Paint Analysis

Paint analysis is used increasingly in the restoration of historical buildings for two reasons:

  • to form an idea of how a room might have looked at an earlier time. The aim will usually be to identify the colour of a particular scheme, or to see whether techniques such as gilding, graining, or marbling had been used. An example of such work can be seen at Stowe, where the Library ceiling has recently been restored following my analysis.
  • To date a structure.¬† Facts known about the development of paint and pigments will often enable the specialist to work out a rough date for individual layers of paint. ¬†Working alongside architectural researchers, the paint analyst can determine when or where changes have been made. The site of a blocked-in doorway; for example, can be identified, as can the rough date of a later chimneypiece. Sometimes the analysis can be astonishingly precise in the dating of paint layers and such changes – as exemplified on a recent project in Queen Anne’s Gate.
  • On another project I was able to confirm that a pair of doors had come from Carlton House – 230 miles from their original location and two hundred years after that house had been demolished. I have also been able to reunite a beautiful carved doorcase that had been stolen from an early 18th century house and found in an architectural salvage yard.

Analysis may be used to record the earlier schemes before they are destroyed. The surface coatings may need to be removed because of a build-up of layers that obscure detail; because extensive removal needs to be carried out before major repair work can take place; or because poor preparation has revealed itself. Once the paint has been removed nothing can be learnt of the surface’s original appearance. Paint analysis can provide this record as was shown on the Tower Bridge project.

Whilst paint analysis is principally associated with the academic recreation of earlier schemes, or as an archaeological tool, it can also be used as an aid to design. Knowledge of the earlier schemes employed in a room of an historic building can often provide guidance and confidence in its redecoration, even if a slavish recreation is not required. The recent project at Lichfield House illustrates this well.

There are three stages of Paint Analysis

1. The making of Cross Sections

2. Layering

3. Pigment analysis

The results will be presented as a Report.

(A lengthier account can be seen below in: Patrick Baty, “The Role of Paint Analysis in the Historic Interior.” The Journal of Architectural Conservation. March 1995: 27-37.)