Edward Moran – Sketch at Swallow Cove, Nahant – c. late 20th century

Historical Information

Artist Edward Moran was born in Lancastershire, England in 1829 and immigrated with his family to Maryland in 1844. He was the son of a hand loom weaver and one of the family’s dozen children, so he began work at a young age in Philadelphia. Moran’s private large-scale sketches impressed his Philadelphia employer, who encouraged him to pursue art by introducing him to German landscape artist Paul Weber. He and his brother Thomas Moran established a studio in Philadelphia and were heavily influenced by studying the paintings of J.M.W. Turner. He became best known for his waterfront landscapes and marine themes. He spent time in the 1870s living in New York and Paris and became an associate of the National Academy of Design in 1874, where he began to experiment with luminism using light and hazy brushstrokes to add emotional style and the impressionism practiced by Barbican school en plain air artists. His most significant work is arguably the 13 canvas series representing America’s naval and maritime history spanning from the North American landing of the Vikings to the 1898 Spanish-American War. His is also particularly well known for his work Unveiling the Statue of Liberty, which was painted in 1886 to commemorate the moment of the 21-gun salute that greeted President Grover Cleveland at the Statue’s dedication ceremony that year. The artist died in New York in 1901, leaving behind a legacy as the era’s premier maritime painter and mentor who helped encourage the flourishing career of his younger brother Thomas Moran.

Swallow Cove in Nahant, Massachusetts is a local peninsula landmark on the eastern side of Lynn Harbor in Massachusetts Bay. The town – named for the Indian word Nahanteau, meaning “twins” – is alleged to have been discovered by Captain John Smith in 1614, who referred to it as “The Fullerton Islands.” The picturesque Swallow Cove is a long deep channel with rocky cliffs that appear to have been carved sharply by rough waves rather than eroded smoothly over time by water currents. Through narrow entrances, it is possible for visitors to navigate through the cliffs and down to the water at low tide.The channel is named for the population of local swallows that live in the area, although sea life is bountiful around the Cove’s cliffs and pools.

This painting was purchased at auction by a private client with an esteemed collection of more than a thousand pieces of significant early American and European paintings, sculptures, and cultural icons. It was brought to Hartmann Conservation for condition assessment and subsequent conservation treatment.

Artifact's Condition Prior to Treatment

The painting was executed in oil paints and has normal age crackle patterns throughout the composition. The painting has a four-member pine stretcher with half butt-ended, half mitered joints, with visible stretcher bar creases on all four sides caused by the painting being too slack on its stretcher. The viewer’s lower right rock formation appears to have some paint issues, as it looked like partial dissolving and water staining has taken place where pigment had migrated to the outside of a series of tiny circles. The exact state of the paint in this corner would be determined more precisely during the cleaning treatment process. There was evidence of a fine traction crackle in the paint near the lower right side of the back. One layer of paint was sliding over a lower layer, revealing the color of the lower layer in the cracked areas of surface paint. There were also fly frass specks scattered throughout the surface of the painting. Under ultraviolet illumination, the painting’s varnish layer fluoresced the characteristic yellow/green color consistent with a natural resin varnish coating.

The frame was a spectacular example of an appropriate period frame. It had a beautiful gold leaf surface with a light soot, dirt, and nicotine coating and had only minimal losses and abrasion for its age. There was some loose and flaking gesso and gilding with one large loss of original ornamentation on the outer front right side of the frame. There were also two corners with minor gesso and gilding loss. There was minor abrasion to the burnished water gilding along the bottom inner surface of the frame, where the underlying clay bole later was visible through the remaining gold leaf. The inner frame liner was also cracked in the bottom right corner on both the bottom and side molding pieces.

Treatment of Artifact

The painting was unframed and documented with digital photography and comprehensive written reports before, during, and after treatment. Discolored varnish, dirt, soot, and nicotine were removed from the painting’s surface using a aqueous solution, followed by an organic solvent and rinse. The painting was then keyed out on its current stretcher to make the surface taut. An isolating spray coating of synthetic varnish was applied to the painting. Losses and abrasions in the paint surface were unpainted using conservation-grade paints. A second spray coating of synthetic varnish was applied to the painting after the completion of inpainting.

The gilt frame was gently surface cleaned using a dilute conservation detergent and organic solvent rinse. Areas of flaking and loose gesso were consolidated using synthetic varnish and loose or broken pieces of ornamentation were reattached with polyvinyl acetate adhesive. Missing ornament sections were recast using a two-part conservation-grade epoxy resin, sanded to exact fit, and attached to fill the missing sections using polyvinyl acetate adhesive. Remaining minor losses in the frame were filled with gesso and inpainted with mica powders in varnish to color match the existing metallic overpaint on the frame. Two broken areas of the inner frame liner were realigned and mended using polyvinyl acetate adhesive. Flaking gilding on the front surface of the frame was consolidated using a wax-resin adhesive mixture melted into the front surface. Because of the complexity of the breaks and cracks in the frame’s bottom left corner, the wood was not able to be perfectly aligned. A conscious decision was made to stop the realignment treatment at this point in order to avoid causing any significant loss of the original gilding during further repair. The line of the break is slightly noticeable. This area was in-gilded with 24k gold leaf and toned to match the surrounding color of the frame liner. A final protective spray coating of synthetic varnish was applied to the frame and the painting was properly reframed with an acid-free corrugated plastic backing board and appropriate brass hanging hardware.

Photographic Documentation