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:
“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.)
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
- 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.
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