Patrick Baty talk on 'The Quest for Colour Standards in 20th Century Britain'

Updated: May 22, 2019

Patrick is interested in the decoration of historic buildings. His work covers research, paint analysis, colour & technical advice and colour surveys. Thames & Hudson have recently published Patrick’s first book ‘The Anatomy of Colour’.

The talk covered the different types of paint and principal pigments used by the 18th century housepainter, the skills and conventions behind the application of paint, he showed few examples of correct usage in recently restored 18th century houses. The role of the colourman was discussed with examples of the most expensive and cheapest schemes in Britain such as :

1800 – 1970 Robert Louis Stevenson,

Werner’s Nonvenclature – colour chart 1821,

Robert – Ridway 1921 colour standards and colour names,

British Standard 381.1930 64 colours,

Traditional British colours – 1937.

Dictionary of colours for interior decoration – 1949 , 378 colous samples + gloss & matt fabrics and etc.


From the above mentioned colour standards he meant the colours which are and were very popular and used massively. These historic charts gives me templates for using historic colour scheme in my works. And this can be achieve by looking at these charts designed for interior paints for Britain. However, each country, place has its own definition and ranges of standard colour scheme due to cultural influences and it is been noted standard colour been used in UK as different from standard colours used in US or India and any other country.

Paint is not expensive colour is expensive, each mixture of colour is different. It has also been explained by Tim at Wimbledon college of arts in his methods and material sessions that mixing paints with not the same colour competence gives different effects and may look cheap.

What was interesting from the whole talk is looking at the process of cross section analysis he used to analyse pigments in his conservation projects. This process he has also mentioned on his website. Here first the sampling is taken depending on the number of individual elements within a room, and the amount of information available. The samples are next embedded in a clear polyester resin in order to support them during the polishing process.


Example of a cross section of paint from the Royal Albert Bridge

The samples are given a unique reference number and then placed in a silicone rubber mould

The resin blocks are then cut in half, Each half is polished with a succession of progressively finer abrasive cloths

A cross section being examined under the microscope The nature of the priming coat will be made clear, and the undercoats can be differentiated from the top, or finish, coats.

The same process may also be used to gain an idea of the structural integrity of the paint layers.