Restoration of the 14, 000 sq. ft. of wall paintings in the seven-corridor system known as the Brumidi Corridors on the first floor of the U.S. Senate has been an on-going project undertaken by Cunningham-Adams since 1991.
Painted by Constantino Brumidi and a team of European painters between 1857 and 1859 (with additions continuing through the ‘70’s), the decoration is dominated by multiple trompe l’oeil polychrome panels. The walls are painted to look as if they were divided into panels surrounded by three-dimensional carved stone moldings with colored inlays of red and turquoise. The interiors of the trompe l’oeil panels are richly ornamented in extraordinary variety including trompe l’oeil rinceaux and candelabra appointed with a dazzling array of detail including plants, flowers, birds, small mammals, and insects. A variety of painting materials were used to execute the paint layer, including the oil-casein, protein tempera in emulsion with oil, oil on its own, resinous binding media, along with calcium carbonate washes and other combinations of some of these.
Our initial year-long study of the murals in 1990 indicated that the paintings were intact but buried under up to six layers of overpaint that had been applied in previous restoration efforts, often to camouflage past damage in the paint layer. Due to the porous quality of the original surface, the safest way to remove the overpaint covering it was to par it off with a scalpel layer by layer, inch by inch.
Upon exposure of the original we repaired and physical or aesthetic damage we found. Before addressing the surfaces however, we identified and mapped areas of failure in the underlying plaster and stabilized them with an infusion technique we developed specifically for the plaster at the Capitol. The technique allows continuous infusion of consolidant into the plaster at controllable pressure over an indefinite period and has produced excellent results.
Since the project began, we have restored several hundred linear feet of the walls and ceilings and witnessed a monumental change in the appearance of the public spaces on the ground floor of the Senate Wing in what is the largest conservation/restoration project the Capitol has ever undertaken in caring for its historic decor.