Penn Dental restores priceless yet unknown art collection

After being tucked away in storage for decades, pieces of priceless art from the late 19th century that are owned by the School of Dental Medicine are being restored to their original splendor.

Since 2010, Penn’s Office of the Curator has been working to refurbish more than a dozen items from the Thomas W. Evans Collection, which includes paintings, sculptures, and other gifts from French Emperor Napoleon III and his wife, the Empress Eugenie, and other European royalty who were patients of Evans. A Philadelphia native, Evans lived and worked as a dentist in Paris for most of his life.

Napoleon III

Penn Dental/Thomas W. Evans Collection

A portrait of French Emperor Napoleon I, part of Penn Dental’s Thomas W. Evans Collection. A Philadelphia native, Evans was a dentist for Napoleon III and other European royalty, and Penn Dental’s earliest benefactor.

Penn Dental’s 40th and Spruce street location rests on the site of the former Evans family home, which he donated to create a dental institute and museum. The museum was shut down to make space for the growing school, and in the 1980s, some works of art were sold at auction, while many of the remaining items were put into storage.

Shortly after Penn Dental Dean Denis F. Kinane arrived at the University in 2009, he learned about the Evans Collection and led the effort to restore the pieces.

“They have a lot of history and I think we have to preserve that history,” says Kinane.

Working together with University Curator Lynn Marsden-Atlass, they selected pieces in the collection for conservation and display.

“The importance of this collection is that it is a legacy of Evans,” says Marsden-Atlass. “It was seen by him as an equal legacy for building the Dental School.”

One of the recently restored items is the Prometheus Bound Urn, produced by Mintons. The earthenware piece was significantly damaged while in storage. The urn’s lid, featuring a scene with Prometheus and an eagle, was reattached and now shows its essential elements. It is under the care of the Office of the Curator.

Other conserved items, including a painting of a military scene by Gustav Neymark, porcelain figurines, and Napoleon III’s letter holder, are on display in the Dental School.

The Henri-Louis Dupray painting of Napoleon I on horseback, Kinane’s favorite from the Collection, hangs in his office.

As the Dental School prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2015, the conservation of the Evans Collection honors its benefactor.

“My aim is to preserve this history so that it’ll be passed on for the next hundred years,” says Kinane.

Originally published on July 17, 2014