Monday 7 June, 2015
Monday 7 June, 2015
When visiting the National Gallery of Victoria, I was lucky enough to see something normally kept from the public’s eye. John Herbert’s ‘Moses bringing down the Tables of the Law’ is both huge and fragile. As such, it hasn’t been on display in living memory. When purchased in 1878, not long after completion, it was the NGV’s most expensive acquisition.
The restoration of this giant Victorian era painting, along with its frame, was being done in one of the main galleries where casual visitors could watch its progress. It was impressive to see the restoration but to walk into that big gallery and finally see Moses dominating the wall was damned impressive. The room almost needs nothing else.
When I stopped in, a small army of conservators was swarming over the frame, replacing flawed surfaces and re-gilding.
The image is an oil-painted-over cartoon on paper – a highly unusual practice – commissioned by the NGV in the mid-19th century after seeing Herbert’s original fresco in the House of Lords. In preparation for transport, by sailing ship, to Australia it was removed from its frame (which had been designed for disassembly) and rolled on a huge wooden cylinder with blotting paper padding.
Resident Australian landscape painter, Eugene von Guerard, was on the scene as a gallery committee member charged with overseeing its installation. His sketch, here, details how it was to be unrolled and installed. (Looking at his figure drawing, you can see why he was a landscape painter.)
The stretcher frame was also shipped out, in pieces, for re-assembly here. The painting is tacked to it, then inserted in the frame which is, in turn, fixed to the wall.
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Please note: My diary is now full till Xmas. As I’ll then be staying off ladders till my top-heaviness subsides, art hanging won’t resume till January 15, 2018.
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