WASHINGTON (NNS) -- A rare oil painting by Burnell Poole, an American artist of the early 20th century, has been restored to near perfect condition after years of being considered a total loss by museum curators.
The painting, "The 6th Battle Squadron of the Grand Fleet Leaving the Firth of Forth," is one of less than two dozen paintings owned by the Navy that is of U.S. naval operations in World War I. It is one of five painted by Poole under the auspices of E.I. Du Pont de Nemours and Company, and donated to the Naval Historical Foundation (NHF) between 1928 and 1929 to commemorate the Navy's participation in the war.
Though painted nearly a decade later, Poole served in the active Reserve with the American fleet in North Atlantic waters during the war and made many sketches that he used in creating these paintings.
Considering that the Navy did not have a combat artist program until 30 years later, these paintings are as authoritative a depiction as one could hope for.
"The 6th Battle Squadron..." was the first of the series, of which only five were completed before Poole's death in 1932.
The paintings originally hung in Memorial Hall at the U.S. Naval Academy, but possibly because of imperfections in the canvases' primer, soon paint was detaching from their surfaces and extensive conservation treatment was required in 1951. The fix had only a temporary effect and in the early 1960s, the paintings were returned to the Foundation because of poor condition.
In 2002, when the Navy Art Collection received a grant from the Navy for painting conservation, curator Gale Munro once again pulled the paintings from their dark corner and asked for opinions from professional conservators.
"All agreed that one of the paintings was beyond recovery, having lost more than half of its original paint. The other three might be salvageable at some cost," said Munro.
They agreed to make a test case of "The 6th Battle Squadron..." and it was duly included in a group of paintings put into a contract for conservation services.
The entire process took several months, but the result is the total recovery of a painting.
At present, two more such paintings wait in the Navy Art Collection storage area. Curators of the Navy Art Collection are researching sources that will restore these unique jewels of Navy heritage.
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