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Home Built Around a 10’ by 12’ Painting. A 28 year saga to purchase a Vienna, VA resident’s Great Grandfather’s painting from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts: After restoring it to its 1869 finery, he (a UMass ’60 Graduate) and his wife build a house around it.

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home built around a 10 by 12 painting
Home Built Around a 10’ by 12’ Painting

A 28 year saga to purchase a Vienna, VA resident’s Great Grandfather’s painting from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts: After restoring it to its 1869 finery, he (a UMass ’60 Graduate) and his wife build a house around it.


In 1869, Peter Janssen, of Dusseldorf, Germany, completed his first oil panting which had been commissioned by a wealthy Philadelphian who no longer wanted it. It was bought by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (above), the oldest art institution in the US (1805), which had made the decision in the mid-1800s to buy and bring home paintings from European masters rather than send their students to Europe to study art under the masters. Peter Janssen was to become a famous German artist and this was his first of hundreds of oil paintings decorating museums, castles and corporate headquarters throughout Europe. Lori’s distant cousin, Stefan Kotthaus chronicled its restoration and the building of a home around a painting in this website: www.janssenart.de/pjalt/restoration/house/index.html


Peter Denying Christ hung in the PAFA (above) for about 100 years. In the mid 1970’s it was put into storage as PAFA which ran out of display space, moved toward becoming an ‘all American artists’ institution, about the same time my husband, Lori Beer, started pursing this family heirloom. His family had left Germany in 1935. A wonderful, colorful story ensued and in 2005 he took his reluctant new bride to see this 10’ x 12’ painting which would not fit into our standard split level house with 8’ ceilings. The painting by luck had been ‘discovered’ when his parents in 1979, received a 2-volume PhD Biography of Peter Janssen and thus began a 28 year journey to see, negotiate, purchase, restore and place it in their Vienna home.


When Lyn saw the painting it left her speechless. Lyn, a Certified Kitchen Designer, was now on a 4-pronged renovation design mission: 1) to create the perfect space for this “must-have” family heirloom, 2) to add a new master level area for their new marriage to what had been only her house, 3) to convert a split level by doubling its size but protecting its advantages and 4) finally to do Lyn’s own kitchen into the ‘kitchen of kitchens’ … all in the style befitting a world masterpiece. Unfortunately, the painting was in terrible shape with creases, granulation and holes as large as 8”x10”.


Accommodating a 10 x 12’ painting took some real planning. Lyn viewed similar paintings at the National Art Gallery and designed the room 16’ by 21’ with a 14’ ceiling. A painting this large needed to be seen with a single view and not by moving one’s head. Special UV protective glass doors, strictly controlled temperatures, no sunlight on the painting and specially designed lighting all were required once the painting was restored.


The painting room, originally called the Viewing Room by Lori was quickly dismissed as an appropriate name since it sounded like an undertaker’s room, suddenly became the Museum Room. Under construction the painting needed to hang on the south wall, with the west wall facing a nice backyard, of windows and oversized sliding glass doors which could be removed to get the painting in and out…if only once.


The next step was to find an expert in conservation who could restore the painting without breaking Lori and Lyn Beer’s bank account. From a series of calls, conservators all shied away when they heard the size of the painting. Back to the PAFA, where Lori was led to the Conservators of Winterthur (the Wilmington, DE Dupont estate) and finally to Artex which by a stroke of coincidence, was located 5 minutes from Lori’s company. What Artex did, for a reasonable price, was a stroke of genius through the efforts of Barbara Ramsay, Conservation Director, and Peter Nelson, Principal Conservator. It took 6 months horizontally to stretch the painting and then 2 more years vertically with scaffolding, to restore it.


The culmination of 28 years of “working the problem”. It was finally moved into their house. Then Lori and Lyn decided that as long as they were having a Museum room, why not add another floor, master bedroom and bathroom, and a new kitchen all to match the painting’s magnificence. An initial ‘Museum’ room suddenly gained a life of its own.


A second story was needed over the single storied side to allow for the height of the new “painting room” off the back. This became the obvious perfect space for the new master area which included a bedroom, walk-in closet, bathroom, and project room all on the 4th level.


At the same time the master rooms were added, Lyn designed and built the ultimate kitchen which needed to be befitting of a European masterpiece, and which could be contiguous with the Museum room for entertaining art aficionados or other ‘Janssen’ relatives. The 8’ ceiling kitchen led with stairs and a raised ceiling, to a 14’ tall room.


And finally after 2 ½ years of construction, the day has come when the painting was restored and installed, the house was complete, and Lori and Lyn could finally enjoy it. What had started with a casual conversation between man and wife, with the wife saying ‘Lori, we’ll go see it but there isn’t a prayer that we will put a 10x12’ painting into our 8’ ceiling house’, had finally ended with the painting being returned to its rightful home for all to enjoy…and we are sure that Peter Janssen is proud of what his great grandson’s family did!