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image 1Paint has been around since the cave paintings 15,000 years ago. Egyptians used paints to decorate their tombs and passed on their skills to the Romans. In the Middle Ages the English were using paint techniques to decorate their churches and fine houses. In the Renaissance period frescos adorned many classical buildings and this style heavily influenced the early Georgian period in Britain.

It was the Romans who gave us purple, a pound of royal purple dye, required the crushing of four million mollusks. Cochineal red, discovered by the Aztecs, was made using the female cochineal beetle. A pound of water-soluble extract required about a million insects and it was the Spaniards who introduced the crimson colour to Europe in the 1500's. Later genuine Indian Yellow was produced from concentrated cows urine which was mixed with mud and transported to London for purifying, Sap Green from the Blackthorn berry and Sepia Brown from the dried ink sac of squid. Brenda Semanick



Georgian Paint

Earlier and cheaper paints were made from Iron and red oxides and colours were limited to browns and murky greens. Wood work would have been painted with a dark brown or black oil based paint with a grain that resembled hard woods such as mahogany, oak or walnut. Later in the period, soft distempers or white washes were used on the plaster surface. Popular colours of greys, greens and pinks and woodwork was painted with a matt white finish. Cornices would have been painted the same colour as the walls. Paint techniques such as marbling were very fashionable as well as picking out the decorative details in the plaster work with gilt paint.

Georgian style became lighter and brighter, simpler and more elegant, as the period progressed. Earlier colour schemes included burgundy, sage green and blue-grey, in sheened finishes similar to today's eggshell paints. Then came pea-green, sky-blue, soft greys, pinks, beiges and stone shades, in matt finishes. The Independent

Georgian Colours

1Pea Green 2 Grey 3 Sienna Pink

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Victorian Paint

Due to the increase of mass production the demand for fashionable products rose. Most middle class families aspired to a lavish interior, especially in the reception and parlour areas in which they received their guests. Oil based paints continued to be used for wood work and metal. Wood work was still painted in dark colours to mimic hardwoods and that style did not change until the 1870's when the Queen Anne style preferred white woodwork. Walls were fashionably painted with strong reds and greens; this helped disguise the smoke and dirt caused by the fires in each room. These strong colours also provided a dramatic backdrop to all the decorative ornaments and gilded picture frames that were so popular at the time.

Victorian Colours

1 Cadmium Red 2 Brunswick Green 3 Pugin Blue

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Edwardian Paint

Painting became easier as ready mixed paints became available in tins at the end of the 19th Century. The Edwardian fashion was to create light simple spaces. A need for cleanliness and more hygienic homes meant that decorative detail became simpler and colours became lighter. Due to wallpaper being very fashionable less rooms were painted but those that were, were painted in muted, lighter colours. Plain walls in one colour of pink, green or pale blue and finished with white woodwork and ceilings.


1 Lemon Cream 2 Powder Blue 3 Salmon Pink

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Paint Products

Heritage Paints

The Little Greene Paint Company 1773

Historic and Traditional Paint Colours


Links to Paint Articles

The Georgian Group Guide: Paint Colour

The Little Greene Paint Company 1773

On choosing paint by Colin Mitchell-Rose

The Traditional Colour Range by Patrick Baty

Jane Knapps Trompe L'Oeil Painting

Milk Paint: USA

Paint colours and finishes: The Victorian Society

Mr Kerrison's Traditional Paint Guide for the Victorian Period

Choosing Authentic Exterior Paint Colors by Mary McCarthy

Old House Colors USA


Useful Research Websites

BBC Homes 1920's:

BBC Homes 1930's

Hidden House History

Francis Frith Photo Archive

The Geffrye Museum

English Architecture: Britain Express

Looking at Buildings: Pevsner Architectural Guides


Forum Debates

Channel 4 Homes Forum

Painted Cornice- Youtube

Classic Interior Design

Classic Interior Design

Farrow and Ball: Art of Colour

Farrow and Ball: Art of Colour

Paint and Color in Decoration Designs and Details

Paint and Color in Decoration








Post War