Interview with Restorer

Continuing her journey to the Musée d’Orsay, Lady Liberty recently arrived at the restoration studio of Antoine Amarger. Located thirty minutes outside of Tours, his picturesque home studio is tucked away in the French countryside.  Upon visiting the atelier, Lady Liberty looked quite at ease —as if taking a country holiday before being welcomed into her new home at the Musée d’Orsay.

Anxious to  learn more about Liberty’s restoration process, AFMO was fortunate to sit down with Antoine Amarger who was  eager to share his passion and knowledge about this newest project.

What motivates you in your restoration work?

I like to get inside the head of the sculptor, to understand their dream, and their creative process. What’s interesting about the Bartholdi’s statue is that it’s very typical of the 19th century. It shows the ties between the industrial, technical, and creative progress of the time. I also like the challenge behind the work. When I’ve done projects in Montreal or elsewhere in Canada, I’m often asked, “Why do you work here, when there are so many famous works in Paris that are in need of restoration?” I tell them that the celebrity of a piece does not interest me. What really interests me is working on challenging projects that have technical difficulties, even if they’re not so well recognized.

Why do you believe this Liberty sculpture is important?

It’s the most recognized sculpture in the world! It’s a very strong symbol and is representative of two nations’ heritage. It’s also a good example of the industry’s techniques at that time; it’s a unique convergence of creativity, technique, and public taste.

What stage in the restoration process is the sculpture in now?

It has only been with me for about 10 days. You can see that the torch and the rayon on the crown have been repaired.  Now, I have to clean it and apply the finish.

What factors go into the restoration process?

It’s important to recognize that a restoration can have different grades. In France, “on garde l’inspiration”. We don’t necessarily want to take the statue back to its original form, but rather we like to keep some evidence of its aging. Anglo Saxons tend to prefer to take the statue back to its original form, but I think it’s important to conserve some of the weathering in order to preserve the work’s history.

You also have to remain aware of the context within which the statue will be placed. I usually like to keep something (like a stone) from the work’s setting in the background, so that I can always know the context.  The background color, or the train station for instance in the Orsay, can have an effect on what “shade” we decide upon.  You don’t want it to be too light or too dark after you return it back to its resting place. Thus, it’s important to have a good eye for the nuances in color.

Can you see the hand of the artist (Bartholdi) in this work?

You cannot see the physical hand of the artist too much in this work. You can see the vibrations in the mold. However, you have to remember that this was not meant to be a definitive work , but was merely a model for a greater version. The power behind this work is really in the artist’s mentality.

What would happen to the statue if it had not undergone restoration?

It would turn green and ugly! Being in a garden outdoors for a hundred years meant the statue was neglected, simply because people were less attentive. Fortunately, that will change now that the Orsay will become its new home.

(May 11, 2012, translated from French, Jennifer Daly)