Thursday 30 March 2017

Hallelujah! Art-lovers rejoice as hidden fresco restored to former glory

Greg Harkin

A BEAUTIFUL fresco painted by the renowned church artist Harry Clarke has been restored to its former glory after decades buried under layers of peeling paint.

The gilded painting of an angel was hidden on the wall of St Eunan's Cathedral in Letterkenny, Co Donegal, for 60 years, until it was uncovered by astonished workmen during renovation work.

Restoration experts were called in and tentatively peeled away the six layers of thick paint to expose the ghostly image of an angel.

Then, using super-advanced CSI-style technology, they were able to match the original paintwork down to the tinies detail and restore the image to its former glory.

Ruth Rothwell, from Decowell Restoration in Belfast, said the painting was a very special find. "We suspected something might be there. Over the years the gold leaf and bright colours went out of fashion and were painted over.

"It was a slow and painstaking job but it was really worth it in the end when we discovered the painting and then started to restore it."

Now art-lovers are flocking to the church to see the work thought to have been created by the Dublin artist in 1930, shortly before his death from TB in 1931. He was just 41.

The heavenly image is located on the wall at the back of the cathedral's altar in an area known as Our Lady's Altar.

The Latin inscription Ave Maria Gracia Plena -- Hail Mary Full of Grace-- is written on a banner held by the angel.

It took three months to restore the painting, which Ms Rothwell believes was painted on a canvas at Mr Clarke's studio in Dublin and then stuck on to the wall using rabbit-skin glue.

"In total, it took three months to restore, but 75pc of that work was removing the six layers of paint over the painting.

"Once that was done, paint analysis was carried out by computer to discover the exact colours used in the original painting so we could reproduce those to the original formula," revealed Ms Rothwell.

Included among the new materials needed for the €20,000 restoration was a consignment of 23-and-three-quarter-carat gold Italian paint.

Conservationist Ms Rothwell said she was delighted to be able to preserve the works of historic artists such as Mr Clarke.

The Dubliner was born in 1889 and became famous for his stained-glass windows, including those in Bewley's Cafe on Dublin's Grafton Street and in the Honan Chapel in UCC.

Fr Eamonn Kelly, parish priest of St Eunan's Cathedral, said records had revealed the painting was a Clarke.

"We are delighted that it has been uncovered and it really adds to what has been a beautiful restoration," he added.

The angel will be included in new walking tours of Letterkenny this summer.

Irish Independent

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