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A Brief History of Woodgraining and Marbling.

On the walls of caves in France and Spain, simple paintings have been found, depicting scenes of the day dating back as early as 15,000 BC.
The Mycenaeans, an ancient Aegean civilisation, are known to have decorated pottery with marbling over four thousand years ago.

Early pigments, known as 'earth colours', are, as the name suggests, dug from the earth (clay, stone etc.)   e.g., Terra Verde is the Italian term for 'green earth', which is exactly what it is.
These 'earth colours', made from natural ores such as iron oxide, were supplemented by other colours, e.g. blue, red, violet and brown, which were gained from plants such as indigo and madder, and were specially imported for decorative finishes from India by the Egyptians by about 1500
This compilation of pigments was again appended by 6000
BC in China, with calcined (heated to remove moisture) mixtures of organic pigments and inorganic compounds.
The medieval alchemists provided more new pigments, thus providing the materials necessary to reproduce many of the more vivid colours found in marble, lapis lazuli etc.

Skilled artisans of India & Egypt began to master woodgraining and marbling as far back as 3000 B.C., along with gilding & the painting of murals.
The ruins of their cities indicate that they decorated walls, furniture, books and accessories in temples & palaces as well as more humble dwellings.
The difficulty and expense of obtaining wood in that area made woodgraining popular at the time, but its popularity faded for long periods afterwards.

Although the origins of graining & marbling date back to pre- Ancient Egypt, it was the Greeks & Romans that exploited its use fully, despite an abundance of marble in that area.
Marble (the Greek word for 'shining stone') was unsuitable for certain structural features, and so decorative painters were employed to imitate real marble on these architectural elements.
Examples of their work, including trompe l'oeil ('trick of the eye') scenes, still popular today, framed with marbling, can be seen in the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
The excavated Roman pottery combined different coloured clay to suggest the veining of marble, which provided the inspiration for 18th century Wedgwood & Staffordshire pottery.

From the 13th century onward, marbling was used in churches throughout Europe to cut costs, and to add grandeur to load-bearing architectural features, as had the Greeks & Romans.
Solving the weight-bearing problem in this way is more evident in 15th & 16th century examples like Saint Peter's in Rome and The Sistine Chapel in The Vatican.
In the mid 16th century, the Italian painter, Paolo Veronese, and his artists combined fine examples of marbling with trompe l'oeil, which can be seen at The Villa Barbaro in Maser, Italy.

In the 15th century, Flemish painters invented oil-based paint comprising of pigments mixed with linseed oil, which has remained largely unchanged to this day.
The use of linseed oil as the vehicle of the paint was a major breakthrough, and replaced the previous mixtures of beeswax, egg white, gelatin and gum arabic.
Although this enabled them to experiment with glaze, it wasn't until the 19th century that transparent oil glaze was invented, allowing more time and more scope for blending etc.

The European artists of the Renaissance period trained extensively in gilding, stencilling, woodgraining and marbling, as well as in fresco and trompe l'oeil painting.
They were commissioned by the wealthy to decorate everything from pieces of furniture through to entire castles and palaces such as The Palace of Versailles near Paris.

In 1502, two fraternities, known as the 'Painters' (craftsmen who executed their work upon wood) and the 'Stainers' (craftsmen who stained or painted canvas and other cloth) petitioned the Lord Mayor of London for their union into one craft, now known as The Worshipful Company of Painter Stainers of Trinity Lane, London.
Today, they bestow a prestigious award known as the 'Freedom of the City and Guilds of London' upon only the finest artisans as a mark of appreciation for outstanding craftsmanship.

In the late 17th century, the laminating of tropical wood veneers onto more sturdy timber was fashionable in Europe, and woodgraining was a cheaper alternative.
Marbled and woodgrained panelling, representing the height of luxurious interior decoration of this period can be seen at Ham house, Wiltshire.

About 1760, the Neoclassical style began, largely inspired by the architect Robert Adam, who was strongly influenced by both Roman architecture and interior decoration.
His work reflected the newly awakened interest in classical remains, and sometimes incorporated marbling and woodgraining to disguise cheaper wood.

The 1770s saw a brief fad for graining & trompe l'oeil on pottery and tin-glazed earthenware by such firms as the Nidervillier pottery & porcelain factory in Lorraine, France.
This 'decor bois' used two tones of brown to simulate strongly grained wood, onto which crimson coloured scenes of everyday life etc. were painted.

In 18th century France, furniture, painted to resemble wood (faux bois) and marble (faux marbre) were used to match walls in stately residences, representing great sophistication.
However, the use of fine woods and cabinetry hindered woodgraining in France at that time, but Napoleon's use of mahogany veneers rekindled it in the 19th century.
Faux finishes became popular in England during the Regency period, when tabletops were painted to resemble those brought back by Napoleon from his Italian campaigns.
Painted furniture became so popular that books such as 'The Decorative Painter and Glazier's Guide' were written, detailing the techniques employed to create the finishes.

The vogue for painted finishes was exported to North America in the early 19th century, although marbled floorboards were seen there as far back as the early 1700s.
A small section of black & white checkerboard marbled floorboards from this period has been preserved at The Van Cortland Manor House in Tarrytown, New York.
Some European settlers, 'travelling painters', grained furniture etc. in their own styles, giving birth to the unrealistic 'country' or 'primitive' graining in North America.

The organised production of specialist tools sprang from the Victorian interest in decorative painting during the Arts & Craft movement, which revived the respect for such handwork.
Woodgraining and marbling reached the height of sophistication in the 19th century, inspired by the popularity of rare and expensive tropical woods and exotic marbles, and from the fine examples of woodgraining and marbling shown at the Great Exhibitions of London in 1851 & Paris in 1855.
Highly skilled craftsmen such as John Taylor of Birmingham & the famous Thomas Kershaw of  Standish, Nr. Bolton, were awarded medals at the London and Paris exhibitions.
Examples of their work can be viewed, by appointment, at The Victorian & Albert Museum, London and at The Chadwick Museum, Bolton.
During one of the exhibitions, Kershaw was accused by the French of cheating and had to satisfy his accusers by producing another sample panel there & then.

There is still an international conference of decorative painters known as The Salon, which meets at a different location each year.

Books: Recipes for Surfaces by Mindy Drucker & Pierre Finkelstein.
Professional Painted Finishes by Ina Brosseau Marx, Allen Marx and Robert Marx.
Kevin McCloud's Decorating Book.
Internet: http://www.mikemacneil.com/about mike macneil.shtml

Courtesy of  www.painting-effects.co.uk