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A forgotten summerhouse

2014 September 3
by blue tortoise

On a recent walk in Colchester Castle Park I took a closer look at a wooden Greek temple style house. There is a lot to discover in the park, but for now I just leave you with a view on the little summerhouse, created in 1731 for then owner of the castle,  Charles Gray of Hollytrees.



I suspect the blue-and-white scheme has been introduced in the early twentieth century, when there was a great enthusiasm for Wedgwood’s Jasperware and many neoclassical buildings and interiors went blue-and-white. But that is unknown of course.

The interior is particularly charming, and perfect for dreaming about Roman times on a Summer’s day.













A Painted Cave

2014 May 13

This is what we found high up in the St Ynez mountains, overlooking the Pacific, and sort of hidden along a windy road.

A cave, that have been in use for a long time by the Chumash, a native american tribe that resided over all of california.



Experts believe that Chumash Shamans left signs for good fortune.


It is mystical and beautiful.

In the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, is a collection of local coloured rocks – possibly used for pigments for the paintings.



With the arrival of the Spanish Missionaries, quite a few Chumash were converted to Christianity. They kept on painting, but now in the church at the Santa Barbara Mission, for example. New colours were introduced, bright yellow, deep orange, imported from Spanish trade posts in what now is Mexico.

This is one of just a few painted caves that can be visited or seen, as visitors have an enormous impact on the preservation of such unique and special paintings. From another time and locality, Werner Herzog made a fantastic documentary (in 3D) that includes a wonderful and fascinating 20 minute registration of  the Chauvet Painted Cave in the south of France, Cave of Forgotten Dreams .

Going back to Blue with The Manor

2014 May 9

Only yesterday I started reading The Manor. Three Centuries at a Slave Plantation on Long Island by Mac Griswold. The author is a garden historian and came across this house on Long Island about 30 years ago – and that event obviously made a serious impression. She started researching the house and its history which resulted in this biography, The Manor.

Although I have just read a few pages and the real history still has to begin for me, I was really struck by Mac Griswold’s description of the process of getting to know the house and the rooms and the gardens, after the initial discovery. As an architectural historian and historic paint conservator with many hours spent in derelict historic houses, I know how a house, a building, anything architectural can grab your attention after which will follow a long period of just asking questions, to understand the architecture and the house’s history. Answers may never come…

After a correspondence going back and forth, Griswold manages to get in touch with the then owner and arranges a visit. Her description of her discovering the house, the rooms, little details, is so vivid and compelling.


We are standing in the east parlor (…) a room of extraordinary beauty and strangeness. Beautiful because the proportions and fully paneled walls are exquisite, and all the more so for being so very early Georgian high style in this now remote corner of the world, once part of a thriving maritime economy. Strange, because there are only two coats of paint on these walls, through which the silvery old wood shows in patches. The bottom coat is that acid blue-green so fashionable in the mid-eighteenth century. The top coat is a modest biscuit color, emblematic of good taste, applied somewhere in the 1840s, just before wall colors turned dark and Victorian. How peculiar and lucky it is that no one put on a third coat, I think to myself.

(Mac Griswold, The Manor, p8)


As I was reading this, I could see that acidy blue-green in front of me.


Yes, very fashionable, and yes that color has been applied onto many panelings in many places during the second half of the eighteenth century. The most beautiful example I know of is in several paneled rooms, originally guest rooms, of American banker Henry Hope’s summer house Paviljoen Welgelegen, in Haarlem, just outside Amsterdam in The Netherlands.Such a brilliant colour, so eighteenth century, all due to the fact that finally, around 1720, a proper blue pigment entered the market: Prussian Blue. Blue pigments (and green, as a mixture) in art and architecture is a multi-volume history that I would love to produce, but can only touch upon now.

Sarah Lowengard did a study into Prussian Blue in The Materiality of Color. The Production, Circulation, and Application of Dyes and Pigments, 1400-1800.The test panels I produced to illustrate her research, as a way of experimental archaeology, rekindled my love and awe for Prussian Blue and how it can be manipulated to get a certain hue, texture or transparency. So incredibly interesting.

Of course we don’t know the pigment responsible for the colour in the east parlour of The Manor. Or not yet. But I just love how Mac Griswold intuitively asked the right questions after her observations and impressions during her first visit to the house. And I can’t wait to find out about its history, together with her.


Mac Griswold, The Manor. Three Centuries at a Slave Plantation on Long Island (New York 2013)

Sarah Lowengard, ‘Prussian Blue: Transfers and Transfers’ in: Andrea Frase, Maureen daly Goggin, and Beth Fowkes Tobin (ed) The Materiality of Color. The Production, Circulation, and Application of Dyes and Pigments, 1400-1800. (Farnham/Burlington 2012)

Paviljoen Welgelegen is now in use as the seat of the Provincial Government of Noord-Holland, Haarlem, The Netherlands.

A Glimpse of The George’s Painted Past

2013 March 19


“Back on High Street’s N side, a little further downhill, the GEORGE HOTEL provides a contrast: (…)”

“On the first floor, a detached panel of 16th c wallpainting: bold swirls of foliage and flowers, two with putti springing from them.”

It is so wonderful that it is saved at all.

Let’s talk about micro-climates, back supports and conservation paneling another time.

Citations from: James Bettley and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England:Essex. (New Haven and London, reprinted with corrections 2010)

The George Hotel

High Street, Colchester

Inpainting variations at the Getty Villa

2013 January 14
by blue tortoise

We were in Los Angeles and we visited the Getty Villa. And I found myself again alone with Roman wallpaintings. So moving, these fragments with little scenes. They look untouched – but on the contrary. These have been consolidated, stabilised, restored. One of the things that caught my eye, was the beautiful array of various solutions for inpainting, the reintegration of losses in the pictorial scenes..


Inpainting is done in the last stage of loss compensation. Strictly not necessary for the conservation of the fragments, but invaluable for the appreciation and understanding of the depicted scenes. Inpainting is generally carried out to make the picture aesthetically pleasant and readable again. And of course, according to conservation ethics, inpainting needs to be carried out in materials suitable for conservation and it needs to be visible from nearby. It should be clear what belongs to the original scene and what was added with the conservation and restoration process.


Here, in the right hand corner, the lines of the painted frame are connected, and the pattern is continued but faded out using more and more subtle lines. I bet you didn’t notice this at first?


Here is another beautiful little fragment. The losses were a bit bigger and the inpainting is a bit more visible, carried out in lighter and cooler tones than the original.



When we observe a detail in the bottom left corner, we can see that the inpainting is very skillfully executed: it completes the painting without mimicking or bettering the artistry of the original painter.

And here, in a fragment of an Etruscan wall painting, we see a third way of inpainting: the classic italian tratteggio technique. Here the pattern is continued using hatching. From a distance the eye connects the lines to a solid colour, from nearby the lines are visible and we know immediately what is restoration and what is original.


Of course, visitors are not supposed to see and think about all this….they just need to enjoy the little delights.


In Rome: at the Villa Poniatowski

2013 January 10
by blue tortoise

Rome is the Eternal City – in Rome one can travel in time. What I didn’t know that at the Villa Poniatowski in Rome, one can travel in time as well as geographically.

Let us enter the villa via the garden. Come with me? We were just at the Villa Giulia, this is just a few hundred meters from there. We can learn more about Etruscan art and society, as this villa is annexed by the villa Giulia.


The originally sixteenth century house was built as the Villa Cesi, in 1581. At the beginning of the 19th century it was completely remodelled. It now wears the name of Stanislao Poniatowski, who commissioned the works. And this nephew of the then Polish king, apparently, liked traveling. Arm chair traveling.

In his own house he could be in a tent in the middle of an idyllic Indian landscape.


Sometimes he felt like paying a visit to the newly discovered pyramids in Egypt. With the Mount Fiji in the background. You know, the travels in his house were picturesque and romantic.


Now we are traveling too. Doric columns, ancient piramids, indian tents, roll on. We love it.

Another painted room. There, above the Empire painted barrel vaulted ceiling, we go back in time. We  travel further back to the Villa Cesi. Because there, high above us, the conservation architects and their team left a window open to 1581. There is the wooden panel ceiling, covered in faux marble. There are the cartouches, as if made from sculpted gilt wood. There are idyllic landscapes again, now framed in gold mouldings….


And with this little travel in our head we leave the villa, this world of many cultures and times. Into the back street, leading to a next exploration.







Saying Goodbye at Marion Davies House

2013 January 7
by blue tortoise

On a windy but warm November evening we flocked together to a historic house, right at the beach. Or, actually, the house itself wasn’t there anymore – the original guesthouse was now our goodbye party place. We felt like 1920′s film stars arriving after a successful opening week.




The guest house was originally built as part of the Marion Davies estate on the Palisades Beach Road. Yes that is right on the Pacific Ocean. And yes, that is  Santa Monica, in Los Angeles.

Docents were ready in the hallway to give us a tour and show us historic pictures. A glass in hand.

The organisers of the visits during this conference were applauded….


… and mini burrito’s were prepared by a young man who surely is an aspiring actor? This is Los Angeles after all?


Oooh, after all this fun we are in need of a bathroom. There are several, all designed by the architect of the house, Julia Morgan, and all dating from 1929. Lovely colours to bring our heads to senses again…



Ahem. The working day  of a conservation professional never ends.


The Walls Can Speak

2012 November 7
by blue tortoise

Want to hear a wallpaper story?

2012 October 29
by blue tortoise

Today we are back on the subject of wallpaper, again. You see, the Dutch Foundation for Historic Wallpapers and Wall Decorations in The Netherlands had a little celebration last Friday. Twenty years ago a couple of enthusiasts started collecting wallpapers. Used ones,  that is. Buildings got demolished and fragments ended up in skips. But not for long. They were rescued, studied and cherished.

Twenty years later they are together again. Now it is not only them talking with gusto about paper, patterns, print blocks. There are 160 people listening to them and discussing with them. They are together at the Historic Wallpaper Symposium in the Royal Library in The Hague.

The enthusiastic start resulted in an exhibition, a publication, lots of wallpaper outings, and now a conference.

Their chairman, Richard Harmanni, started with an introduction, speaking about collections. And mentioned that a good home needs to be found for the wallpaper collection and library of the Sikkens Schildersmuseum.

And then there were prominent guest speakers. What a joy to hear Bernard Jacque about Zuber scenic wallpapers (La Vue de la Grece Moderne in particular), throwing in a few fantastic stories about the designer Julien Deltil and the manufacturing process.

What a privilege to hear Treve Rosoman about his long career discovering and studying  London urban wallpapers. Among which one of the oldest wallpapers found, a small chinoiserie paper from around 1700, suitably found in Paradise Row, Lambeth London. He even showed Abraham Price’s  trade card – who was the supplier and very proud of his products. Treve Rosoman also unlocked the secret about tax stamps, but for that you will have to read more in the reprint of his book London Wallpapers. Their Manufacture and Use 1690-1840.


And their there was Thomas Brain, giving the background to a highly skillful executed research and conservation of a Dutch installation of the same scenic wallpaper that Bernard Jacque introduced earlier. And Judith Bohan, presenting her imaginary book ‘Wallpaper for Dummies’ filled with tips and technical stuff. And a registration form that we all should be using, to expand the database that for instance Historic New England is using. And where a database like that could lead to…..



The Symposium Historisch Papierbehang was organised to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Stichting Historische Behangsels en Wanddecoraties in Nederland. Anybody can join and support, via their website.

Bernard Jacque is the founder and director of the Musee du Papier Peint in Rixheim, home of the Zuber scenics, France.

Treve Rosoman is curator at English Heritage (UK) and caretaker of the English Heritage wallpaper collection.

Not represented this day, but as enthusiastic and knowledgeable and enjoyable is the Wallpaper History Society, more information here.

In Rome: alone with an Etruscan tomb

2012 October 24
by blue tortoise

” The Etruscans, as everyone knows, were the people who occupied the middle of Italy in early Roman days and whom the Romans, in their usual neighbourly fashion, wiped out entirely to make room for Rome with a very big R. (…) Now we know nothing about  Etruscan existence except what we find in their tombs. (…) So to the tombs we must go: or the museums containing things that have been rifled from the tombs.” D.H. Lawrence, Etruscan Places, 1932.

So to the museum I went. And in the midst of all the ancient luxury goods, was a painted tomb, the Tomba del litt Funerari, Tomb of the Funeral Couch, excavated in the 19th c and brought over from Tarquinia. A banquet and feast with dancers, musicians and jumping dolphins was happening before my eyes. No photography inside! was heard several times. But somebody hadn’t listened and did snap his camera. I left with a happy moment, alone with an Etruscan tomb.



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