A painting of Niagara Falls that was stored for decades—one of the first donated to the Buscaglia-Castellani Art Gallery on the DeVeaux campus of Niagara University—is now on display for the first time since it was acquired, thanks to funding from a NYSCA/GHHN Conservation Treatment grant and the talents of local art conservator Eileen Sullivan of Aurora Art Conservation, LLC.
“I just wanted it to come back to life,” said Mary Helen Miskuly, Castellani Art Museum registrar, who spearheaded the effort to conserve the artwork, “Niagara Falls (from the Canadian side),” an oil on canvas painted circa 1855-1875. “I knew there was hope for it underneath all the dirt, and I felt that it was important because the landmarks that are in the painting are really important to the history of the Falls.”
Although the artist has not been confirmed, Miskuly believes the painting is the work of Canadian artist Robert Reginald Whale, who painted several views of the Falls from the Canadian side.
The project was of particular importance to Miskuly, who visited the Buscaglia-Castellani Art Gallery often as a child growing up in the DeVeaux area of Niagara Falls and takes a special interest in artwork that showcases the cataracts. Once she saw the painting, she advocated for conservation and in 2019, applied for grant funding for support.
Miskuly also reached out to Sullivan to take on the project, which started with cleaning all the pieces before attaching them to a new backing and repainting the damaged and missing parts of the artwork. Although the funding did not completely finance the entire project, Sullivan donated the remainder of the time it took to complete the conservation.
Newly reframed, the artwork, the gift of Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Scott of Lewiston, N.Y., in 1979, has been on display at the Castellani Art Museum since June 2021 as part of an exhibition titled “Artists View the Falls: 300 Years of Niagara Falls Imagery.”
“It’s really exciting to see people come in and view it because I think it’s different from most of the other pieces we have on display,” Miskuly said. “There’s a lot going on and there’s so much detail in it.”
With one conservation complete, Miskuly is now focusing on other paintings that need attention, including a painting of Niagara University by Danish artist Ferdinand Richardt, who was famous for his paintings of Niagara Falls.
“It’s been my goal to get these unseen artworks conserved so we can share them,” she said. “At the museum, we’re entrusted to be the stewards of this artwork. We don’t always have the funds to be able to conserve paintings when we want to, but when there’s one that’s as important to the heritage of our area as these, I feel it’s really important that we find a way to make it happen.”