One of the most elusive elements of the Breakfast Room scheme has proved to be the wall fillet which ran around the room and which may have contributed to the ‘blue ornaments’ described by Agneta Yorke in 1772.
During his investigation of the Breakfast Room walls James Finlay, NT Advisor on Historic Interiors, discovered a ‘shadow’ of fillet on the yellow painted paper which runs vertically to the left of one of the window architraves. This confirms that at some point the fillet ran top to bottom and not just as two horizontal strips around the room.
James also suggests that this treatment might have been extended to the surround of the fireplace – as demonstrated in the State Apartments at Kedleston – round the door and possibly up the room corners.
©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert
During an in-depth clean of Osterley’s Upper Store several boxes of fillet were discovered including a booklet containing 4 sections of moulding trialled by the V&A in 1987 during the last redecoration of the Breakfast Room.
Much older versions of the fillet were also uncovered and, excitingly, underneath the gold finish on a papier-mâché example a blue paint is clearly visible. The fillet will be sent for further analysis in the hope of finding evidence of the 18th century scheme.
In addition miscellaneous examples of papier-mâché fillet work were uncovered labelled “Found in Stable loft 2.1.97” and which do not appear to match any existing designs in the House.
These designs add to those still on display in Osterley’s Long Gallery, Drawing Room and State Bedchamber (below) and to that in the Breakfast Room which we are looking to reinstate. Further fillet updates will follow!
Over the past 250 years the Breakfast Room ceiling’s intricate plaster decoration has been covered by layer upon layer of paint. This week trials were carried out to see whether these layers could be removed and reveal the original detail in the design.
Removing 7 layers of white emulsion, a layer of blue, a layer of yellow and a, very thick, ‘mushroom white’ beneath. During removal (above) and the finished result (below):
Using a carefully controlled chemical solvent time trials were conducted to gain an understanding of the different layers and whether the paint might be removed
3 different solvents were tried. One failed to make any progress at all, one worked incredibly slowly and one was effective.
These different speeds were affected by whether the paints were oil based or water based. Different elements of paint mobilise at different rates depending on how they bond with different chemical agents in the stripper. As a result residue must be completely removed and timings closely observed.
Stone and Plaster Conservator, Sharon Bailey, conducting the ‘time trials’.
Once the lower layer of white was removed the extent to which the paint obscures the design became very clear.
Most interestingly, preliminary findings appear to suggest that it is the layer of paint beneath the yellow and blue scheme of the 1970s which is clogging up the ceiling. This is in complete contrast to archival research already conducted which indicated that it was the most recent white layers which had caused the problem.
- Further paint analysis of the ceiling will be conducted.
- The Breakfast Room has been cleared and a group of experts will be invited early next year to view recent progress.
This week we reached a dramatic stage in the Breakfast Room Project at Osterley. The post 1950 paper and Hessian lining were removed and the walls were taken back to the eighteenth century plaster.
All of this work was done in front of visitors who shared in the excitement.
Detailed analysis of the findings will be undertaken over the next few weeks but highlights include:
- The discovery of a door frame – remnants of a door which once connected the Breakfast Room with the Library Passage behind.
- Holes made by the fixings for a picture rail which once ran around the outside of this room.
- ‘Graffiti’ on the south wall.
NEXT STEPS: The room will be entirely cleared of its furniture and a group of experts will be invited to examine the evidence. This will consist of architectural historians, Robert Adam specialists, furniture conservators, curators and the NT advisors on Plaster and on Historic Interior Decoration - amongst others.
This week the paintings in the Breakfast Room were transported to the Upper Store and attached to giant plywood supports.
This is in preparation for work being undertaken next Wednesday. The paper lining the walls will be removed to reveal the original plaster beneath. We are hoping to find evidence of earlier decorative schemes – and perhaps a door which once led from the Breakfast Room to the Library Passage!
The National Trust’s Paper Conservation Advisor, Andrew Bush, has painstakingly unpicked a sample of the paper taken from the east wall in the Breakfast Room ahead of its removal next week! The results are below…
Two areas of the laminate were soaked and separated, one from the main area of paper and one from the edge. The latter is illustrated above.
Layers, including paint, starting from the top layer:
|Main area – 7 layers
||Edge area – approx 14 layers as above
|sheets of laid paper with cut edges
||sheets of laid paper with cut edges
||off white paint
|lining paper type 2
||lining paper type 2
|grey green paint
||grey green paint
|lining paper type 1
||lining paper type 1
|lining paper type 1
||lining paper type 1
||lining paper type 1
- All papers layers are from the mid to late 20C.
- The laid paper is of good quality and may well be a mould made paper (as opposed to hand made or ‘machine made’).
- There are two distinct types of lining paper differing slightly in surface texture and colour, both appear to be made with a high proportion of unpurified wood pulp, typical of 20C lining papers.
Next week the remainder of the paper will be removed from the walls, uncovering the plasterwork and hopefully some additional clues as to the room’s development over the centuries…
Below are excerpts from Dr Bucklow’s report on the 19 paint samples taken from the Breakfast Room and associated areas in May this year:
Report on paint samples from Osterley House, Breakfast Room.
- The samples ranged from about half the size of a pin-head up to approximately two millimetres across.
- The samples were mounted in polyester resin, ground and polished to reveal the paint stratigraphy and examined using optical microscopy. Selected samples were also examined with a scanning electron microscope in an initial attempt to identify some of the pigments.
It is difficult to state with confidence whether any of the 19 samples contains the original paint layers. Sample 1 is most likely to contain very early or original paint layers and the area from which it was taken (East wall window pier) could be explored further.
Sample 1. Paint revealed by peeling back the lining on the east wall.
All samples with later paint layers suggest that the room’s relatively simple overall scheme of yellow and blue against a white ground was maintained, although some individual features that were blue in an earlier scheme changed to yellow in later schemes. The overall continuity of colours – blue, yellow and white – was achieved with a variety of paint media. Analysis has not been undertaken but the appearance of paint layers in cross section, when viewed in Ultra Violet light, suggests that distemper, oil and emulsion were all used at different times.
Sample 10. Suggesting a change in the colour of the dado field from blue to yellow.
The earliest yellows detected by Energy Dispersive X-ray (EDX) in these samples were earths and lead antimonate, a pigment that comes in both natural and synthetic forms, available from the seventeenth century and known in English from the eighteenth century as Naples Yellow, after the source of the natural version. This pigment continued in use into the twentieth century but the yellows found in later layers included a synthetic chrome compound. No original blues were found. The later blues are probably Prussian blue and possibly also synthetic organic dyestuffs. The discovery of titanium white in most of the later layers analysed by EDX indicates that they post-date circa 1920.
Bookcases in the ‘Secret’ Library Passage – possibly housed in the Breakfast Room as part of an earlier scheme:
Sample 17. Bookcase skirting indicating the use of graining techniques.
Two layers of graining [present in this sample] appear to be based on earth pigments. The lower layer is more opaque and the upper layer is a medium-rich glaze [...] They lie on a warm white priming that is probably lead-based and is intimately embedded in the wood grain. Two later white paint layers can be seen.
Dr. Spike Bucklow, June 2012
- Research will continue into the relationship between the Library Passage and the Breakfast Room. In the late 18th and 19th centuries graining was a popular technique used to simulate the grain of expensive, hard woods and its presence changes the way we view the, now stark white, bookcases in the Library Passage.
- The paintings will be removed from the Breakfast Room walls and the room entirely stripped of it’s lining – this may present further opportunities for paint analysis and provide evidence of a door which once lead from the Breakfast Room to the Library Passage!
This week paint scrapes were taken from 19 locations in the Breakfast Room and associated areas.
The samples were taken by Dr Spike Bucklow, Senior Research Scientist at the Hamilton Kerr Institute at the University of Cambridge. The scrapes were taken in front of visitors who were able to ask questions as work progressed.
The first sample was taken from one of the recently revealed wooden battens which frame the plaster of the pier on the east (window) wall. Excitingly this appears to be an early yellow paint but we will have to wait for the results of the analysis!
Samples were also taken from the cornices, skirting, dado field, ceiling and window architrave. A further 2 samples were taken from one of the bookcases in the Library’s ‘secret passage’ – bookcases which may once have lined the walls in the Breakfast Room.