Digital Tour – Vivid View: The Art and Science of Paint Analysis

Paneling of Southeast Chamber, Wilton House Museum

Image of paint history in southeast chamber of Wilton

Photo by Dr. Susan Buck. Courtesy of Wilton House Museum

This sample from the paneling in the southeast chamber of Wilton is typical of the overall monochromatic paint evidence of Wilton. Revealing a preference for conservative colors, a regular program of repainting, and a consistent application of one layer of paint over another, Wilton’s sample provides a comprehensive paint history.  It also indicates that the painted woodwork in the house was regularly cleaned before new paint was applied. Compare this cross-section with others in the exhibition where layers of dirt can be seen between layers of paint. 

The comparative paint histories in the southeast chamber are more complex than the other second-floor chambers. The paneling, trim, and doors in this room were originally painted gray, with elements – namely the molding for the architraves and the bevels for the panels – picked out in a darker gray color. This is not seen in the other chambers. Through paint analysis and paint archaeology, Wilton’s paneling was originally painted entirely in subtle shades of gray, and when next repainted, all the rooms were painted with a coarsely ground yellowish-green color. Rooms were not painted individual colors until the third generation of paint.

The orange paint found as generation ten in this room represents the (c. 1920) highly decorative painting scheme which can be seen in black and white archived images of the house. The pale blue paint applied in generation twelve is the post-1933 paint applied in the chamber, closet, and rear stair passage. This type of comparative dating of paints helps to sort out some of the physical alterations to the building.

This cross-section documents the entire history of Wilton. In addition to charting its original decoration to its nostalgic restoration, the image provides a compelling backdrop for understanding the people who occupied its spaces, from the mid-18th century to the early 20th century, and all those in-between.

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