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Victoria Mansion

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Image Credit: Victoria Mansion

Victoria Mansion
109 Danforth Street

Portland, Maine

Victoria Mansion is now open for the season for its regular historic tours beginning May 1, 2024

Location: Victoria Mansion 109 Danforth Street, Portland, Maine

Guests are among the first to see the fully conserved Parlor, open again at long last after a more than 24-month restoration period in addition to 2020 closures. The results of our conservators’ efforts are nothing short of breathtaking. 

Today Victoria Mansion contains over 90% of the original interiors including almost all of the original wall paintings by the Italian-born artist Giuseppe Guidicini, a master of the trompe l’oeil(“fool the eye”) style; many surfaces in the house appear to be three-dimensional and warrant a second look.

Ghostly Paint and a Mansion Mystery

Credit: Victoria Mansion Newsletter – September-October 2022 Issue, Autumn at Victoria Mansion

If you have visited Victoria Mansion and taken a close look at the wall paintings of the “flower girls” on the first floor of the stair hall, you’ve probably seen some evidence of writing underneath each of the canvases. The female figures each personify a different flower; during the Victorian period, the “language of flowers” assigned significant attributes to a variety of flowers, plants, and combinations thereof. Only one of the flower girls in the stair hall, “the Bloom of the Heather,” is identifiable through a legible inscription (above). Past curator Arlene Palmer Schwind was able to identify all but one of the others through design sources.

We have recently become aware of writing on the second floor hall as well, underneath one of the scenes of rural life. Interestingly, the label, which reads “Music”, doesn’t match the canvas above it: the canvas depicts a woman holding a flower casually talking with a seated man weaving baskets. However, a duo of musicians appear in a canvas on the opposite side of the hall. Staff also noticed faint evidence of an inscription underneath another of the second floor canvases, which depicts a woman fishing as others seem to gossip behind her, located on the stairs leading to the west side of the hall, but it was too faded to be legible.

Good conservation practice requires that we fully document these faint inscriptions and ensure their preservation throughout the cleaning process now unfolding in the stair hall. Early one morning, conservators Gianfranco Pocobene (left in the photo) and Corrine Long (Right in photo) set up to take infrared photos of the areas surrounding each of the canvases, testing to see if any inscriptions survived underneath the final coats of paint. Notice the tint on the screen of Gianfranco’s camera: a result of the infrared lens.

Gianfranco determined through the infrared tests that the inscriptions appeared to have only been written on top of the paint, possibly in graphite, which means that, unfortunately, much of the evidence of what had been written has simply washed or worn away. However, infrared photography did reveal some of the painterly sketching underneath the finished work, revealing ghostly lines. Some of these lines are even visible to the naked eye, as shown below. Giuseppe Guidicini, who designed and oversaw the painted decoration in the Mansion, and his team painted several of the intricate designs freehand.

Victoria Mansion on YouTube:

Also known as the Morse-Libby House, Victoria Mansion was built between 1858 and 1860 as a summer home for two people, Ruggles Sylvester Morse and his wife Olive. They were both from Maine originally, but Morse made his fortune in New Orleans where he operated luxury hotels. This spectacular summer home was designed by the architect Henry Austin of New Haven, CT and is widely considered one of the finest examples of the Italian Villa style in America. Strategically located near the city’s earliest gas and sewer lines, the house was a model of elegance and convenience with hot and cold running water, flush toilets, central heating, gas lights, a servant call-bell system, wall to wall carpeting, and a 25 foot long stained glass skylight.

Victoria Mansion is a much-loved Portland landmark but its significance extends far beyond Maine. Distinguished for its architecture and its extraordinary original interiors, it is among the most important historic homes of the nineteenth century anywhere in the nation. As an organization, our mission is to conserve, maintain, and restore this one-of-a-kind property, and share its history with the public.



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