The initial results…

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!

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