Recently Annabelle Monaghan, the painting conservator who did such painstaking cleaning in the Boudoir, came to do some cleaning trials in the Picture Gallery. She opened several cleaning test windows, trying out different methods of cleaning the paint, gilding and skirting boards. This is all part of the ‘Attingham Re-discovered Goes Through the Roof’ project which will start in the mansion in January.
One element of this project will be to clean and conserve the internal decorative scheme in the Picture Gallery. Annabelle used various cleaning methods to discover the best way to do this and to establish to what extent it could be cleaned. It is important with any conservation work to carefully consider methods and levels of cleaning. She used a conservation grade eraser, rub gum, saliva, 1% de-ionised water, tri-ammonium citrate (a chelating agent which grabs on to dirt) and synpronic A7 (a mild detergent). The walls of the Picture Gallery are painted with oil paint and varnished, therefore each cleaning method reacted differently and Annabelle found that using 1% de-ionised water applied with a conservation sponge gave the best result. This is good news as this is a relatively straight forward way of cleaning, although the size of the room will still present a challenge!
Annabelle then went on to investigate whether to remove any areas which have been previously over-painted with solvents and then re-touch them with appropriate pigments. However after trialling this, Annabelle came to the conclusion that the solvents have disrupted the varnish on the current paint scheme, leading to an uneven gloss. Therefore, she plans to re-touch these areas without cleaning them first so as not to disrupt the varnish. In the test window below she used vermillion and earth pigments bound with a MS2A conservation grade acrylic resin. The pigments and resin can be mixed to give the right gloss finish.
A recent analysis of paint scrapings taken from locations within the Picture Gallery has revealed that the current paint scheme is not the first. It found that “The paint samples from the Picture Gallery clearly indicate that the original colour of the Picture Gallery walls, as designed by John Nash, would have been red. None of this original red remains exposed, as subsequently the Gallery has been re-painted. In total there have been two, perhaps three decorative schemes“.
The first red decorative scheme was a warm rich red oil paint with a thick varnish over the final paint layer which was pigmented with rich red particles found in the lower layers and would have really enhanced the decorative scheme. This was the 2nd Lord Berwick and John Nash scheme of the early 1800s. We are not sure when the second scheme that we see today was applied but it differs in medium, texture, some pigments and fluorescence to the red layers in the original scheme. The varnish has been thickly applied but in this second scheme it is only lightly tinted with a few red pigment particles. It accounts for the shiny and rich appearance of the red walls today. Annabelle can use this information to help use the right pigments for any necessary retouching.