted many times before, which consequently removed yellow varnish and paint from the original.  Conservators then made repairs in these areas where the paint had disappeared to make parts of it more visible.

The Artist and His Mother, by Arshile Gorky (1926-36)

Perhaps one of Gorky’s most famous paintings, the simple picture of an artist and his mother, is believed to be a rendition of Gorky and his own deceased mother, Pelageya Vlasova. 

The photo was taken in 1912  and he found it after moving to the United States from Armenia. Tragically, Gorky’s mother starved to death. This was a result of the Ottoman Turkish Empire, who at the time were trying to genocide the Armenian population in 1914. 

The tragic photo served as Gorky’s greatest inspiration for the painting. In the process of creating i it has since had a few versions. The first being in 1936 displayed in the Whitney Museum of Art and another in the National Gallery in Washington. 

At the Whitney, the painting was treated before a retrospective of Gorky’s work. Grime and discoloration were removed from the painting because it changed the color and gloss. 

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