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Holding Tight To Its 'Philosophy,' Boston Public Library Re-Installs Rare, Restored Mural

Gloved workers slowly and carefully move the “Philosophy” panel, created by 19th century French muralist Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, in the Boston Public Library. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)closemore
Gloved workers slowly and carefully move the “Philosophy” panel, created by 19th century French muralist Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, in the Boston Public Library. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

After seven months of restoration, a rare mural was re-installed Tuesday night on a wall in the grand staircase at the Boston Public Library’s central library in Copley Square.

A team of six maneuvered 160 pounds of canvas and framing from an upstairs workshop to the library's second floor.

Workers carefully move the heavy mural back into its original position after months of restoration efforts to fix damage from moisture. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)
Workers carefully move the heavy mural back into its original position after months of restoration efforts to fix damage from moisture. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

The work is the “Philosophy” panel in 19th century French muralist Pierre Puvis de Chavannes' series of eight, large-scale paintings depicting academic disciplines.

The pastel-hued section had been up next to "Astronomy" for more than a century until a library associate discovered moisture damage had caused it to bubble and separate from the wall.

It came down in February. Now, it is back in place.

Puvis de Chavannes was commissioned by architect Charles Follen McKim to create a series of murals that was installed in 1896 to depict eight academic disciplines, including this one, "Philosophy," seen earlier this year. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Puvis de Chavannes was commissioned by architect Charles Follen McKim to create a series of murals that was installed in 1896 to depict eight academic disciplines, including this one, "Philosophy," seen earlier this year. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Gianfranco Pocobene, paintings conservator at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, oversaw the unprecedented project and says, aside from minor delays, he’s satisfied with the outcome.

“Much smoother than I thought it was going to go," Pocobene said, wiping sweat from his brow, "especially when we fit it right into the wall, because we basically had on the left and on the right a quarter-inch total space — total -- and it slipped in very beautifully. So yeah, very excited that it went exactly as we wanted.”

Boston is the only city outside of France that has murals by Puvis de Chavannes.

The mural is now back in its place in the Boston Public Library. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)
The mural is now back in its place in the Boston Public Library. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

Meghan Weeks, BPL's exhibitions and outreach associate, noticed the damage and said the conservation team accomplished the restoration "to the book."

“But the book had never been written, this had never been done before so it’s a great moment for the library,” she added. “It’s a great moment for art, and we’re thrilled.”

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Andrea Shea Arts Reporter
Andrea Shea is WBUR's arts reporter.

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