Heat & Fire Damage

Fire Damaged Oil Paintings require special skills

The first consideration when dealing with an oil painting damaged by fire, or heat, is to consolidate the affected areas to prevent any further deterioration.

This landscape spent the latter part of its life positioned above a fireplace. You can see the distortions of the canvas, a result of uneven drying, causing the canvas to become brittle and stress between the canvas and paint. Fortunately the paint surface itself was not scorched. This allowed a fairly straightforward cleaning and re-lining process to 'flatten down' the canvas surface without affecting the impasto of the pigment and also reveal the fresh colour of the original landscape beneath.

Heat Damage 


Fire Damaged Oil Paintings - Considerations

Successful results in restoring fire damaged oil paintings, are obviously relative to the intensity and proximity of a painting to the fire source. If a picture has received an application of varnish it should ‘initially’ be protected from straightforward smoke contamination. However this ‘soot’ covering will contain toxic chemicals. This film will gradually penetrate and breakdown the varnish barrier, and expose the paint surface.

The old varnish should therefore be removed and replaced, sooner rather than later, if only as a preventive strategy, avoiding more costly work at a later date.

If the paint surface has been actually burnt or scorched, and has bubbled or blistered, it will have most probably fused any original covering varnish into the paint. If that varnish was also dirty, this will compound the problem.



Surface blistering of paint is not always due to heat damage. A similar configuration can be seen in early 19th Century, particularly portraits, when artists experimented with mixing bitumen to enhance black pigment. Over the years the paint has subsequently oxidised, and separated in the form of unsightly bulbous swelling and deep craquelure.

Bitumised Oil Painting

This detail of a late 19th Century Highland painting by Robert Cleminson shows moderate 'Bitumisation'. Early 19th Century examples can be far more dramatic!

We are unique as a team of professionally trained, practicing Fine Artists, specialising in portraiture and landscapes. Our combined knowledge of period styles and techniques provide the skills to sympathetically match any areas of a painting that has been destroyed.


Some years ago we restored a small collection of fine Victorian paintings bought by one of our trade clients from an auction in India. On arrival to us from the shippers, we discovered that the actual cleaning of some of them was problematic with regard to removing the old varnish. These paintings were possibly transported to India during the times of the Raj, and exposed to the extremely hot climate, which had literally baked the varnish coating and body colour together. We eventually found a successful cleaning formula, and restored them back to full gallery condition.