Posts Tagged ‘Regency paint colors’

Inquiring readers: Patrick Baty of Papers and Paints is noted for his analysis of paint colours of the interiors and exteriors of buildings of architectural significance. He is consulted on both sides of the Atlantic. Mr. Baty has graciously allowed me to reproduce his blog post about exterior paint colours in the city of Bath. A link to more detailed articles sit at the bottom of this post.

Patrick was commissioned to carry out an analysis of the paint on a number of buildings in the City. The purpose was to establish the decorative history of representative doors, windows and railings and to see whether one colour predominated on each element.

How had external painted surfaces appeared when Jane Austen lived there in the early 19th century, for example?

Royal Crescent

The Royal Crescent was built between 1767 and 1774. When the railings were sampled, 27 individual schemes were found, which suggests an average repainting cycle of about eight years. The first scheme was a pale lead (grey) colour. This kind of colour was used on the next fifteen occasions – probably until the end of the 19th century. Dark green and red-brown has been used subsequently, with black employed twice and then only since the 1970s.

Lead Colour

7 Alfred Street

Alfred Street is believed to have been built in 1772. When the railings of No 7 were sampled approximately 45 individual schemes were found, which suggests a repainting cycle of about five years. A stone colour was employed initially and variants of this appeared until the 1810s, when lead colour was introduced. Dark green appears to have been used from the middle of the 19th century, before giving way to red-brown. Black was only applied on the last three occasions.

Bronze Green

Pierrepont House

36 schemes were encountered on the railings of Pierrepont House. Lead colour was employed until the middle of the 19th century, when dark green was introduced. Black has never been used on these railings.

Chapel House

Chapel House railing

The railings of Chapel House, behind the Countess of Huntingdon’s Chapel, displayed approximately 38 decorative schemes. As the Chapel was built in 1765 this suggests a repainting cycle of about six years. The first two schemes were in lead colour and the third was in a stone colour. Unusually blue was employed on the fourth occasion. The remainder of the sequence consisted of variants of stone colour and dark green. Black had only been adopted in the 1980s.

As will be seen from the few examples cited here, grey and stone colours were employed on railings in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Dark green seems to have been generally adopted from about 1850 and, perhaps surprisingly, black only made its appearance in the late 20th century. Its use has nothing to do with being a sign of mourning for the death of Prince Albert – a belief held by many of the cognoscenti. This has been borne out by examining numerous examples of external ironwork across the country.

Specialist Profile, Patrick Baty

Patrick Baty provides more fascinating information about exterior paint colors on his blog, Patrick Baty, in three downloadable Scribd documents: External Paintwork, The Colour of Chelsea, and The Use of Colour on Architectural Ironwork, 1660 – 1960. You can also read an article about him,Specialist Profile, on the blog.

Please note: I place no ads on my blog, nor do I collect revenue from them. The ads you see in the comment section were placed there by WordPress.

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Inquiring reader: This is the second post by historical paint expert Patrick Baty of Papers and Paints, who has carried out extensive research into the use of pigments in architectural and decorative paintings. He has kindly answered a question about the paint color “invisible green,” which was left on his previous post, Painting a House During the Regency Era.

Invisible Green was a favourite of Humphrey Repton, the famous landscape designer of the Georgian/Regency eras. (The image above shows his trellises painted in a dark, rich green.)

William Mason, in his poem “The English Garden” published in 1783, provides us with a very early reference to the Picturesque treatment of fences and to the colour that became know as “Invisible Green”. He describes in verse the preparation of a dark green oil paint based on yellow ochre and black with white lead. Great care was required in mixing the right colour:

‘Tis thine alone to seek what shadowy hues
Tinging thy fence may lose it in the lawn…”

and he concludes by saying:

the paint is spread, the barrier pales retire,
snatched as by magic from the gazer’s view”.

Patrick Baty, Green Schemes, Garden Door, Scottish Estate

In 1808, James Crease, the Bath colourman, described “Invisible Green” as a dark green:

so denominated from its being proper for covering gates and rails in parks, pleasure grounds, etc. by rendering them in a measure invisible at a distance on account of its approximation to the hue of the vegetation”.

In 1829, T.H. Vanherman, the London colourman, described Invisible Green as follows:

“The Invisible Green is one of the most pleasant colours for fences, and all work connected with buildings, gardens, or pleasure grounds, as it displays a richness and solidity, and also harmonizes with every object, and is a back-ground and foil to the foliage of fields, trees, and plants, as also to flowers.”

One of my early projects was at Uppark, where the young Emma Hamilton is alleged to have danced naked on the dining room table.  The wonderful Lucy Inglis has written very well in her blog Georgian London about the concept of prostitution in the eighteenth century in Frances Barton – Alimony and Acting: The Life of Nosegay Fan.

More information on this topic:

Second image by Sir Humprhy Repton of a garden building for the Royal Pavillion at Brighton. The design was not used.

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Inquiring readers, One of the perks of overseeing a blog is getting to know the fascinating people one encounters while researching a topic. One such individual is Patrick Baty of Papers and Paints. Mr. Baty has carried out extensive research into the use of pigments in architectural and decorative paintings. Recently I asked him the following questions:

Image of painters from Papers and Paints

“If Sir Walter Elliot from Persuasion decided to paint the door to the carriage house at Kellynch Hall, how would this be accomplished? Would he keep a painter on hand or hire one? Were paints made from scratch from a tried and true formula, or did each painter have a formulaic secret? What were the typical colors used for exterior doors and window casements, and wooden structures?”

Mr. Baty: “It is likely that [Sir Walter] would have hired a painter, unless he was tempted by some of the literature of the time, for example T.H. Vanherman’s “Every Man his own House-painter and Colourman“, 1829. One hundred years earlier there was this revealing passage in a work of 1734:

“Painters Work being very expensive, and this being the only part in Building wherein a Gentleman can be assisting either by himself or Servants, it being almost impossible for any Gentleman to do either Masons, Bricklayers, Carpenters, or Smiths Works; whereas it is well known and daily experienced since the Advertisement of ALEXANDER EMERTON, that several Noblemen and Gentlemen have by themselves and Servants painted whole Houses without the Assistance or Direction of a Painter, which when examined by the best Judges could not be distinguished from the Work of a professed Painter.”

If his house/estate were big enough he might have had a handyman/painter. Otherwise he would have called upon the services of a firm like Messrs Moxon & Carfrae Ltd, painters and decorators, Edinburgh, whose day books survive from the 1770s.

Paints were generally made from ready-mixed paste bought at a colourman’s shop as can be seen in this quote of 1747:

“Methods practised by some Colour-Shops; who have set up Horse-Mills to grind the Colours, and sell them to Noblemen & Gentlemen ready mixed at a low price, & by the help of a few printed Directions, a house may be painted by any common Labourer at one Third of the Expense it would have cost before the Mystery was made public”

Different painters might have had slightly different recipes, but the general mixes would have been very similar.  (The Methods and Materials of the House Painter in England: An Analysis of House Painting Literature 1660 – 1850, thesis by Patrick Baty.)

Boodle's St. James's. Papers and Paints performed the colour survey.

The sort of colours being sold by a Bath colourman of the period for exterior use were:

Olive brown paint in casks of 30lb & upwards, per lb 3d

Oil Paints

  • Lead colour 4 1/2d
  • Chocolate colour 4 1/2d
  • Invisible green 4 1/2d
  • Stone colour 5d
  • Black 6d
  • Garden green 8d
  • Rich bottle green 1 0
  • Deep Sardinian green 2 0
  • Light ditto, ditto, 2 0
  • Rainbow green 3 6

Windows, normally, would have been a pale stone colour (off white).

More about Patrick Baty:  Since carrying out a research degree which focussed on The Methods and Materials of the House-painter 1650-1850,Patrick has been running a consultancy that advises on the use of paint and colours in historic buildings.  Buildings have ranged in size and type from Royal palaces; country houses and cathedrals to museums; a wartime RAF station and London housing estates.

Visit Patrick’s sites at the following links: Papers and Paints website; Colourman Blog, the Papers and Paints blog; and Papers and Paints Twitter Account.

More on the topic:

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