In New York, Taking Years Off the Old, Famous Faces Adorning City Hall

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“Is that just a bust?” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg asked. “Or is that a figment of his imagination?”

Mr. Bloomberg was regarding a ghostly head floating at the edge of a 154-year-old portrait of Hamilton Fish by Thomas Hicks that hangs outside the mayoral bullpen at City Hall. Though the head is transparent enough to be an apparition, it probably is just a bust.

The point is, you can’t tell.

Details, color and life in the painting have been hidden by pollutants, dirt, varnishes and the smoke of smoke-filled rooms. And that is true of much of City Hall’s historical portrait collection, 108 paintings from the late 18th century through the 20th, almost unrivaled as an ensemble, with several masterpieces.

Today, the mayor will announce a fund-raising campaign to conserve the portraits. The restoration work itself, by Kenneth S. Moser, has begun, and six portraits have already been refurbished. The announcement is to highlight the fact that the CIT Group, a financial company, and its chairman and chief executive, Jeffrey M. Peek, will pay the cost of conserving five paintings.

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