James Wall Finn was once known as one of the finest interior decorative painters in North America. As a muralist for Tiffany Studios, he completed large-scale works of art for millionaires like John Jacob Astor IV, Payne Whitney, J.P. Morgan, and Thomas Fortune Ryan. Some of Finn’s most enduring creations, however, were an assortment of murals he painted for the New York Public Library's Stephen A. Schwarzman Building at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.
One of these works—a mural of the sky—hung on the ceiling of the building's Bill Blass Catalog Room for 105 years. But, according to the NYPL, last June a conservator inspected the 27-by-33-foot painting and discovered it had “sustained irreparable damage, loss of original paint, discoloration, patch jobs and unsophisticated overpaint” over the century. Since both the library’s Bill Blass Catalog Room and Rose Main Reading Room were already undergoing repairs, the library decided to restore Finn’s sky mural to its former glory.
EverGreene Architectural Arts, a specialty contractor and design studio, and muralist Zinni Veshi are leading the $45,000 effort to recreate the painting. (EverGreene also recreated Finn’s murals in the Library’s Rose Main Reading Room during its full renovation in 1998.)
Bill Mensching, Director of Murals at EverGreene Architectural Arts, said in a release: "Our goal as artists was to honor Finn’s concept, and complete the series of murals that are timeless in their clarity, movement and gradations of color."
Veshi echoed this sentiment in an interview with The New York Times. “It’s not a matter of imitation but connection,” he said.
The painting won't be back on display until the Bill Blass Catalog Room reopens in the fall. Until then, you can check out the NYPL's timelapse video of the painstaking restoration process above.
Photo Credit: NYPL/Jonathan Blanc