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"Torso of the Kneeling Woman" by Wilhelm Lehmbruck (1911/13)

A restoration of the Wilhem Lehmbruck’s Torso der Knienden (Torso of the Kneeling Woman), which a museum visitor accidently knocked over at the Alte Nationalgalerie in July 1989, was initially considered unpromising. The fall had caused immense and presumably irreparable damage to the sculpture.

The challenge lay in the complicated nature of the damage occurrence due to the artwork’s technological peculiarities and unusual combination of different materials. Nonetheless, on the basis of various preliminary investigations a concept for finding an aesthetically acceptable solution that considered the work’s production technology and corresponded to its previous sculptural condition was developed and partially implemented beginning in 1990‒91.

Due to restructuring resulting from German reunification, the restoration measures could not be continued in the years that followed. It was not until 2020‒21 that it became possible to complete the restoration of this exceptional statue thanks to generous financial support from the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung.

Damage assessment immediately after the accident. Due to the sculpture’s composition consisting of an outer monochrome-coloured plaster layer supported by reinforced concrete, the impact caused deformation, with cracks in the hard substructure and fractures in the soft outer layer. © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Karin März, 1989

In addition to joining the sculpture’s three larger sections, fragments of different sizes had to be remapped, glued from the reverse, and – depending on the material thickness – stabilised or laminated with a new support layer. The base post also had to structurally renewed because of its rusted reinforced steel. © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Nina Wegel, 2020

Using an X-ray in their efforts to realign the scupture’s skewed form, restorers were able cut into the reinforcement system, which had been distorted by compression and stretching; loosen some areas of the concrete together with the ajoining plaster layer; and divide the torso into three large parts for futher handling. © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Wolfgang Maßmann, 1990

The condition of the lower section of the body, including new stainless-steel reinforcement bars for connecting it to the upper portion of the body, and a larger fragment of the back prior to the steps undertaken in 2020–21. ©  Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Nina Wegel, 2020

Cleaning the sculpture and improving its stability were accompanied by final measures that included sealing its surface, filling in missing fragments, and retouching the repairs to match the original colouration. © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Nina Wegel, 2020

It was possible to restore this important sculpture by Wilhelm Lehmbruck and to make it accessible to visitors again. © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Nina Wegel, Berlin

Project management/restoration: Wolfgang Maßmann, head of the Restoration Department, Antikensammlung (Collection of Classical Antiquities)
Restoration: Nina Wegel, freelance conservator