The Intimate Forest

A Celebration of the Beauty of Nature in Oil Paintings by Harlan


The Lady and the Lion

The story:

Many years ago a zookeeper at the Berlin Zoo had a daughter who raised a lion cub. The girl and the cub were very close. Time passed and the cub grew into a lion and she grew into a lady. Still they remained devoted to one another. Eventually she fell in love and decided to marry. The lion, not willing to loose his long time companion killed the young lady rather than see her leave. The papier mache construction shown below was made to commemorate these events.

In 2002 a friend of mine asked if I could come take a look at a large papier mache, three dimensional painting he had been given by the Brighton Historical Society. This piece had hung in the Canopy restaurant for many years prior to be given to the BHS. Because of its large size they no longer wanted to devote space to store the piece and had given it to my friend.

Roughly four feet by eight feet, the piece was in horrible condition when I first saw it. There were large holes, portions had actually broken off, considerable warping and the piece was extremely dirty. I felt the piece was worth saving but knew that I could only repair the piece, not restore it. My friend was agreeable.

My first task was to reattach the separated pieces, fill in the holes and generally reinforce the whole piece. Below you can see the front of the piece after I had patched it using acid free papers.

lady and the lion with some repairs

The back of the piece showed separation of the layers of paper which were turning brittle with age. I coated everything with acid free paper.

the back of the lady and the lion reinforced with acid free paper

After applying patches and reinforcement, I set about trying to ease out the warping that had resulted from the weight of the piece. I was able to ease much of the warping but unable to remove it completely from the piece without fear of doing more damage than good.

Examining the piece closely, I believe it had been repainted at least once in its lifetime. There were no records available to document how the piece may have looked originally. Attempts to clean the surface were not promising. I decided that the best course of action would be to paint the piece with acrylics which would have suitable flexibility for a piece that naturally would expand and contract over time. Below you can see the first coat.

lady and the lion first coat of paint

When I set about painting the piece I had to make many artistic decisions. The Lady and the Lion was destined to hang in the Stout restaurant, an Irish theme pub. Although spot lights would be placed to highlight the piece, the restaurant as a whole has a cozy darkness. Originally I had planned to "antique" the piece after completing the underpainting but abandoned that decision the more I worked on the piece.

lady and the lion re-painted

close up photo of the lady and the lion

close up photo of the lion

To add additional strength to the whole piece, I sealed a four by eight foot piece of plywood and used this as a backing, only attaching the papier mache around the edges. The piece was varnished with Liquitex acrylic varnishes to protect it and make it easy to clean. Gloss varnish was used for the lion's eyes to give them an increased glow. Satin and matt varnishes were used for the remainder of the piece.

When completed, the piece was returned to its original frame which consisted of very heavy wood and iron bars over the front. The iron bars represented the zoo enclosure.