De-installation

June 11, 2010

Packing and Storing
Preparing the McKim building for restoration requires extensive work. Space must be found in the Morgan's vault for storage of many of the smaller objects and paintings. Each object has to be carefully removed, packed, and stored. Conservators de-install the Gutenberg bible from its case in the East Room while technicians measure art objects and furniture so they can construct custom-built protection. Larger items items and furniture are transported to offsite storage. 

The Registrar's office coordinates the packing and removal of material and the protection of some artwork left in situ, such as the sixteenth-century relief sculptures from the della Robbia workshop that decorate the walls of the McKim. The ones in the current entrance to the building were installed by Pierpont Morgan's son, J. P. Morgan, Jr., or Jack, who had them returned from storage at the Metropolitan Museum and set into the walls using cement.

Packing Art in the Era of J. P. Morgan
Morgan himself was no stranger to packing and shipping art collections. In 1909 the United States lifted the heavy twenty-percent import duty on works of art. Morgan took this opportunity to pack and ship his vast collection of art that was stored in England to America. The packing and shipping of approximately 351 cases went on for an entire year beginning in February 1912. One shipment, fortunately not ready in time, missed its transatlantic voyage on one of Morgan's favored White Star Line ships, the Titanic.

Furniture Conservation
While many of the objects in the McKim building date from the Renaissance, the beautifully carved furniture dates from the first decade of the twentieth century. Morgan commissioned them for his library, and their craftsmanship is of the highest quality, which makes the furniture fit seamlessly into an interior finished by expert artisans. The settee, chairs, desk, desk chair, and end table in the study were custom-made in 1906 by Cowtan & Sons of London. The velvet-covered settee and chairs are in need of repair and will be sent to the upholsterer.

Mellon Conservator Patricia Reyes, who has cared for the Morgan's collections since 1964, is overjoyed at the conservation opportunities presented by the project: "In my nearly fifty years at the Morgan, we've never done a full refurbishment of the McKim. I've been mending the stitching on the sofa and chairs in Morgan's study for years, so it is a dream to have them reupholstered!"

Sixteenth-century relief sculptures from the della Robbia workshop remain in situ during the restoration. These were installed by Pierpont Morgan's son, J. P. Morgan, Jr., or Jack, who had them returned from storage at the Metropolitan Museum and set into the walls using cement.

Another beautiful relief sculpture from the della Robbia workshop that will stay in place during the restoration.

Our Senior Collections Technician, Alex Confer, (left) and art handlers remove Domenico Tintoretto's Portrait of a Man, ca. 1600, from the wall in the study. The unidentified subject of this portrait is believed to be a Moorish ambassador to the Venetian Court.

Alex and an art handler prepare to remove the painting Virgin and Child with Four Saints and Donor, ca. 1500, from the wall. The painting is attributed to Marco Bello, a member of Giovanni Bellini's prolific workshop. To the left, you can see where Antonio Rossellino's Madonna and Child with Cherubim (see our previous slideshow) used to hang.

An art handler carefully removes a panel of The Adoration of the Magi from the wall. Crafted within the dynamic atmosphere of the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV (r. 1347-1378) in Prague, this exquisite panel was part of a diptych commissioned by a socially prominent patron, perhaps even the Emperor himself.

A bottle-shaped vase that was on display in the study is gently packed into a custom-built container. This vase, referred to as The Morgan Ruby ca. 1705-12, is said to be one of the finest extant examples of monochrome vessels produced by the imperial kiln at the Jigdezhen porcelain factory in China.

Art handlers climb scaffolding to remove the thick, heavy red curtains that hang in the study. They are then laid flat and rolled up for storage.

A close-up of the removal of the curtains. You can see the stained glass panels which were incorporated into the windows when the McKim was built. They date back from the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries and are from churches and monasteries in Switzerland.

This damaged, velvet-covered chair waits to be shipped to the upholsterer. Mellon Conservator Patricia Reyes, who has been mending the stitching on the sofa and chairs in Morgan's study for years, is excited by the opportunity to send the furniture out for repair.