Giant goes on display
After decades ‘lost’ in storage, art heavyweight returns
THE biggest painting at the National Gallery of Victoria will go on public display today after being rolled up in storage for more than 70 years.
The 500kg work, painted in 1872, has been returned to its former glory following a painstaking 10-week restoration.
Gallery staff were overjoyed to finally hang Moses bringing down the Tables of the law, which took acclaimed historical artist John Rogers Herbert six years to paint.
“It really is a big moment and there’s people all around Melbourne who know about the painting and are dying to see it,” head of conservation Michael Varcoe-Cocks said.
“It’s a seriously amazing painting.”
The imposing work is so large (6m x 4m) that it did not fit through any doorways or in lifts. It needed to be rolled up on large cylinders to be moved into the gallery with the heavy frame in six pieces.
Mr Varcoe-Cocks said a team of 24 staff worked on the restoration, which required specially made equipment.
“It was a slow, elaborate and complex process because the painting is so big,” he said.
“The only way we could access the middle of the painting was a gantry system, which we had to build so we could lie flat on the gantry and then roll out over the middle of the paint- ing.” Mr Varcoe-Cocks said the colours in the painting had stood the test of time and much of the restoration was to “stabilise” the paint and delicately remove layers of grime.
He said good conservation was invisible to the public eye.
“I can’t believe how well it’s come up,” he said.
“I’ve waited the entire time I’ve worked here, almost 20 years, to see this painting. It’s the only painting in the collection that I hadn’t seen.”
The NGV commissioned the painting in the 1870s and it hung in the old gallery at the State Library for many years.
It may have been taken down from display for safekeeping after WWI.