Restored Washington bust on display in California

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A marble bust of President George Washington that was discarded after an 1851 fire in the US Capitol building has been restored and put on display this week at a museum in California.

A Christmas Eve blaze some 160 years ago at Washington DC's famed Library of Congress consumed thousands of books and burned the 33-inch (2.75-foot, 83.8-centimeter) sculpture, which art experts had thought was lost forever.

Given to the United States by France, the bust was an 1832 work by the French artist Pierre-Jean David, who went by the name David d'Angers and created some of the most admired likenesses of his day.

Conservationists said the charred, unrecognizable work had been purchased by a marble scrap dealer in 1914 for $25 from someone who had buried it in the backyard of his home.

The sculpture was acquired in 1924 for $3,500 by railroad magnate Henry Huntington for his eponymously named museum in San Marino, some 12 miles (19 kilometers) northeast of Los Angeles.

But the bust was kept mostly in storage for decades until it was spotted just last year in a storage room by Ann Hess, chief curator of European Art at the Huntington.

After authenticating its provenance, she had it cleaned, refurbished and restored to a place of honor at the Huntington museum.

© 2011 AFP

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