Emergency Conservation of Fire, Water and Smoke Damaged Paintings

Fire and smoke damage


moke and soot damage is quite common with paintings that have been hanging close to fireplaces and in communal spaces where people have been smoking. Interestingly enough, church paintings tend to have suffered the most throughout the ages from smoke and soot damage as a result of exposure to votive candles. The most common sign of smoke and soot damage is the darkening of a paint layer and loss of vibrant colours, making the whole painting appear gloomy and dim. Thorough surface cleaning can restore the painting to its original state.

If the paint surface has in fact been exposed to fire or considerable heat and as a result has scorched, bubbled or blistered, the covering varnish will have most probably fused  into the paint. In that case, treatment is difficult but possible.  For example, equalization of the bubbled paint layer, filling and retouching can revive the aesthetic qualities of the work of art. 

Water damage

Water damage should be treated as soon as possible, as it can  accelerate deterioration of the painting in a short period of time. Direct contact with water can lead to deformation of the support, loss of colour, harmful strain on the canvas causing tears, chalking of the varnish layer and biological contamination of the support and paint layer.  In case of contamination, immediate treatment of fungi is needed for both the frame and the painting. In general, water damaged paintings require specialized treatment involving a gradual drying method, to avoid causing further shocks to canvas or panel.