Watercolors of the Acropolis: Emile Gilliéron in Athens from The Met Museum


By Joan R. Mertens and Lisa Conte In the days before color photography, hand-colored drawings and photographs were the principal means of documenting polychrome Greek art. Beginning in the late 1870s, Émile Gilliéron recorded major archaeological discoveries in Greece shortly after their excavation. This Bulletin, accompanying an exhibition of five watercolors by Gilliéron, features the Swiss draftsman’s drawings of sculptures from the Athenian Acropolis. On view for decades after their acquisition, Gilliéron’s watercolors were eventually retired to The Met’s basement, likely in the late 1940s, before the advent of modern conservation practices. Reproductions and copies fell out of fashion, and Gilliéron’s work remained in storage until 2015. In addition to telling the story of the watercolors during Gilliéron’s time, this Bulletin follows the conservators’ heroic efforts to rehabilitate these forgotten pieces. Images of the conserved watercolors, published here for the first time, provide fascinating insight into the sculptures found at the Acropolis as they appeared when they were first unearthed around the turn of the century.

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