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Restored Prominent Painting to Be Displayed at Deering Library

Sargent’s portrait of Mrs. Dorothy Allhusen undergoes thorough conservation treatment

  • Family of Charles Deering donated Allhusen’s portrait to the University in 1956
  • Sargent’s painting has long been considered one of the treasures of Northwestern Libraries
  • Portrait will be on view May 5-19 in Deering Library’s Special Collections reading room
  • Rare painting restored thanks to a $9,000 grant by The Alumnae of Northwestern University

John Singer SargentEVANSTON, Ill. --- A treasured oil painting by renowned artist John Singer Sargent -- one of America’s greatest portraitists -- has been fully restored and will be on display at Northwestern University Libraries.

The rare, up-close viewing will be from May 5 through May 19 in the third floor reading room of the Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, Deering Library, 1937 Sheridan Road, on Northwestern’s Evanston campus. 

“Removal of the yellowed varnish has significantly improved the tonal qualities of the painting and allows for closer examination of Sargent’s brushwork and creative use of color,” said Scott Devine, the Marie A. Quinlan Director of Preservation and Conservation at University Libraries. “The painting, which is one of Sargent’s last large-scale society portraits, can now be studied and fully appreciated for the way in which it references Sargent’s earlier works.” 

After the special display the painting will be placed back in climate-controlled storage until the anticipated renovation of Deering Library. The Deering Library is open to the public from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday and from 8:30 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.

This year’s restoration of Sargent’s portrait of Mrs. Dorothy Allhusen was made possible thanks to a $9,000 grant by The Alumnae of Northwestern University, an all-volunteer group of women that has given more than $7.5 million in fellowships, scholarships, and awards to faculty and students during the past 100 years. 

John Singer Sargent’s portrait of Mrs. Dorothy Allhusen 

As a well-known portraitist of the late 19th- and early 20th-centuries, Sargent painted many prominent figures of European society, including Dorothy Allhusen in 1907. According to Devine’s research, Allhusen sold the portrait after its first public exhibition at the National Portrait Society in London in 1919. Charles Deering, an avid art collector and friend of Sargent’s, acquired it in auction. After Deering’s memorial library opened in 1932, his family loaned the painting to the University, then officially donated the work in 1956. 

The portrait hung for decades in the northwest corner of the Eloise W. Martin Reading Room, but it has been in climate-controlled storage for years to protect it from deterioration. The painting has long been considered one of the treasures of the Libraries, one that could no longer go on display until it underwent a thorough conservation treatment. 

The grant allowed professional conservators to repair the frame and canvas, while removing a yellowed varnish layer that had dulled the colors of the vivid red dress worn by Allhusen. A new synthetic resin varnish was applied to the painting to protect the canvas, while an ultraviolet-resistant acrylic glazing placed between the painting and frame provides an added layer of environmental protection.

More information on the Sargent painting’s restoration is available online

The Alumnae of Northwestern University

The Alumnae of Northwestern University’s annual gifts have ranged across all areas of the campus from enriching academic offerings and rewarding teaching excellence to renovating buildings and, now, preserving artistic heritage. 

“The Alumnae of Northwestern University have been extremely supportive of the University Libraries and our role as an academic center for students, faculty and the wider community,” said Sarah Pritchard, dean of libraries and Charles Deering McCormick University Librarian.

“They have made notable contributions that strengthen our public programs and exhibitions, and we are thrilled at the opportunity they have given us to bring this significant work of art back to life.” 

Northwestern University Libraries

Northwestern University Libraries serve the Evanston, Chicago and Qatar campuses by providing access to more than 6 million books; 3.5 linear miles of manuscripts, archives and unique materials; and tens of thousands of journals, databases and periodicals. Their distinctive holdings include the Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, which houses more than 250,000 rare materials ranging from Mesopotamian tablets to one of the largest second-wave feminism collections in the country; the Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies, the world’s largest collection of materials relating to Africa; and the Music Library, recognized internationally for its commitment to 20th-century classical music and the John Cage Notations Collection. More information on Northwestern University Library is available online.

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