Best of Bri­tish

The art of his­tor­i­cal paint-mak­ing

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - CONTENTS - Da Costa Felgueiras will be at the Bri­tish Craft Pavil­ion, Lon­don De­sign Fes­ti­val, 21-24 Septem­ber (lon­don­de­sign­

THE STU­DIO OF his­toric paint and lac­quer­spe­cia list P ed rod a Co st aFelgue irash as the air of an apothe­cary’ s work­shop, with glass bot­tles of bright pig­ments, jars of brushes and paintstained bowls. He spends his days grind­ing an­cient pig­ments with a pes­tle and mor­tar then mix­ing up paints, us­ing the same in­gre­di­ents and fol­low­ing the same pro­cesses em­ployed by crafts­men 200 years ago. ‘There’s a life and spirit to these old pig­ments,’ he says.

Orig­i­nally from Lis­bon, da Costa Felgueiras had al­ways been in­ter­ested in his­tor­i­cal build­ings, and when he moved to Lon­don in 1990 be­gan vis­it­ing an­tique shops and re­search­ing the his­to­ries of the trea­sures he found. ‘I wanted to find out how these things were made so I could bring them back to life,’ he says.

Af­ter com­plet­ing a con­ser­va­tion de­gree at The Sir John Cass School of Art, Ar­chi­tec­ture and De­sign in Lon­don, study­ing paint ‘recipes’ recorded in 17th-cen­tury books, he went on to be­come one of the lead­ing con­ser­va­tors in the UK, with clients in­clud­ing His­toric Royal Palaces. ‘It was quite a chal­lenge to de­ci­pher the old po­etic lan­guage and ma­te­ri­als but the years I spent with the recipe books were the most valu­able of my life,’ he ex­plains.

Un­like modern paints, which tend to be wa­ter-based, his­toric paints are made by mix­ing pig­ments with lin­seed oil. They dry far more slowly but are longer­last­ing, with more tex­ture and depth. The pig­ments are of­ten made from ex­otic sub­stances – cer­tain shades of blue, for ex­am­ple, are cre­ated from lapis lazuli.

His own home in Whitechapel, east Lon­don, is a prime ex­am­ple of his craft. ‘I de­cided to use only his­tor­i­cal ma­te­ri­als where pos­si­ble, so all the walls are in lime and horse­hair plas­ter,’ he says. A few modern ma­te­ri­als crept in, such as ce­ment to un­der­pin the foun­da­tions, but the over­all ef­fect was so im­pres­sive that it led to him be­ing rec­om­mended to lead the restora­tion of Straw­berry Hill, art his­to­rian Ho­race Walpole’s Gothic cas­tle in Twick­en­ham, south-west Lon­don.

This proje ct took five years and in­volved recre­at­ing the orig­i­nal paint colours, in­clud­ing ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal pur­ple, a mix of blue verditer, cochineal and chalk. As da Costa Felgueiras puts it, ‘If you are do­ing an im­por­tant house you have to use his­toric ma­te­ri­als. Oth­er­wise, it’s been Dis­ney­fied.’

From top Pe­dro da Costa Felgueiras; to make his paints, he grinds up tra­di­tional pig­ments then mixes them with lin­seed oil. In­ter­view by Diana Woolf. Pho­to­graphs by Leo God­dard

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