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

Bedchamber, Mount Vernon

Image of the paint history of the baseboard of a bedchamber at Mount Vernon

Photo by Dr. Susan Buck. Courtesy of The Mount Vernon Ladies Association of the Union

This bold cross-section illustrates the dynamic quality of hand-mixed paints. Taken from a baseboard in the first floor bedchamber of Mount Vernon, it is believed to date from 1758. Illustrating a remarkably intact paint chronology, it records nineteen generations of baseboard paint, including the first generation’s red-brown color popular in the mid-eighteenth century. It is apparent in this cross-section that the earliest paints were quite lumpy, and were made with irregularly distributed pigments. The uneven nature of the brown paints is quite typical of hand-mixed eighteenth-century paints. The paints were composed of coarsely ground pigments in linseed oil and, when applied with traditional round brushes, the uneven distribution of materials often resulted in a rough appearance. 

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