The Fallibility of Judges
The district court for the Southern District of New York is the second largest federal courthouse in the United States as well as one of the most influential federal courts. Past judges of the court include Justice Sonia Sotomayor and former Attorney General
Michael B. Mukasey. Prominent cases heard in the Court include the espionage case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and the government challenge to the New York Times’s Pentagon Papers.
The United States district court for New York recently celebrated the 225th Anniversary of the first session which predates the first sitting of the United States Supreme Court by several months. It is currently located in the impressive Daniel Patrick Moynihan Courthouse at 500 Pearl street in lower Manhattan.
Lowy is proud to have had the opportunity to become a part of this illustrious heritage by restoring many important portraits for the courthouse. Recently, Lowy conserved two particularly interesting paintings. One was a full-length portrait of Chief Justice John Marshall, the distinguished fourth Chief Justice of the United States who served under six presidents and was the longest serving Chief Justice. The portrait is now displayed in the main lobby of the Courthouse. Lowy also restored a controversial portrait of the disgraced federal appeals judge, Martin T. Manton, who was in fact almost appointed to the United States Supreme court but resigned in 1939 in disgrace and was imprisoned for corruption.
The 1924 portrait by Benjamin Landis of Chief Justice Marshall was painted after the original 1830 Chester Harding portrait which hangs in the Boston Athenaeum. Covered with a discolored natural resin varnish and years of heavy embedded dirt, the painting was also cracking and flaking in some areas and there were surface distortions caused by several patches on the verso covering tears. Lowy conservators first removed the patches and consolidated the areas of lifting paint. The canvas was humidified on a vacuum table to relax surface distortions, lined to an auxiliary canvas for support, and then restretched. Varnish, dirt, and areas of previous overpaint were removed where possible to do so; tears and other damages were filled and inpainted. The painting was finally given a new coat of a synthetic varnish to protect the surface. The original 1920’s cove frame had been gilded in metal leaf which had subsequently severely discolored. Lowy finishers regilded the frame and refinished it in an appropriate patina for the painting. After having been beautifully returned to its original condition, the newly restored portrait of Chief Justice John Marshall now proudly adorns a prominent wall in the lobby of the Southern District Courthouse.
The portrait of Judge Martin T. Manton was painted by Jassa Salganik in 1922. The painting had been previously relined to an additional canvas to support a long tear in the lower left which had been badly restored. There was substantial cupping and cracking distorting the surface and the painting was obscured by a very discolored layer of natural varnish and embedded dirt.
Lowy removed the old unsuccessful lining canvas and wax adhesive from the verso, humidified the canvas, and mended the tear; the painting was then relined to a new canvas and restretched. Discolored varnish, dirt and discolored previous restorations were removed; the tear and other damages were inpainted and the surface was protected with a new coat of synthetic varnish. The painting was refit into its original early 20 th century frame.
Many portraits are prominently hung in the chambers and courtrooms of the district court, however this painting is currently displayed in the back offices of the courthouse. The late Judge Charles Brieant Jr had displayed the painting for many years and used to tell people, it is displayed “as a reminder of the fallibility of judges”.
Top: Lowy President Larry Shar stands with the completed portrait of Chief Justice Marshall in situ at the courthouse
Center right: close up of the damages on the Chief Justice Marshall portrait prior to treatment
Bottom left: Judge Martin T. Manton portrait prior to treatment
Bottom right: Judge Martin T. Manton portrait hung in the back offices of the courthouse, post treatment