With our enabling project complete and the building stripped back to the bare bones, we’ve taken this opportunity to commission paint sample analysis to look some of the historic decorating schemes at York Art Gallery, firstly as a historic record, and secondly to help inform some of our decisions about the redecoration when we reopen in 2015.
We enlisted the help of Crick Smith, from the University of Lincoln who undertake conservation, restoration and research of historic buildings and artefacts and have worked on exciting projects at St Pancras Hotel in London and Elizabeth Gaskell’s House in Manchester. We identified several public areas of the building to sample, including the front doors, entrance hall, stairwell and the front north wing of the building which had housed York City Archives but will become our new café when we reopen.
Paul Croft from Crick Smith undertook the research and found that there had been at least 13 decorative schemes, the earliest dating from 1879 when the building opened for the Second Fine Art and Industrial exhibition, with a redecoration approximately every 10 years.
The samples reveal that when the building opened in 1879 the entrance hall had a typical Victorian colour scheme, with a deep red lead paint on the inside of the front entrance doors, probably a heavy wallpaper on the walls of the entrance foyer, a reddish brown varnished skirting and stone coloured distemper on the frieze and cornice.
Surprisingly, our feature red wall at the bottom of the stairs (where the Simon Periton was displayed – see below) isn’t too far from the original colour scheme!
The stairwell originally had a red skirting, red walls and a dark green distemper on the stairwell and landing frieze. Although the stair balustrades were dark grey lead (they remain grey today as below) the scrolls on the stair tread sides were picked out in mid blue.
The staircase as it was prior to closure with grey walls:
Disappointingly, the fronts of the entrance doors have been fully stripped relatively recently, giving no evidence of the earliest colours of the front doors. The entrance doors were green prior to current black painted doors.
However, the inside of the doors did provide evidence back to the original scheme and the sample here shows the different colours used since 1879.
The front of the north wing of the building (which was the York City Archives), where our new café will be, was originally a dark brown lead with varnish, was then dark brown, pale green, off white, pale grey, pale blue, orange/ cream (and this wasn’t even in the 1970’s, it was c. 1990!) and most recently a bright yellow as you can see below.
The report offers a fascinating insight into the historic decorative schemes at the gallery, and will provide a useful guide as we think about redecoration for our reopening in 2015.
Written by Laura Turner, Curator of Art