Dec 9th, 2010 | | Museums | Organisations | Portfolio | 1 Comment

The Benjamin Franklin House

Patrick Baty was commissioned to carry out the paint analysis of the interior and exterior of the house

The stairs – note that this was taken before the glaze was applied (see below)

Craven Street was originally known as Spur Alley until it was redeveloped by William Craven, afterwards 5th Baron Craven, from 1728. A building lease on the site of No 36 was granted in 1730 to William Nind, an ironmonger, who mortgaged the property to John Hodson, gentleman, a few months later. The house passed through several occupants until in 1748, Mrs Margaret Stephenson moved into the house, and she lived there with her daughter, Mary until October 1772.

Patrick Baty carried out the analysis of the Benjamin Franklin House

Benjamin Franklin moved into the first floor rooms of No 36 in 1757, when he came to London as a representative of the Colony of Pennsylvania. He remained in the house until 1762, when he returned to America. Two years later he came back to London to contest the moves by the British government to tax the American colonies without representation. He stayed once again with Mrs Stephenson at No 36, and lived in the house until 1772 when they both moved to No 1, since demolished. He returned to America in 1775.

I was commissioned to carry out the paint analysis of the interior and exterior of the house. My company Papers and Paints mixed all the colours specially to my instructions.

Apart from the colours that had been employed whilst Franklin had occupied the house it was clear that the early schemes had had a thin coat of oil glaze applied over the painted finish.

Benjamin Franklin House - Glazed Surface
Cross section of paint applied to the panelling – note the thin layer of oily glaze applied to several of the schemes

The glaze would have presented a shinier finish and one that would have helped reflect light. This effect was reproduced in the redecoration as can be seen below:

Benjamin Franklin House - Hall
Entrance Hall – note the glazed surface of the wall panelling

In spite of modern notions of eighteenth century practice, such a glazed finish was considered highly desirable, as can be seen in the following quote of 1723:

“Take notice also, That all simple Colours used in House
Painting, appear much more beautiful and lustrous, when they
appear as if glazed over with a Varnish to which both the drying
Oyl before-mentioned contributes very much, and also the Oyl of
Turpentine, that the Painters use to help to make their Colours dry soon…”*

In spite of the evidence obtained in this house and in many others I am still frequently told by the cognoscenti that “of course panelling was always painted with a chalky matt paint”.

* John Smith. The Art of Painting in Oil. 5th edition, 1723.

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Benjamin Franklin House: Home of an American icon (and honorary Londoner) | A Peace of London » 11. May, 2015

[...] things he kept there – the rooms have been left blank, with the original floorboards and walls preserved to maintain the house’s [...]