Uncovering the museum’s past: Exploring historic colours.

24 March 2023

Ipswich Museum has been working with Cliveden Conservation to uncover the original interior paint scheme at Ipswich Museum, to help with assessing what would be the most appropriate colours to use in the colour scheme for the redeveloped museum.

‘Paint scrapes’ were taken from walls, cornices, ceilings, columns, joists, windows, metalwork and timber details in the Entrance Lobby and the Victorian Natural History Gallery.

Cliveden Conservation used a combination of cross-sectional analysis, ramen microscopy and scanning electron microscopy to investigate the compositions of the decorative layers within the scrape samples. They examined the samples under reflected white light with instruments providing magnification up to 1000x, revealing the spectrum of paint layers and established their elemental content.

With this information, it was possible to identify the pigments used in the multiple layers of paint which have been applied to the walls throughout the building’s history. It is known when certain pigments became commercially available and were typically used. This knowledge allowed Cliveden Conservation to date pigments and the layers of paint to when they were applied and has helped us to build a picture of the Entrance Lobby and Victorian Gallery as they were originally conceived.

Findings show that the first layer of paint in the Entrance Lobby was brown-yellow, with a white paint layer subsequently applied. The same was found on the first-floor walls of the Natural History Gallery. On the ground floor of the Natural History Gallery, the walls consist of a series of white and off-white paint layers.

Our architects’ and gallery designers’ next step is to create a series of images showing these spaces with the historic, current and proposed colour schemes.

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