Rare tapestries back at Frick Art Museum after restoration

| Monday, March 24, 2014, 7:52 p.m.

Three gems from the Frick Art Museum collection have returned home with a new glow.

The tapestries “Two Musicians,” “The Court of Love” and “Lady and Attendants” are once again hanging in the rotunda of the Point Breeze museum after undergoing restoration work in Baltimore.

“These colors seem much more rich,” says Sarah Hall, director of curatorial affairs for the Frick. The rotunda's fourth tapestry “Rest on the Flight Into Egypt,” which is receiving complete restoration work that's supported by a $30,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant, is expected to be back in place by June 2015.

All four tapestries have greeted visitors to the museum since it opened in 1970.

The museum's founder, Helen Clay Frick, purchased the tapestries between 1965 and 1970 with the museum in mind. The Frick's neo-classical rotunda was designed to display them.

They date from the early 16th century. “Two Musicians” and “Lady and Attendants” are French, while “The Court of Love” and “Rest on the Flight Into Egypt” are Flemish.

“Rest on the Flight Into Egypt” is the star of the museum's collection.

“It's the most significant because it is intact,” Hall says. “The others are fragments, but gorgeous decorative things … about courtly life and gracious living.”

All the museum's tapestries receive routine vacuuming every 12 to 18 months, Hall says.

But, periodically, they require more in-depth work.

Baltimore-based conservator Julia Dippold spent nearly seven months cleaning and stabilizing the three tapestries that range in size from approximately 50 square feet to 89 square feet.

During that time, she removed the old backing fabric, which allowed her to clean the fronts and backs of the tapestries and the silk threads. She replaced the backing and attached new support straps to distribute and support the weight.

Dippold also uncovered an intriguing mystery.

After removing the tapestry's backing from “The Court of Love,” she found evidence that the large tapestry, which shows courtiers at a gathering, may contain fragments from other works.

Dippold, who has done conservation work for the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art, as well as the Frick Art Museum, saw that heads and hats appear to have been stitched into the design, not part of the original work. Whether these heads were revisions or repairs in unknown, but the work may have been done as late as the 17th century.

“Julia thinks the whole tapestry was pieced together from other compositions, yet (the scene) fits together so well,” says Hall.

Hall estimates the cost of stabilizing the three tapestries at between $4,000 and $7,000 each, which will be covered by the museum's operating budget.

Once “Rest on the Flight Into Egypt” returns to the gallery, the Frick plans to celebrate the completion of the project with a presentation on the stabilization process, a gallery guide on techniques employed and updated panels describing the results of research and conservation efforts.

In the meantime, visitors can view the three completed tapestries in the rotunda of the Frick Art Museum, 727 Reynolds St., Point Breeze, which is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays.

Alice T. Carter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or acarter@tribweb.com.

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