Paint Analysis Reveals Hidden Intentions

In 2013, Belmont hired Susan Buck, Ph.D. to conduct a comprehensive interior paint analysis of the house museum.  Buck is the same conservator who worked on the house’s exterior paint research which was featured in University of Mary Washington’s Today magazine in 2006.

The results, submitted in a 2-inch binder,  are exhaustive in scope and cover the house’s entire history.

We are not the first historic site to use paint analysis to give old rooms new looks and more accurate interpretations.  Mount Vernon and Monticello come to mind.   Learn more about restoration projects across the Commonwealth of Virginia by perusing the digital presentation of “Vivid View:  The Art and Science of Paint Analysis,” an exhibition on display at Richmond’s Wilton House Museum from March 31, 2017 to October 31, 2017.

I’d like to share with our blog followers a brief snapshot of the downstairs Melchers-period 1916 paint scheme using modern-day Benjamin Moore paints identified by Dr. Buck.

We are currently trying to identify funding sources to cover the cost of repainting the interior in its original Melchers era paint colors. More than likely, this project will not happen all at once, but on a room-by-room basis.

I am struck by how Susan Buck begins her report:

Belmont is particularly interesting …because the Melchers carefully created interiors to display their artworks and furnishings, and some rooms, such as the dining room, became backdrops for dramatic art installations.” Later in her report she states, “…the Melchers chose to change the house to suit their tastes and to allow them to best display their art and furnishings.

The Melchers’ were a colorful and art-loving couple who wanted their new home to reflect their European aesthetic.

First Floor Hallway

Imagine how this space would have looked with the walls painted  this color!


1916 Wall Color, First Floor Hallway

First-Floor Hallway, 2017


The parlor’s walls were first coated with two layers of unpainted wallpaper, which may have been applied by the Melchers to cover cracks and seal the plaster.  This was then covered with a textured light tan colored grasscloth. The grasscloth remained unpainted until after Corinne’s death. There are several layers of paint on top of the grasscloth.  It is still possible to see the textured wall surfaces in raking light.

sepia tan

1916 Grasscloth Color in Parlor

Parlor, 2017

Sun Parlor

The sun-filled parlor would look drastically different sporting this bold color choice.

cherry malt

1916 Sun Porch Wall Color

Sun Parlor, 2017

Dining Room

The colors aren’t too off base in the dining room, but this space is actually where things become interesting.

The dining room was most altered by the Melchers.  Paint archeology revealed that the cupboard to the left of the Frans Snyders painting was a freestanding piece of furniture before it became a fixture in 1916. The Melchers then had a copy of this cupboard made and installed it on the painting’s right.

The Melchers also added the two sconces on either side of the Frans Snyders painting, as well as the chair rail and paneling below, and the wood frame around the paining.

The Melchers consistently installed fiberboard as a quick way of covering old damaged plaster and as an inexpensive way to create new wall surfaces.

The dining room additions were all seemingly made to “frame” the Frans Snyders paining – thus making it the room’s undeniable focal point.

clearspring green

1916 Dining Room Color Scheme

smoke embers

1916 Dining Room Color Scheme

Dining Room, 2017


Comprehensive paint analysis shows that the built-in bookshelves and cupboards on the east wall were installed by the Melchers shortly after they purchased the property in 1916.

The current warm brown color is a good match to the first brown paint on the cupboards, bookshelves, and wainscoting.

The walls below the chair rail were painted brown by the Melchers to simulate wainscoting, and the walls above may have been papered over by the Melchers to cover cracks, and then painted blue.

province blue

1916 Library Color Scheme


1916 Library Color Scheme

Library, 2017

~ Michelle Crow-Dolby, Education and Communications Manager, Gari Melchers Home & Studio

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