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Conservator Assesses John B. Gordon Portrait

09-14-2016

A conservator of paintings with the Atlanta Art Conservation Center of the High Museum of Art recently inspected the life-size portrait of John B. Gordon, Gordon State College’s namesake.

Conservator Larry Shuts’ visit is part of a plan to get the large portrait ready to hang in a location on campus that will allow it to be properly displayed as well as preserved.

“It needs a good cleaning,” Shuts said. “There are details like a fleur-de-lis pattern on the dark red area behind his head and a blue ribbon pattern that are

barely visible now. The patterns and other details will be much more visible after cleaning.”

For decades the portrait, which is 8 feet tall and 5 ½ feet wide, was prominently displayed in the Dorothy W. Hightower Library. It has been in storage since the library was renovated, opening the building to more natural light.

“Light gets under the varnish – which has bubbled in some places – and bounces around,” Shuts explained. “That is why there are some foggy looking places on its surface. Bright light is not a friend of old paintings.”

And while the 117-year-old painting does need some work, Shuts rates it a three on a scale of one to five with one being excellent and five being deplorable.

Repairs had been made to the portrait over the years. An insoluble varnish was applied at some point which makes a total restoration impossible.  Shuts said the portrait can be cleaned, a small tear in the canvas can be repaired and the frame can be reinforced.  

The University of Georgia loaned loan the John B. Gordon portrait to Gordon Military College in April 1961.

According to Gordon State College Archivist Beth Pye, the portrait had been hanging in the chapel at UGA for at least sixty years before it was placed on loan to Gordon by William Tate, dean of men at UGA. Research is under way to determine what prompted Tate to loan the portrait to the College.

The portrait was painted in 1899 by E.F. Andrews from a photograph. Gordon died in 1904.