Written by N-YHS History Detective Kid Reporter Riley Neubauer, age 14
Kids and parents can explore our special exhibition World War I Beyond the Trenches with a free family guide, available at the Museum.
At 3 am on Monday, May 15, a large moving truck parked parallel to the New-York Historical Society on Central Park West. Inside of it was the painting Gassed by portrait artist John Singer Sargent. The painting depicts a line of soldiers each leading the one behind him; each soldier has a hand or rag over his eyes. These soldiers were gassed by the enemy during a battle of WWI. This painting is a critical part of the exhibition World War I Beyond the Trenches currently on display at New-York Historical.
The painting is 7 feet 7 inches by 20 feet 1 inch, and because of its size, transporting it to New-York Historical was very difficult. Gassed is on loan from the Imperial War Museum in London, England. When the painting left IWM, an entire segment of the brick outer wall had to be deconstructed for the painting to be craned out! The painting then traveled to the United States in an airplane.
When the truck parked on Central Park West was opened, it had the canvas inside of a huge crate. Many painting transporters worked to secure straps around the crate so that the painting could be craned from the truck into the Museum. Before it could be moved inside, two glass panels had to be taken out of New-York Historical’s entrance wall, and all the other artwork—including the Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr statues—were removed. Once this was completed, the crane lifted the crate and moved it to the height of the stairs, where transporters put dollies underneath it and removed the straps once it was securely on the ground. Then they rolled the crate into the building and leaned it against a wall.
Next, the painting handlers began to de-crate Gassed. First they loosened all of the screws on one side of the crate. Second, two people held the back of the crate and the painting so nothing would happen to the painting while the rest of the people removed the front piece of the crate. Once the front piece had been removed, the handlers lifted the painting (which was wrapped) out of the crate and leaned it alongside a wall. Finally, the frame was brought in and placed next to the painting.
Normally a painting must stay in its crate for 24 hours so that it can become acclimated to the new environment. Since the New-York Historical Society did not have the luxury of space to keep the painting in its crate, the IWM allowed them to break that rule and let the painting sit de-crated. As a result, Gassed sat undisturbed out of its crate until the following day when hangers came to hang it. They used a combination of nails and hidden bolts to hold the painting in place.
This was a truly remarkable feat! When you see the painting, you will know why it was so important to go through this effort to bring the painting to the New-York Historical Society. The exhibition World War I Beyond the Trenches is on view through September 3!