First look: Work underway in Edinburgh to restore Eduardo Paolozzi's 'Vulcan' sculpture to its former glory

Alastair Patten, senior art handling technician, is among the experts taking part in Vulcan's makeover.
Alastair Patten, senior art handling technician, is among the experts taking part in Vulcan's makeover.
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One of Edinburgh's most iconic works of art is undergoing a monumental makeover.

A 24ft tall half-man, half-machine sculpture which has pride of place in the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is being restored to its former glory.

Senior conservation technician Graham Taylor gets a close look at the top of Vulcan 20 years after its installation in the gallery.

Senior conservation technician Graham Taylor gets a close look at the top of Vulcan 20 years after its installation in the gallery.

Commissioned from the Leith-born artist Eduardo Paolozzi for the former Victorian orphanage where the sculpture has been on display for the last 20 years.

The creature, said to represent the Roman god of fire who forged weapons for the gods and heroes, reaches from the ground floor to the ceiling of the former Dean Gallery building. As Vulcan was lame, Paolozzi added a support to the sculpture.

It is expected to take three days to give Vulcan, who is shown swinging his hammer and marching across the Great Hall, a "thorough clean and dusting off."

A team of expert conservationsists is carefully wrapping and unwrapping different sections of the sculpture and using various tools and solutions for the restoration.

Vulcan's makeover at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is expected to take three days to complete. Picture: Neil Hanna.

Vulcan's makeover at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is expected to take three days to complete. Picture: Neil Hanna.

The work is being done at the moment during a temporary closure of the gallery and its cafe, which will be renamed Paolozzi's Kitchen when it opens later this month in honour of the artist.

The former Dean Orphan Hospital, which opened in 1833, was converted into a new visual art attraction in 1999 to help showcase the National Galleries of Scotland's extensive colleciton of Dada and Surrealist art and also to house a generous gift by Paolozzi of a large collection of his work. The gallery also features a recreation of his studio.

A spokeswoman for the National Galleries said: "A team of skilled conservationsists is undertaking this epic cleaning task over the course of three days, where they will carefully wrap and unwrap different sections of the sculpture and using a variety of tools and solutions for the restorations to restore Vulcan to its former glory."

Patrick Elliott, chief curator of modern and contemporary art at the National Galleries, added: "Vulcan was made by Paolozzi specifically for the building and came in through the front door in thirteen parts. These were then welded together on site, in time for the opening of the gallery in 1999.

Eduardo Paolozzi was specially commissioned to create Vulcan for a new art gallery create in a former orphanage.

Eduardo Paolozzi was specially commissioned to create Vulcan for a new art gallery create in a former orphanage.

"We’ve brushed it down regularly since then, using long-handled brushes, but this is the first really thorough, deep clean it has had in 20 years. It looks fabulous, like new.”

Born in Leith in 1924 to Italian immigrants, Paolozzi studied in Edinburgh and London before working in Paris. A key figure in Britain's "Pop Art" movement, he would go on to become one of the most influential Scottish artists of all-time. He passed away in 2005 at the age of 81.