The Big Picture

You have to take a few steps back in order to fully appreciate the scale of the historic oil painting “The Landing of the Pilgrims,” which has been hanging on the east wall of the main gallery at Pilgrim Hall Museum for the past 192 years. Created by artist Henry Sargent between 1818 and 1823, the painting was first loaned to the Plymouth museum and then later donated to the collection in 1834. Measuring 13 by 16 feet, the image depicts the landing of the Pilgrims in a dramatic style that resembles the Dutch masters. The painting was the main attraction when Pilgrim Hall Museum first opened its doors and it helped establish a national identity, with the Pilgrims as the “forefathers” of America.

Just last year, renowned art conservator David Olin and his team from the nationally recognized Olin Conservation Inc. in Virginia, completed a painstaking three-month project to restore the painting to its former glory while Gold Leaf Studio of Washington D.C., handled the conservation of the frame.

“It’s always interesting to learn about the artist’s techniques and see how he was influenced by other artists of the time,” says Olin, who used microscopy and magnification tools along with complex solutions and solvents to reveal the beauty of the original art. Almost two centuries of grime was removed, along with multiple layers of different types of varnish that caused the painting to darken over time. The majority of restoration work was completed in the main hall of the museum so members of the public could watch the team at work. A significant example of early American art, visitors can now experience the painting the way the artist intended.

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