"Commerce on the landing"
by Louis Grell
Conservation of oil paintings
SZELAG ART CONSERVATION INC.
Three oil paintings on boards by Louis Grell after restoration
in Szelag Art Conservation Inc.
In March 2014 three big panels were discovered behind the false wall during the
renovation of the hotel and terminal at Union Station. Paintings were painted on canvas
in 1942 by Chicago artist Louis Grell. They were mounted above curved ticket counter
and for over 40 years in St.Louis, passengers could enjoy the view of the historical
Saint Louis Union Station designed
by Theodor C. Link (German emigrant)
was opened in 1894 and was one of
the busiest train stations in the world
and in the 1940's served up to 100.000
Passenger train leaving
Union Station, St.Louis
Lodging Hospitality Management , the owner of the hotel and the station decided to hire Szelag
Art Conservation Inc. to do the conservation of the artwork of Louis Grell. After the delivery of
paintings to our facility, "Commerce on the landing" was carefully examined and photographed.
The condition of the paintings was very bad. Canvases ( two 7 x 10 feet and one 7 x 8 feet),
which were removed in 1985 from the wall above the ticket counter were damaged (torn) during
the removal process and many parts of the original paint layer were lost (right panel).
Canvases were attached to the boards and to specially constructed supporting frames. After 40
years at Union Station in the environment of heavy cigarette smoke, paintings in 1985 were
covered with a thick layer of smoke and dirt.
Canvases were cleaned many times between 1942 and 1985. We think, that because it was
done by non professionals, the tools used for cleaning (probably also used for window cleaning)
left hundreds of vertical scratches on all three panels.
During the 1985 restoration, paintings were mounted on the boards, superficially cleaned, areas
with missing paint layers were partially filled and overpainted, most of the vertical scratches
were also overpainted. Sky parts, ground parts and some figures on the canvases also received
a lot of heavy retouches. Unfortunately, on these parts, original colors were changed. Paintings
were covered with a heavy layer of old yellowed varnish.
Grell paintings before restorations
Vertical scratches in different places
Panels construction and sample damages
All of the panels were first consolidated as necessary with adhesive applied to areas of
cleavage, tears and cracks. The wooden supporting frame was reinforced and secured. Torn
and delaminating edges of canvas were re-attached.
On all the paintings, the surface dirt and grime were removed. Oxidized, thick layer of
yellowed resin varnish was removed as safety permits. Some heavy retouches and overpaints
were also removed as safety permits to reveal the real colors. In some areas old remnants of
smoke were also removed.
After cleaning and prior to inpainting panels were covered with an isolating varnish to saturate
the colors. All cracks and areas with missing paint/ground were filled and prepared for
retouches. Damaged areas were retouched and inpainted. All three paintings were covered
with final layers of synthetic conservation varnish.
Applying isolating varnish
LOUIS GRELL MURALS AT UNION STATION, ST. LOUIS