A historic painting that has hung on the wall of the Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth since it opened in 1824 will be restored this spring thanks to a $215,000 Commonwealth Grant.
“The Landing of the Pilgrims,” which measures 13 feet by 16 feet, was painted by Henry Sargent around 1818, and has never been cleaned. The Pilgrim Hall Museum received a grant for the project as a part of an economic development bill signed into law last August.
“The painting has never been treated,” said Patrick Browne, the museum’s executive director. “It’s never been conserved. It’s been on that wall since 1824. You can just imagine 19th-century Plymouth with coal smoke and all kinds of dirt and grime accumulating on the painting. I mean it’s really just evident, when you look at it, how badly it needs to be cleaned.”
The restoration project is the latest improvement to Pilgrim Hall, the oldest public museum in continuous operation in the United States. In 2008, the Court Street institution added a new wing along with new activities, including an orientation film that tells the Pilgrims’ story.
One of the earliest depictions of their arrival, “The Landing” shows men, women, and children gathered at Plymouth Rock on Dec. 21, 1620.
According to Stephen O’Neill, the museum’s associate director and curator, the Pilgrims’ arrival was starting to be seen in the early 19th century as one of the origin points for the American nation.
“In that regard, I think you could say that the painting really helped cement the Pilgrims and their role in founding the nation’’ in the popular consciousness, he said.
Sargent lent “The Landing” to the museum upon its opening in 1824. “He was probably in talks with the people building” the museum, said O’Neill, “because the painting fit perfectly up on the east wall.”
Museum officials have hired Olin Conservation Inc., a Great Falls, Va., company, to complete the restoration, which was set to begin this weekend. David Olin, who heads the group, has previously worked with the Smithsonian, the National Archives, and the Capitol to restore early portraits of US presidents, the Gettysburg Cyclorama, and other works.
The painting will be removed from the wall and from its frame, and Olin team members will do preliminary conservation and repairs at the museum for about two weeks. The painting will then be taken off-site to be lined with a second canvas backing to stabilize and strengthen it.
In early May, the painting will return to the museum, and more work will be done on it in the main hall. This will give the public a chance to watch the restoration . According to O’Neill, the process includes cleaning the painting, removing the original varnish, repairing cracks in the paint, and then adding a new layer of varnish. The procedure should be completed by the end of June.