Fri. Apr 12th, 2024

This December, the New Bedford Whaling Museum revealed the groundbreaking restoration of one panel from Charles Sidney Raleigh’s “Panorama of a Whaling Voyage” (1878–80). The unveiling marks the culmination of a yearlong conservation effort at Gianfranco Pocobene Studios in greater Boston, funded by a national grant from the “Save America’s Treasures” program.

Raleigh’s “Panorama of a Whaling Voyage” is one of only eight known panoramas in US public collections. Painted on canvas, the original 275-foot-long panorama depicted the 1870–74 voyage of the last great whaling ship Niger.

In the 1960s, the painting underwent conservation measures that, while well-intentioned, altered its appearance significantly. Conservators sliced it into 22 12-foot sections mounted onto heavy aluminum panels with wax adhesive and a thick varnish on top. 

At 350 pounds per painting, challenges persisted for storage and installation; moreover, the varnish darkened to a deep yellow hue. Conservator Gianfranco Pocobene aimed to reverse these changes and faithfully return its original vibrancy. Delicately separating the canvas from the aluminum, removing layers of wax, and meticulously addressing cracks and creases, Pocobene brought the work back to life.

“It’s much more luminous and bright right now. It is what the artist would have originally intended,” said Pocobene. “In the end, we’re just one part of the history of the painting. What matters to us is doing the work, improving it, and it survives in a better state than when we first received it.”

Amanda McMullen, President and CEO of the Whaling Museum, emphasized the significance of modern conservation practices. “This project illustrates the challenges museums face in dealing with our larger artifacts. It has been tremendous to witness the evolution and see this rare piece of art back to its original beauty.”

For more information, visit whalingmuseum.org.

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