By Pat Loeb
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The statue of Diana has returned to the Great Staircase of the Philadelphia Art Museum, her home of 80 years, and she’s never looked better.
As she was when she was created in 1893, by Augustus Saint Gaudens, as a weather vane for Madison Square Garden, making her the highest point in New York City. The nude statue created such a sensation, E. L. Doctorow made it a plot point in his novel, “Ragtime” (which became a movie in 1981).
The 700 pound copper statue was covered in gold to catch the sunlight and, at night, it became the first statue to be lit by electric light at night.
“She was a beacon,” says Art Museum director Timothy Rub, “visible quite literally for miles.”
The museum would receive the statue after the Garden went bankrupt and New York Life Insurance bought the building. It was 1932, just four years after the museum opened, and so Diana would become an icon here, too, but she was already a bit worse for wear.
“She’d lost her gilding,” says Rub. “She’d been repaired at least once and she had been refinished with a pleasing but rather dull green tone.”
A year-long project has restored her former brilliance (see previous story). Conservators made another repair, applied two coats of zinc chromate, and attached, by hand, 180 square feet of gold leaf. Then they had to dull the finish so it wouldn’t be too bright for its indoor space. New lighting captures the nuances of tone created.
“Today,” Rub said as the statue was officially welcomed back Thursday morning, “you can fully appreciate the before and the after and how wonderfully different and beautiful this statue is.”