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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.



In Rome: revisiting the Villa Giulia

2012 October 22
by blue tortoise

The last time I had visited Rome was when I was seventeen, on a school trip. And although my memories from Rome at the time are scattered, I never forgot about the visit to the Villa Giulia. It made a huge impression on me . The perfect architecture, layer on layer, the gardens and the painted gallery in particular formed a clear picture in my head. Whenever I encounter flying and playing birds in trees and foliage, in real or painted, my thoughts go back to the Villa Giulia.



Come and explore again?

Through the front door, leading to the fantastic collection of Etruscan art and archaeology. The guard suggested visiting the other villa first, recently acquired by the museum, and only open in the morning. But I had to walk straight to the courtyard.


And there they were, still playing around, unaltered since 1550. Or so I would like to believe…at seventeen I wasn’t a conservator yet, just unaware of the impact of time.

Yes, now I can see the age, the changes, the retouchings. The different appreciations over time, the discovery, the restoration. But I chose not to.

The Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia is in Rome, at the northwest border of the Villa Borghese Gardens.

May we serve you….?

2012 September 11
by blue tortoise

Loving these tiny funny vessels from Roman Britain, excavated in 1866 in Colchester. Originally meant to hold everyday things.

There seem to be minute fragments of paint left, too. Yes, the Roman world was not all stone coloured – statues big and small, steles, columns, friezes, walls, architectural sculptures, …. almost everything was covered in bright colours.

in collection Colchester Castle Museum

Elsewhere in this oldest Roman town in Britain, pigments were found: red ochre, green terre verde, a bright pink made from mixed pigments, a clear manmade blue. Just imagine such a coloured world around you…

in collection Colchester Castle Museum


…and imagine these little men looking a little bit like this classic Emperor.

painted reconstruction of Augustus in Primo Porta, in collection Ashmolean Museum, Oxford


Update: a little film explaining about how almost invisible remnants of paint on a Roman sculpture lead to the original naturalistic paintwork, can be found here.

This is old

2012 August 29
by blue tortoise


in collection National Museum of Antiquities, Leiden

This is old, very old. Yet it looks so young, so new,  just like something that has been newly created. But it is not. It is  from an ancient culture, a land far away, extremely fragile, and 32oo years old. Those years feel very near.

in collection British Museum, London

We can follow the craftsman’s hand: a big brush for applying the groundlayers and a rush pen for drawing the composition in tiny lines in red.

in collection Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford

The red is a heamitite or red ochre that has been quarried locally, washed and ground so it could be used as a pigment. It has a very orange-red colour, a result of the iron in the stone and water encapsulated in the molecule structure.


in collection National Museum of Antiquities, Leiden

The coffin was buried deep underground, in a tight chamber, with hardly any airflow or changes in the climate as the daily sun rays could not reach to heat and the night could not reach to cool. It was meant to serve as a private ‘house’ forever – it got discovered and excavated about a century ago. It would have been the best for the original owner of the coffin and the materiality of the house if it were still buried and protected. But now we can admire it and learn from it. It is in need of care now, and we do care, to save the forever-house for the original owner as well as for us and future generations.

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