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Boston Public Library Wins Boston Preservation Alliance Preservation Award for Puvis de Chavannes Mural Restoration

August 2, 2017

Boston Public Library

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Chavannes restoration
Boston Public Library and a conservation team led by Gianfranco Pocobene has won the Preservation Achievement Award for its restoration of Pierre Puvis de Chavannes’ Philosophy mural panel from the Boston Preservation Alliance, Boston’s primary nonprofit advocacy organization that protects and promotes the use of historic buildings and landscapes. The Library’s McKim building at Copley Square has long been celebrated as a premier art and architecture destination in Boston, and the murals decorating the grand staircase are some of the most photographed objects on any visit.  Artist Pierre Puvis de Chavannes’ Philosophy panel, approximately 14’ x 7’ in size, 160 pounds, and one of nine panels in the artist’s mural cycle, was successfully restored in September 2016 and then returned to its alcove in the grand staircase. This section of the Chavannes’ mural was conserved using a technique that had to be invented for this project and returned to its home after months of careful restoration.

The Boston Preservation Alliance hosts the 2017 Preservation Achievement Awards at Fenway Park on September 19. Boston Public Library also received a BPA award this year for its Central Library Renovation of its Johnson building.

“Boston Public Library is honored to receive this award from the Boston Preservation Alliance, as caring for and preserving all our Special Collections so that they remain accessible, free to all, is one of our utmost responsibilities. This mural is an integral component of the McKim building and viewed and appreciated along with the Sargent and Abbey murals by millions of visitors each year,” said David Leonard, President of the Boston Public Library. “Our founders wanted a library that would inspire; and where would we be without Philosophy as a muse?”

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes’ panels were painted on linen canvas in Paris and adhered on the library walls in 1895-96 using the “marouflage” technique, binding canvas to plaster support with an adhesive paste. Over time, the plaster and adhesive behind Philosophy weakened, jeopardizing the panel. Conservators, led by Gianfranco Pocobene, Head of Conservation at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and a conservator in private practice, carefully removed the panel from the wall in February 2016 and restored the work, addressing areas of paint loss and lining the canvas with a rigid aluminum honeycomb support to protect the art. The ambitious procedure has rarely been attempted on a marouflaged canvas, as artwork adhered in this way is not expected to be removed once permanently affixed to its backing structure.

French artist Pierre Puvis de Chavannes is considered one of the preeminent European artists of the 19th century, and the Central Library contains his only mural installation outside of France. Philosophy is one of eight allegorical scenes – each depicting an academic discipline – that surround the Central Library’s grand staircase. Other panels in the cycle include Astronomy, History, Chemistry, Physics, Pastoral Poetry, Dramatic Poetry, and Epic Poetry. A ninth, broader panel flanks the entrance to Bates Hall and depicts “The Muses of Inspiration Welcoming the Spirit of Light.”

Boston Public Library offers free daily tours highlighting the architecture of its famed Central Library buildings by Charles Follen McKim and Philip Johnson as well as the art treasures within, including works by Daniel Chester French and John Singer Sargent. The schedule of tours and more information about the art and architecture of the BPL can be viewed via

Image Credit (at far right): Sheryl Lanzel. Left two images: Boston Public Library

Boston Public Library has a Central Library, twenty-four branches, map center, business library, and a website filled with digital content and services. Established in 1848, the Boston Public Library has pioneered public library service in America. It was the first large free municipal library in the United States, the first public library to lend books, the first to have a branch library, and the first to have a children’s room. Each year, the Boston Public Library hosts thousands of programs and serves millions of people. All of its programs and exhibitions are free and open to the public. At the Boston Public Library, books are just the beginning. To learn more, visit



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