Craig Deller 

Conservation of Historic & Artistic Objects

Student Project-Fire & Water Damaged Painting

School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Historic Preservation Program

Surface Conservation Lab – Spring 2013


Client: Academic Exercise


Object Description: 

A painting measuring 25 3/8” x 31 5/8”. Oil on artist’s board, reinforced with wooden braces.

The work of Amedee-Julien Marcel-Clément (b. 1873), of Paris. An oil painter of post-impressionist style, whose subjects include landscapes, seascapes, and Parisian cityscapes. Marcel-Clement premiered at The Salon Nationale des Beaux-Arts in 1903. His career spans from that date through the 1920s.(1)

• The subject of this painting: a nocturnal Parisian street scene featuring a horse-drawn coach, a pair of ladies accompanied by a dog, on a cobblestone road of an urban boulevard sparsely lined by trees.

• The painting is set in a frame of wood with molded plaster and gilding. The outer edge of the frame measures 35” x 40½”


Object Condition: 

 Painting was been subjected to heat and smoke from a house fire as well as water used to extinguish it - water which subsequently froze. The condition of the painting was poor, and donated to the SAIC-HPRES conservation course. Exposure to water had caused the varnish of the painting to bloom and considered (by the owner) as beyond salvation. The combination of moisture and heat had caused the artists board substrate to warp slightly although the substrate remained stable.

The structure of the frame had remained intact although the gilding had curled and flaked away in many places. Both the painting and frame had been copiously covered in soot.


Treatment Summary: 

The painting was separated from its frame and the two were treated separately

The Painting: Solvent tests and historical research on oil paintings of the period, the varnish was determined to be a dammar. This resin varnish was cleaned with aqueous based solution commonly referred to as “artificial saliva” (2). Brushes and cotton swabs were used to gently scrub the painting’s surface removing a dark layer of soot. The saliva was then rinsed with distilled water applied by brush and dried immediately.


UV analysis confirmed that the painting’s varnish was intact, although water damaged that resulted in severe blooming. It was decided that this varnish could not be retained and visually compromised the painting. It was therefore determined that the varnish should be removed. Free-solvent ethanol was gently applied with cotton swabs to the test area and successfully removed the varnish without swelling the painting layer. Once the tests demonstrated success with free-solvent ethanol alone, the process was advanced to cotton balls. Partially working under ultra-violent fluorescence, the varnish layer was removed. The painting was then coated with a fresh layer of a 10% dammar resin in a xylene solution with a brush. The areas of paint loss were blended with the surrounding areas with dry pigments in a 5% B-72 xylene vehicle.


Frame: The water gilded layer frame, and the gesso, were mostly intact and stable. Areas of friable leaf were consolidated with rabbit skin glue, applied with brushes. and cleaned with free-solvent ethanol using cotton swabs to remove soot and ash. The areas of loss, isolated by a layer of B72, were then in-painted using mica powders in a 5% B-72 xylene vehicle. (This treatment was detailed in a separate report)


• Examination and treatment by: Craig Deller & students

• Treatment Design by: Craig Deller & students

• Photographed by: Erin Weevers

• Daily Treatment Records by: Erin Weevers

• Treatment Summary Edited and Prepared by: Jeremy Spates and Craig Deller.


(1) Amedee Julien Marcel-Clement was born in Paris on 15th September, 1873. He painted various subjects including landscapes, seascapes, wildlife and Parisian scenes. In 1903 he made his debut at the Salon de la Nationale des Beaux-Arts and he continued to exhibit there and at the Salon des Independents for many years. Between 1913 and 1914 he also exhibited in England at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool and at the Royal Scottish Academy.

Although Marcel-Clement resided in Paris for virtually all his life, he only painted a relatively small number of views of his native city. The majority of his works are shipping subjects off the French coast and it is for these works that he is best known. His coastal views capture the dramatic atmosphere of light emanating from the sky and bouncing off the sea. His palette is natural and he uses varied greys and blues interspersed with whites and creams to evoke the silvery quality of both sky and sea. Using simplified forms and abstracted surfaces the sails of the boats are evoked with astonishing realism. The viewer is drawn into the scene as if he were actually there.

Exhibited : Salon Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Salon des Independents


(2): Artificial Saliva

200 ml distilled water

4 grams citric acid

10 ml Triethanolamine

.1 ml Triton XL80N

3 gr methyl cellulose (4000 cps)

pH adjusted to 8 with NaOH (sodium hydroxide)

Craig Deller has been teaching the Interior Surfaces Conservation Lab in the Historic Preservation graduate program at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago since 1999.


These hands-on, all day labs teaches the basics guidelines, ethics and techniques.


Many small-medium sized museums have benefited by the

pro-bono work performed by the students during their training.


Students have learned proper and

re-treatable treatments on a wide variety of materials; stone, terra-cotta, wood, metals, glass and more.

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