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

In celebration of the 80th anniversary of the restoration of Wilton in 2013, the museum commissioned an historic architectural paint analysis by conservator and historian Dr. Susan Buck. This effort to document surviving paint evidence led to the commissioning of an historic structures report in 2015. Vivid View: The Art and Science of Paint Analysis, an exhibition featuring ten historic sites across the Commonwealth of Virginia, is the result of these investigations. Thank you to the numerous people who, either individually or through preservation grants and restricted funds, made the study of Wilton’s paneling possible. Please enjoy a digital presentation of this exhibition, on display at Wilton House Museum from March 31, 2017 to October 31, 2017. 


Northeast Chamber, Wilton House Museum

Image of paint history of NE chamber, Wilton House Museum

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

Dr. Buck’s investigation at Wilton uncovered a surprisingly intact paint history, suggesting that those involved in the moving and restoration of Wilton in the early 1930s recognized the value of preserving as much physical evidence as possible – an uncommon preservation practice at the time. At left is a cross-section of paint layers from a bedchamber at Wilton. Though the sample is far smaller than the top of a pencil eraser, it documents three centuries of change. Examining and interpreting a cross-section informs the understanding of an historic site and the people who populated it, influencing current research and guiding restoration efforts.

Reading this cross-section from the bottom, the original light gray forms the foundation color, or first generation colorway, applied to all of the rooms at Wilton when the house was completed in the 1750s. Above this, the second-generation is a yellow-green color. Examination of the individual pigments in this layer, seen here as larger spots within the paint, reveals a high proportion of yellow ochre to verdigris, which have darkened and degraded over time. The third generation represents a fashionable light blue color, common to the neoclassical era, applied in the 1780s. In total, thirteen generations of paint are documented on the paneling, including its current light blue-green chosen for the room’s most recent restoration in the 1990s.

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