Nine family portraits that belonged to James Joyce, including two of the literary giant himself, have been restored by Buffalo State College art conservators and will be showcased for the first time during the 2009 North American James Joyce Conference in Buffalo.
Given that the paintings followed the famous Irish expatriate all over Europe as he labored on “Ulysses,” “Finnegans Wake” and “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” and were left untended in a Paris apartment when he moved to a hotel nine years before his death, they were in reasonably good shape when they arrived at Rockwell Hall from the University at Buffalo’s James Joyce Collection earlier this summer, said professor James Hamm.
“They looked good — safe and secure in their frames,” said Hamm, who worked on the paintings with three of his Buffalo State art conservation students.
The oil paintings of Joyce; his wife, Nora; his father, Stanislaus; and others have not exactly been overexposed since they were brought to UB in 1950 by Charles Abbott, first director of the university libraries.
They’ve kept a deliberately low profile — along with other art once owned by the author — amid the world’s largest collection of Joyce memorabilia. Anyone can see the portraits by appointment in Capen Hall on the North Campus, but few besides Joyce scholars and the English faculty are aware of their unadvertised presence, said Michael Basinski, curator of the UB Poetry Collection and its crown jewel, the Joyce Collection.
“At least three of the portraits were restored in the 1970s and 1980s,” Hamm said. “What we wanted to do was continue to keep them together and looking good.”
Several of the works in the Joyce family collection were made in the 19th century, he noted. “The evidence of age was still there. Some were unvarnished; we just cleaned the dirt off, and they looked nice. Others were varnished 50 years ago or more; we didn’t remove those varnishes, so they will still look yellowish.”
The project “was more of an effort to make them appear in their best light without necessarily wiping away the passage of time,” Hamm added.
Though one of two portraits of Nora and that of Stanislaus have traveled to Ireland on loan, the exhibition next June in UB’s Anderson Gallery, on Martha Jackson Place in University Heights, will mark the first time the portraits have left campus as a group since Abbott whisked them out of France, Basinski said.
The show, featuring 200 objects, including the author’s manuscripts, walking sticks, notebooks and other memorabilia, as well as the paintings, will coincide with the June 13-17 Joyce conference, sponsored by the UB English department.
It will be the first time UB, which owns the world’s most extensive Joyce collection, has played host to the scholarly summit, which alternates yearly between the United States and Europe.
After the conference, the exhibition will travel to several U. S. locations.
“We’re negotiating with galleries and museums,” Basinski said. “We see it as a good opportunity to engage in conservation and education and to spread the Joyce lore to a wider circle.”
Images and text by The Buffalo News, USA