palette of the past



palette of the past
a typical scherne for an early-l9th-century town house. The stucco walls have been treated with a copperas
wash, the ironwork is in various shades ofgreen and the verandah canopy is painted in stripes
l-Watercolour showing
"l^{ OME of the old Oueen
\Anne houses olbh"l|--r sea or \\'esrminstcl a lc
colour, possibly based
the older house, and especially one forming part of an
architectural group. A little
knor'viedge of the use ofpairrt
and colour in the past should
limit the tendency to overgild the lily, which is often
prompted by an erroneous
understanding of historical
quite suitable for a green or
quietly coloured door. but
woe betide the Bayswater or
Earl's Court house that tries
it." Sixty years ago, Basil
Ionides' recommendation
that such houses should be
painted with either white or
cream sashes and frames,
and polished black doors,
giving a well-kept 1ook, was
supposed to suggest that the
owner had always lived in
the house, having altered
nothing. The use of a yellow,
red or green door was felt to
express a new arrival.
In terms olhistorical precedent. there is little justification for such a monochro-
matic approach. However.
with the "quiet" colours characteristic of traditional lead
paint no longer readily availabie, and the seemingly infi- 2-An exarnple of ttsanding", where fine writing sand was cast onto the
nite range of modern paint painted surface while it was still wet, giving the appearance of stone
colours that one is faced
with, it is no easy matter to choose with and the others who orefer a sembiance of exterior
conlidence. The result is often a well-cared- unity and order. The bne wiil draw attention
for house with over-bright or rather garish to a house, with brightly coloured front door
and distinctly painted fagade, the other will
paintwork (Fig 5).
Of course, colour is a contentious issue, suppress this urge and give consideration to
and any discussion is likely to lead to an em- the uniformitv of the street.
This article is slartins from the rather
ersence of the two schools those who favour variety and individual free-expression, presumptuous notion that a restrained use of
historical precedent) is a useful guide for the repainting of
Tn simplified terms. the
paintwork of the exterior can
be broken down into three
areas: the r'r oodr,r ork, ironwork and the fagade itself.
A tour of the Spitalfields
area, in London's East End,
reveals much about our notions ofwhat colours arc corrsidered appropriate lbr the
exterior of an I Bth-century
town house. The example in
Fournier Srreet lFig 4) demonstrales rr ell a carefullv re-
searched lreatmenl
the three elements. While
exceptions to the rule existed,
sashes and frames would have been
an off-white or a pale creamy "stone colour"
with no picking out of mouldings. The brash
brillianiwhite. and the blue of-the house in
Wilkes Street qFig 5, would not have been
technicallv possible. even if desired.
lhe doorcase would have marched the
sashes, and the door itselfwould have been in
past used an astonishing uariety of rnaterialsrfrorn blood to road dust, to achieue
special effects, but their basic palette rentained rernarkably unchanged between the lBth century and
1950s-afact oftenforgotten by house ozeners atternpting to recreate historic schentes today.
House painters of the
3-Early colour charts. Until the 1960s there were few changes in the colours used in exterior painting. Early colour cards are a useful
aid in establishing the range ofthose in use, and the narnes given to thern
Two colours
a darker colour,
iia.'e been considered
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lorwarcl, and doors
rvere oftcn given
two I
exterror surlaces rs I
false, and based on $
,,,^,arrdar\^r ^,,a^i
I l---r I'll]=r--Eil
t ll#FGfl5ffili
An account of 1771
year the gloss is go".e^
G*Hffi [t, l-ffi
100 years (Figs
irs; iiB
and 11). The invisglccrl was more
ible green
finger, It
rvith yOUr
your llnger,
rviil come off iike'so 4 and 5-The colour of the woodwork and railings in Fournier Streeto Spitalfields, London, .qenarally used on
follows historical precedent but the colours in nearby Wilkes Street (right) do not
much dust.,,
$arden gates and
railines, and a form
Lonsevitv was
not assufred, and the durability of a modern creamy o{I-white), lead colour (a blue-grey), can still be seen on the signboards in the
paint might i,r'ell have been welcomed by chocolate, olive gre en and invisible green. Royal Parks. It r'vas a favourite of Humphry
ju*"r CrEase, a London paint manulacturei Nearly 50 years 6ter, exactly the sanie col- Repton, andrvas so named as it "harmohises
ivho, in 1808, rvas recommending that ex- ours are referred to as being in general use, rvith every object, and is a background and
terior "rails, gates etc (to) be done in three and, apart from the appeara,nce of B_runs- foil to the foliage.of fields, trees, and plants,
wick green in its various forms (Fies 6 as also to flowers".
' Aatrvork
As Dr Ian Bristow has indicated in a
of about 1811 lists the colours and 7), little had changed by the death of
recent article for the Spitalfields Historic
lor outside painting as white, stone colour (a Queen Victoria.
tl-re iourth rl
you rub the painting
Buildings Trust, darker colours
had beeun to appear on external
ioinerv" towards' the end of the
iBth ienturv. and were to continue for many years. From the
1 820s, painted iniitations of wood,
in particular, oak or wainscot coloui, br-rt also mahogany, and both
hiehlv varnished, .ime to be used
oriexternal doors and sashes. Examples of more recent graining
can still be seen. and in Edinbureh, for instance, the art is still
practised to a high standard. Ian
Cow has suggestFd the pracrice of hansinq curtains over lhe
front door-, w:hich would have
borne the brunt of the weather,
has extended the life of the
grained finish, leading to the
survival of this technique (Fie 9).
Turnins Lo ironwork, the use of
blue misht seem an unusual choice
for the-railinss in the Fournier
Street house lFig a). I{owever,
blue was regarded
as a
colour on ironwork in the 7rh
and I Bth centuries, and its use has
been found by Dr Bristow on a
number of ociasions. Whether it
was used much on domestic town
buildings is debatable, as it would
have been at least two or three
and doubtless the latter hue became highly unlashionable.
Dur:ins the first half of the
19th centuiv certain colours were
upp.opriate than
others for the paintirie of iron.
Repton describes this cleariy, decrying the use oilead colour for its
.ereniblunce to an inlerior metal,
and white and sreen to Painted
wood, adding ".". . but if we wish
it to resembie metal, and not aPpear of an inferior kind, a powdering ofcopper dust on
a green ground, makes a bronze.
an-d perhaps it is the best colour of
all ornamental rails of iron."
This bronze colour was achieved using a number of quite d1&.ent.recip?s. some producing a blue
patinated form, some rather ereener
iFie 6; and both either dustdd with
bronze oowder or not. It was nol
restricte'd to ironwork, being found
on doors and shutters, too.
With regard to the fagade itself,
many survivine lease agreements
rell us that whiie the ouGide wood
and ironwork tended to be painted
"twice over with good and proper
oil coiours" durinlg the first'haliol
the 19th century. the stucco was to
be "re-coloured.and re-jointed in
(To't) 1-Hand-painted colour chart showing (clockwise frorn_ 1op feftJ .1.._lt, Prussian blue, bronze greenr purple brown, light
ir,,lrr*ick g"""1, invisible green, lead colouio Ltor.r" green. (Aboie left) 7-Light Brurrswick green and creatn painted woodwork,
characteristic of the 1920s. 1fulaai"1B-Mid-lgth-century treatrnent of c-opperas-washed stucco . (Risht) 9-Walnut-grained front door
of the
times the price of the more commonly used soose quill to make the glassy particles lie imitation of Bath stone". The colour
lead or stbne colour. both
such an effect. it w-as admitted that it was be kept in imitation of Bath stone"'
have been the more usual choice.
This treatment and that of sandins have
Equally, smalt, a cobalt glass pigment. onlv "the most lovely blue of all others" if
in Traniactions
described as being the most "glorious colour seen from a distance,'and experiments with been described bv Dr Bristow
Study and
in the world'', r,iould appear
Conservation of Historic Buildings. The
pisment for the paintin'e'of early exterior result can be (Fig 10).
From the 17-30s onwards, it was inevi- former was usually carried out in a wash of
iro-"nwork. Not oniy was iiexpensive. but the
method of applitatiott *is particularly table that the recently discovered Prussian copperas, or ferrous sulphate, and lime. "exlabour-intensive. and troublesome when blue would have taken over to a larse extent ecilied with.judgement, and finished-with
contendins with ihe elements. To apply it, from smalt for its ease of applicaiion and taste. so as to produce a picturesque effect".
the surface would have been painted with even finish. The aesthetic appeal of a green- Furthermore; the stucco was Iiied in imiwhite lead and, while still racky. dusted over blue rather than a purple-blue seems to have
with the blue, before being stroked with a largely been influenced by technical factors,
tation of blocks oIstone, and "promiscuously
touched with rich tints of umber". lFigs
mas(ic-a form of ce-
and B). Very occasion-
ment) were to be lightly
ally, the effect of lichen
sanded with Portland
stone dust to "corres-
or weather staining could
then be superimposed
using the technique of
pond as nearly as prac-
"splaihing'', using 6lood.
milk, or oil as a me-
ticable with the colour
of the Portland cement
form ofdeceit tended to
be reserved for "Gothic
buildings of a consid-
desire was presumably
used on the walls". The
dium. However, this
for camouflage rather
than the added protection that this -would
have offered, as the
erable size", or cottages,
suggesting that it saw
stonework of the portico
was to be treated in the
same way.
Iittle use on the town
What the Gothic rcvival architect A. W. N.
While in the early
years, protection of the
substrate seems to have
Pugin thought about
these early Victorian
paint effects is not recorded, although his
been a major factor in
the strewing of powdered stone) or more
usually, fine white, or
writing, sand (Fig 2), it
appears to have been
superseded bv the use
ol certarn proprretary
paints in the early l9th
harsh comments about
the "restless torrent of
Roman-cement (stucco)
men" are well knowrr.
Perhaps it was the combination of his pressure,
and the blackening cau-
sed by the atmospheric
Loudon refers to
the Anti-corrosion or
Lithic paint being prepared from ground
glass bottles. the slag
from lead-works, or
even burnt oystershells, and mixed with
colourins matter and
linseed o-il. One London colourman was
even using road dust,
gra.ndlf. called Crotia,
pollution of a smok;
city, that Ied to oil paint
qradually replacing the
ferruginous washes.
. Although,the inten-
tron was no longer to
deceive the eye by suggesting blocks of unevenly coloured stone,
the stucco fagades of
town houses still tended
to be jointed, while
painted in a uniform
and wrth rt made a variety of greens, chocolate, black, lead colour,
stone colour. Mid- 19th-
century leases and
paintine schedules indicate ihat, with the
appearance ofPortland
stone colour and
cement, the cooler grey
of Portland stone col-
oured paint came to
be seen alongside that
of the warmer Bath
ers, as a result, "seldom
References to the
recommend it".
pracl ice. of,sanding appear at the t,egrnnrng of
TechnoloSy, of
course, has removed
the lBth century. and
can still be found in
of the next century. ':..
Alfred Bartholomew's (op)
sources from the
browny red. Such was
its durability that when
applied to iron. wellseasoneo LlmDer, or
masonry, it rarely required renewal during
a man's lifetime. Painr-
many of the earlier constraints, and the idea of
a particular colour bell-Late-l7th-century railing head painted with srnalt, and (rrgftt) rnid- ing used to indicate staSpecffications for Practical 18th-century railing head in purple brown. (Aboae) 12 and l3-Regency ironwork tus has gone. Nowadays,
Architecture, of 1846, in- inbronze green, and(right\ early-l9th-centuryrailingheadpaintedininvisible green when one colour costs
the same as the next, the
triguingly refers to the
equivalent is perhaps to choose with
painting of .rainwater,pipes "to
care lrom thi'paleite of the past.
imitate stone", presumably not just
Photograpis:2-5, 7 13,' Gerr2
in the ubiouitous "stone colour"
lO and
that he usually referred to. Could
this have implied the painterly
4, the author.
application of multi-coloured
washes, or the lexturing of the
British Architectural Library, RIBA,
The l865 soecification for
found on sorne early-l9th-century
railings seen in cross-section under
the rnicroscope, an essential tool
for assisting with the interpretation
smooth iron by the casting of dry
sand on to wet oaint?
works to be carried out on one of
the Pall Mall ciubs describes how
the dressings and cornices to all
the windows (which were all of
London; 6, Papers and Paints Ltd.
14-A nurnber of layers of paint
ofearly texts