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Clara the Rhinoceros, Before and After

At the end of the exhibition Oudry's Painted Menagerie, you'll find an illustrated time line of the five-year painting conservation project that brought Clara the rhino back to life, restoring the tattered, faded canvas as nearly as possible to its pristine, original condition. That time line was created as part of a collaboration between the education department and paintings conservator Mark Leonard, who did the final work on the restoration in a public gallery.
Rhinoceros / Oudry Rhinoceros / Oudry
Clara before and after. Left: Rhinoceros in its tattered state, before conservation; Right: Rhinoceros after conservation
Both images: Staatliches Museum Schwerin

For three weeks last January, Leonard worked on the billboard-size portrait of Clara in the East Art Information Room (now transformed into the Sketching Gallery. It was an ideal setting for him, because he was able to put the finishing touches on the painting in a gallery with overhead natural light; and it was ideal for us in the education department, too, because the public was welcome to watch a master craftsman perform this most delicate phase of the restoration process.

Clara's installation in the East Art Information Room gave everyone who dropped in a glimpse behind the scenes of a rarified, labor-intensive aspect of museum work to which visitors seldom have access. Even better, Mark Leonard talked to our visitors on Wednesday and Friday afternoons, answering questions about his work.
Rhinoceros (detail) / Oudry  
Clara's eye
Staatliches Museum Schwerin
Comments by visitors and the volunteer docents stationed in the room were unanimously favorable. One docent summed it up, saying, "To see Mr. Leonard on a ladder working on this huge painting must be almost as striking as watching Oudry himself... [Visitors] marveled at the patience and were impressed with the contrast between the photos of Clara and her restoration...and intrigued by the whole restoration process."

After looking at hundreds of photos documenting the multi-year conservation of Clara for the illustrated time line, for me it was Clara's eye in image after image that brought out her personality. In it, I perceived an alert, knowing, possibly even intelligent being as she looked out at us from under her heavy armor-like skin. That I was open to finding this character in Clara should be no surprise, since I feel a certain kinship with her—we share the same name.

Re: Clara the Rhinoceros, Before and After

It was a beautiful & remarkable restoration. What caused the painting to become so dark- was it due to the linseed oil & its chemical changes?

Re: Clara the Rhinoceros, Before and After

Ok. I admit it. I wept when I saw the Clara and the Lion. I was lucky enough to tour the labs with GRI scholars a few years ago. Clara was laid out on a table and Lion was hanging on the wall. The paintings were in such disrepair that I felt sorrow. Here were two majestic paintings that had been neglected and handled poorly... What a loss to the world, I thought. I was speechless and moved when I saw the paintings today. Mark and his team did an amazing job! Bravo!

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