East End Fine Art Restoration
In the Town of East Hampton on the east end of Long Island
Oil Paintings - Artworks on Paper
(631) 267-2092 - Amagansett, NY 11930
The East Hampton Star, March 16, 2006 A Le Cobusier Mural Is Restored
Experts bring a fading work, painted in 1950, back to life in a Springs living room
By Isabel Carmichael.
The work was a mural that Le Corbusier, the Swiss artist and architect, had painted on two adjacent plaster walls of the farmhouse that Costantino and Ruth Nivola bought in Springs in 1948, when it was already at least 200 years old.
“He was on his way back to New York from a job in Brazil, and came here to visit, ” Mrs. Nivola recalled last week. Her late husband was a well-known Sardinian painter and sculptor, “We had known him from New York in the mid-1940’s and were good friends.”
“When he arrived, he said, ‘C’est une tres belle maison, mais elle a besoin d’une peinture murale’ “ ---
“It’s a beautiful house, but it needs a mural.”
“And that’s how it happened,” She said. “Most people wouldn’t offer to do something like that, no.?”
Over the years, as the house settled, the integrity of the plaster was compromised, which led to cracks in the walls and deterioration of the mural. Several professionals were interviewed for the job of restoring it, including one suggested by one of the big New York City museums, but Millicent Danks and Arthur Kaliski of Amagansett won hands down, because of the simplicity of their proposal and their respect for the artist’s work.
Le Corbusier painted the murals over a long weekend with whatever water-soluble paints he could find in Mr. Nivola’s studio during a visit in the late summer of 1950. The mural on one wall looks like an abstract, surrealistic scene of a door, complementing a real door diagonally across the living room and with a free-form figure seeming to look at it. On the other side of the mural, a dog and two human figures are suspended in horizontal postures with the hands at the bottom of the painting.
It is the only mural he painted in the United States, and , whatever one sees, there is a lot going on.
“The thing that’s nice about the work is that when you start to look at it, depending on what your mind brings to the wall, you have different perceptions,” Mr. Kaliski said. “When we were working on it, every time we looked at it, we saw something different.”
A famous Italian mural restorer wanted to take the whole mural off the wall, remove the damaged plaster, and rebuild the wall to create a different support by covering the remaining plaster with some protective plastic material, before putting the mural up again.
But Mr. Kaliski and Ms. Danks, who for 20 years have restored oil paintings form the 16th century to the present for collectors, dealers, appraisers, corporations, museums, and historical societies, had a far less aggressive proposal. What Mrs. Nivola liked, she said, was their plan to decide what was needed only as the work progressed.
Initially, Mr. Kaliski and Ms. Danks thought they would need to divide the work into stages, but once they had started they realized they could combine some of them. Plaster that was lifting and separating from the walls was reattached with adhesives, using toothpicks, needles, syringes, razors, and artist’s knives to push them beneath the plaster.
They filled in the cracks with plaster, modeling paste, and an acrylic filling medium, depending on the specific problem being addressed. Once the cracks were filled in, the restorers would sand and shape the patch to make it match the surrounding area. Filled areas were also “inpainted” to blend in.
Since Le Corbusier’s paints and those used to patch the mural over the years were so various, the restorers had to choose pigment-based mediums to suit each place needing paint and to best match the surface of the original painting.
Next they tackled the East End curse: mold. They performed tests to find the most effective way to clean and disinfect the many areas with mold growth and discoloration.
“If the artist were here today, he would approach it the same way we did,” Mr. Kaliski had said when meeting the Nivolas’ son, Pietro, before getting the job. “This has to end up being his work, not ours.”
Although the project was a collaboration, Ms. Danks did the inpainting. Depending on the type and degree of the damage, she sometimes had to work from prints of digital photographs Mr. Kaliski had taken. At one point he copied an eye in the mural onto tracing paper so that, once its shape had disappeared in the course of the repair, Ms. Danks would know where to paint it back in.
Toward the end of the two-week-plus job, after they had cleaned off floor wax that had splashed up onto the bottom of the mural, the restorers used paint to separate the base of the figure next to the door from the bottom of the mural. After looking again at a slide he had taken before embarking on the work, Mr. Kaliski realized that Le Corbusier had originally made the figure’s base extend all the way to the floor.
The Nivolas were consulted, and all agreed the mural looked better with some space in between. Except for that slight change, one would be hard put to say that the mural was not completely original.
As soon as it gets warm enough to open the windows, Mr. Kaliski and Ms. Danks will take the last step, applying a very thin, invisible varnish to further protect the paint and the plaster under it, perhaps for a least another lifetime.