Case Study

Historical Rewards:

A Dutch and a Flemish Discovery

Egbert van der Poel
"Barn Interior"
Before Treatment

"Barn Interior" Examination

8/5/08 to 8/11/08
A darkened barn interior is represented. Light enters the room through an open half-door. On the left, a large ladder is placed next to a seated woman who appears to be preparing food in a shallow mixing bowl. Two children, one seated and one standing, are placed next to a single-wheeled cart in the central area. The standing child appears to be drinking from a container. In the recessional right area, two men, also one seated and one standing, seem to be smoking clay pipes. The foreground is littered with a variety of pots and bowls as well as numerous fowl. The painting is unsigned and undated.

The painting, "Barn Interior," entered the collection of Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, in the fall of 2007 as a gift from the estate of Dr. Cornelis van Nuis. (8) Dr. van Nuis was a neurologist in Grand Rapids who emigrated from the Netherlands to the United States in 1952. In an undated note, van Nuis stated, "I received this painting from my late uncle in the Netherlands, Doede van Nuis." (9) There is no earlier provenancial information associated with the painting. Dr. van Nuis goes on to note that he showed the painting to a "visiting Sotheby expert who attributed the painting to Egbert van der Poel." (10)

The image has been painted on an oak panel measuring H. 13 1/4" x W. 20 1/4" x T. 3/16". The support exhibits a minor horizontal convex warp. A previously repaired crack running horizontally through the panel at H. 3" to 3 1/4" is evident. The surface shows scattered wormholes, most pronounced below the former split. The horizontal wood grain is evident throughout. The verso contains no inscriptions or markings although there are five glue circles from a former backing. Remnants of a brown cloth are still embedded in the glue.

Egbert van der Poel
"Barn Interior"
Panel Verso

The ground, which has been thinly and evenly applied, was probably white when first applied but is now darkened from oil staining and the panel's tone. The gesso appears to be calcium carbonate and is well intact. There are no areas where the artist has used the ground as a transitional tone.

The paint has been smoothly and evenly applied with no distinct areas of impasto. The horizontal panel grain is pronounced due to the thin application of the vehicular paint. (11) The upper areas of the barn have been painted with looser, open strokes while the lower areas are more modeled and defined. Scattered areas of loss have occurred along the seam and in edge areas due to frame abrasion. Paint weakness in these areas is also evident. The paint appears to have been skinned in the darker areas from former harsh cleaning attempts.

Former Restoration Work
The painting has likely gone through a series of restorations during its lifetime. The horizontal split may have been reglued several times. Dr. van Nuis records the most recent occurrence. In referring to the panel's condition he stated, "It was in poor condition and I contributed to this by managing to break the wooden panel in two." (12) Chicago conservator Ms. Faye Wrubel repaired the split in 1985. (13) At that time, seam losses were filled and retouched, and the surface was revarnished. The painting was not cleaned during this restoration.
There is no written documentation of any prior restorations, although large areas of former restoration paint, referred to as "overpaint," were evident under ultraviolet light. An ultraviolet-light examination offers clues to a painting's condition history. Organic varnishes glow a yellow-green color under such lighting. If restoration paint has been applied on top of the varnish, the area cannot glow and appears jet-black; this is referred to as "primary fluorescence." The ultraviolet light revealed areas of primary fluorescence in the lower left corner and throughout the central area of the ladder. Large areas of overpaint are normally applied to mask previous surface damage.

Surface Films
The paint surface was coated with four distinct films. The uppermost layer was a thin, dirt and grime film, most likely built up during the twenty-three years since the 1985 restoration. The next film was a synthetic, non-yellowing resin, applied during the 1985 restoration. The next two layers consisted of an older dirt film on top of a discolored organic varnish. Organic varnishes yellow and darken with age, thereby falsifying a painting's intended tonal relationships and flattening the three-dimensional illusion of space. The visual quality of "Barn Interior" was severely compromised by these overlaying films.
(8) Provenancial information on Dr. van Nuis provided in an e-mail and fax dated 1/5/09 from Mr. Zoel Zwart, Director of Exhibitions, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Nuis was born and raised in Den Bosch, also called 's-Hertogenbosch, which is the capital of the province of North Brabant in the south of the Netherlands.
(9) This information provided to the College in an undated letter from van Nuis.
(10) This information provided to the College in the same undated letter. No record of when or to whom he showed the painting.
(11) Stout, George. "Classes of Simple Paint Structure." Technical Studies. Vol. VI. 1938. p.231.
(12) This information provided to the College in an undated letter from van Nuis.
(13) Invoice dated July 28, 1985, from Ms. Faye Wrubel to van Nuis listed services provided. This information was provided to the College by van Nuis and faxed to the author by Mr. Zwart.


Table of Contents, Biography, "Barn Interior" Examination, Treatment


Barry Bauman Conservation
Contact: Mr. Barry Bauman
1122 N. Jackson Ave., River Forest, IL. 60305
Ph.(708)771-0382  Fax.(708)771-1532