Restoration in the heart of Paris: the Hôtel de Sully

(Click on photos to enlarge)

The Hôtel de Sully under restoration

Bérangère Lomont, our eyes and ears in Paris, has been documenting the restoration of the Hôtel de Sully in the Marais. By way of introduction, she writes:

Without a doubt, the Hôtel de Sully is one of the most beautiful buildings in the Marais. Located on the old Gallo-Roman way which leads from Lutèce to Melun (and later became rue Saint Antoine) it was built during the reign of King Henri IV, first urbanist of Paris, on today’s Place des Vosges in the heart of Marais.

Looking down on the Place des Vosges

In 1625, Mesme Gallet, superintendent of finance and bon vivant, began to build a private mansion with a garden and an orangery, but sold it unfinished.  For nine years, it languished until its third owner, 74 year old Maximilien de Béthune, first Duke  of Sully, completed its interior decor.

The organization of the rooms is very typical of an apartment of the 17th century; the painted decors by Antoine Paillet with their large simulated perspectives give the illusion of space, which was in the mood in the Marais because of the tiny houses and the narrow streets.

Springtime in the Place des Vosges

The Hôtel kept the name of Sully, although it became an investment property with little shops in the 19th century.  In 1944 it was bought by the State and entirely renovated. Since 2000, it has become the head office of Centre des Monuments Nationaux. In 2009, the restoration began of the façades and of the Duchess ‘s Apartment (added to the original structure in 1660) under the direction of atelier Arcoa manager Jean-Sylvain Fourquet.

In the spirit of “Now and Then” I offer the following record of restoration. And let me particularly thank the atelier ARCOA for allowing me to share in the professional, aesthetic, and historical experience of this place I’ve come to love.

The orangerie of the Hôtel de Sully
The orangerie of the Hôtel de Sully
The Duchess' apartment is on the first floor
The Duchess' apartment is on the first floor

First, a tour of the bedroom with its coupole painted by Antoine Paillet.

"The Sleep of Eudymion"

The following photos illustrate the complete dismantling of the bedroom in preparation for restoration:

At center, a portrait of the 2nd Duke of Sully
At center, a portrait of the 2nd Duke of Sully
Work begins
Work begins

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And finally, down to bare bones:


Many tests were made by restorers to determine how to remove the yellowish gloss covering all the paintings. Here is the antechamber’s ceiling.




For me, the use of UV light by the restorers is especially fascinating. UV reveals all the different coats and touch-ups hidden to the naked eye. Here are several photos of the coupole of sleeping Eudymion.

Before the work begins
Before the work begins
The walls are stripped
The walls are stripped
With UV lights up close from a scaffold
With UV lights up close from a scaffold
The repeat with tungsten alone
The repeat with tungsten alone

In detail, you can see lighter rectangles – these are cleaning tests. The cracks are darker with fillings.

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I asked Jean-Sylvain Fourquet to comment on the usefulness of UV photos in restoration. First, his response in French, and then my translation:

Les photos, en éclairage du jour ou tungstène, présentent la couche picturale dans un état de conservation assez altéré :

1 – Elle est très encrassée et recouverte d’un vernis de protection ancien qui a mal vieilli (oxydé, opacifié et qui a viré au jaune). Ce vernis oxydé masque et confond un peu la facture originelle, des travaux de restauration anciens.

2 – Elle est très repeinte et retouchée par les précédentes campagnes de restauration antérieures, pour le traitement des fissures du plafond, usures de la couche picturale et des lacunes…).

Notre problème aujourd’hui, est de reconnaître et de distinguer la facture originelle des “repeintures”. De dissocier ce qui appartient à l’œuvre originale et ce qui appartient aux restaurateurs des précédentes campagnes de restaurations.

Les couleurs mises en œuvre par les restaurateurs sont d’une facture d’exécution différente de l’artiste qui a peint l’œuvre.
A l’œil nous en reconnaissons une bonne partie, mais cette différence apparaît très clairement et très nettement, par la réflexion des rayonnements aux Ultra Violet

Les clichés aux UV, nous permettent de distinguer et de “hiérarchiser” l’importance de ces repeints et de définir avec nuance et mesure un protocole d’intervention pour l’enlèvement total ou partiel des repeints.

Notre travail consiste à proposer aux conservateurs et inspecteurs des Monuments Historiques une intervention mesurée et adaptée aux désordres à traiter. Certains repeints pourrait-être conservés dés lors qu’ils s’intègrent toujours à la facture originale, mais par contre s’ils apparaissent trop décalés et incohérent à la lecture, nous les supprimerons pour les refaire, “à l’identique”. (Avec toute la subjectivité que cela représente… )

“In daylight or tungsten light, the photos present the pictorial coat in a faded state of preservation:

1 – It is very dirty and covered with an old protecting varnish which aged badly (oxidization, made opaque and turning yellow). This oxidized varnish masks and makes it difficult to distinguish the original painting from previous attempts at restoration.

2 – It has been greatly repainted and retouched from previous campaigns of restoration, for the treatment of ceiling cracks, deterioration and blank spots…

Our problem today is to recognize and distinguish the original painting from the touch-ups.  To separate what belongs to the original oeuvre, and what was added by the restorers during previous efforts at restoration.

The colors added by the restorers show a different technique when compared to the original artist.
It’s possible to see a fair part of this just by looking with the naked eye, but this difference is made crystal clear under UV light .

The photos with UV allow us to distinguish or “to form in a hierarchy” the importance of these retouches and define a nuanced and measured intervention protocol, helping us decide whether to completely remove the retouchings, or only parts.

Our work consists of proposing to curators and inspectors of Monuments Historiques a measured and adapted intervention to treat the disorders.  Some retouches may be kept if they integrate with the original construction, but if they appear too unrealistic and disjointed we will remove them and make them indistinguishable from the original (although these decisions must admit to a certain subjectivity…)”

The ceiling of the antechamber
The ceiling of the antechamber
Again, in UV light
Again, in UV light
The ceiling of the oratory - deux genius with wings
The ceiling of the oratory - deux genius with wings
...and under UV
...and under UV

As the restoration continues over the next several months, I will continue recording its progress and post updates here!

–Bérangère Lomont

3 thoughts on “Restoration in the heart of Paris: the Hôtel de Sully”

  1. Dear Sir or Madam

    We were walking in the Place des Vosges and looking just taking in the period architecture. A well dressed older woman offered us assistance thinking us lost. We said that we were taking in the architecture and ambience. She replied sharply that if we liked that we should go through a nearby door in the corner of the arcade.
    Through the dooe was the garden of the Hotel de Sully. The garden, orangerie, and Hotel all left a strong and warm impression. Thankyou for all your loving work on this worthy site.


    Eric Marr

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