Techniques > Systems > Finishes > NPS Preservation Brief 28 Painting Historic Interiors > Pre-1875 Paints >

Decorative Painting

 

 

 

In interiors, paint could be used creatively and imaginatively, most often to decorate rather than to protect. Decorative forms included stencilling, graining and marbleizing, and trompe l'oeil.

Stencilling

Stencilled designs on walls were often used in the first half of the 19th century in place of wallpaper. Old Sturbridge Village, in Massachusetts, has paintings showing the interiors of a (c. 1815-1820) farmhouse which has both stencilled walls — imitating wallpaper — and painted floors or oiled and painted floor cloths, imitating fine carpets. By 1850 and for the next 60 years thereafter, stencilled and freehand painted decoration for walls and ceilings became a high as well as a humble art. Owen Jones' Grammar of Ornament, published in 1859, provided the source for painted decoration from Portland to Peoria, Savannah to San Francisco.

 

 

 

Graining and Marbleizing

If floors, walls, and ceilings were decorated by paint in a variety of styles, the wood and stone trim of rooms was not omitted. The use of faux bois, that is, painting a plain or common wood such as pine to look like mahogany or some finer wood, or faux marbre, painting a wood or plaster surface to look like marble — realistically or fantastically — was common in larger homes of the 18th century.

By the early 19th century, both stylized graining and marbleizing adorned the simple rural or small town houses as well. Often baseboards and stair risers were marbleized as were fireplace surrounds. Plain slate was painted to look like fine Italian marble. In many simple buildings, and, later, in the Victorian period, many prominent buildings such as town halls and churches, the wood trim was given a realistic graining to resemble quarter sawn oak, walnut, or a host of other exotic woods.

 

 

 

Trompe L'oeil

Churches, courthouses, and state capitols frequently received yet another remarkable use of paint: trompe l'oeil decoration.

Applied by skilled artists and artisans, painted designs — most often using distemper paints or oils — could replicate three-dimensional architectural detailing such as ornate molded plaster moldings, medallions, panels, and more.

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