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In the Air

January 14, 2014

National Gallery Garden Gets Chagall Mosaic


A large-scale mosaic by Marc Chagall that once sat in the Georgetown garden of collectors Evelyn and John Nef has finally found its way to the National Gallery of Art’s sculpture garden more than three years after Evelyn Nef passed away, leaving the collection of works that she and her late husband had amassed to the D.C. museum. Though the process of moving the Nef’s other holdings — including pieces by Auguste Renoir, Pablo Picasso, and Wassily Kandinsky — to the NGA was relatively simple, relocating the 10-panel, 10-by-17 foot mosaic was slightly more complicated, as the Washington Post notes.

The NGA’s senior conservator, Shelley Sturman, was tasked with moving the mosaic, a job made all the more daunting by the fact that it had begun to deteriorate and crack, and its fastening to the 30-foot-wall behind the Nefs’ home was impossible to assess. “That was the scariest part, not knowing how it was attached,” Sturman told the Post. “We didn’t know if we would be cutting it out of the wall.”

Luckily, the mosaic’s panels were simply attached to the brick wall with iron clasps, making their removal much simpler, and enabling subsequent conservation work before the work could be installed at the NGA. Now it stands, near Coosje van Bruggen and Claes Oldenburg’s “Typewriter Eraser, Scale X,” as a testament not only to the Nefs’ support of NGA, but also their friendship with Chagall and his wife Vava Chagall all of whom had vacationed together in the south of France.

“The weather, the time of day, and the kind of light all produce changes in its appearance,” Evelyn Nef wrote in “Finding My Way,” her memoir. “When it rains, the wet tesserae are a different, stronger color. The first time it snowed on the mosaic, I wept a little with pure pleasure.”

— Benjamin Sutton (@bhsutton)


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