Grain (v) To produce by painting an imitation of the natural grain of wood.

Wood graining was a fairly common practice among the gentry in the 18th and 19th centuries. Panels made of a more common wood, like pine, were painted to look like a more expensive wood, such as mahogany. This was done to give the appearance of having spent more money on a particular space.

Graining takes three layers of paint: a pale peach base coat, a coat of varnish and brown pigment, and a final coat of varnish. While the second coat is wet, the painter “figures” the paint to imitate the grain of mahogany.

Multiple surfaces within the Mount Vernon’s Mansion were grained to look like mahogany based on early 1980s paint analysis. Recent microscopic paint analysis of the Central Passage determined that this space’s graining finish wasn’t applied until well after Washington’s death. Instead, in 1799 the walls were painted “stone,” a highly fashionable color meant to accent the rich wood of the black walnut staircase. Other grained surfaces within the Mansion will be reexamined to determine if they should remain grained or if based on the evidence should be painted a different color.

 

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