At the beginning of the restoration project, we launched a reexamination of the finishes not only in the Chintz Room, but throughout the second floor rooms, in order to gain a comprehensive look at the changes over time in this area of the Mansion.
Conservator and analyst Dr. Susan Buck took over 90 samples of paint and plaster in the course of five visits in 2014–2015. Her findings, using the latest advances in cross-section microscopy and pigment analysis techniques, revealed a much more detailed look at the finish history of these spaces than the findings of the 1980s paint analysis.
In the Chintz Room, five campaigns of paint were found on the woodwork trim, dating between 1759 and 1799. While the woodwork was painted a light blue-green ca. 1759, it had been replaced with a light cream color by the mid-1770s, and continued to be repainted in similar tones through the end of the century. The change was indicative of the Washingtons’ desire to keep up with fashionable taste, and strongly suggested that the Washingtons continued to update the room with wallpaper as well. During the late-eighteenth century in the Chesapeake region, cream-colored trim was frequently chosen to frame vividly colored papered rooms.
Failing plaster on the east wall, which separates the Chintz Room from the Yellow Room, serendipitously presented an opportunity to look further at the history of the room’s construction. Mount Vernon’s preservation staff carefully removed the modern ca. 1912 plaster from the wall to take a closer look at the structure underneath. As they started to pull out the plaster in the corner where the east wall joined the chimneybreast, they made a remarkable find: bits of blue painted wallpaper were still left in place. Dr. Buck returned to analyze the surrounding plaster and the pigments on the paper fragments. Her findings confirmed that the paper was from the first period installation (ca. 1759) in the room. Small as the fragments were, they retained just enough information to indicate the type of pattern: a floral design with undulating, sinuous outlines in black. In the 1750s and 60s, papers such as this were known as “chintz” or “India figured” and were English imitations of bold patterns found in Indian and Chinese textiles.
We were elated to find the first generation paper in the room, but we knew that this paper would not have remained in place in 1799. Demolition and alterations to the south wall during the addition of the south wing, ca. 1775, would have necessitated the earlier wallpaper’s removal, and the documentary record suggests that the room may have been repapered during the major renovation periods in the mid-1780s and in the late 1790s.
For the reproduction paper for the Chintz Room, the curatorial staff chose a sprig pattern paper (having small-scale, repeating floral motifs), a type that was highly popular for bedchambers in the 1790s. The pattern, Berrien House Sprig, is produced and sold by Adelphi Paperhangings, and is based on original wallpaper found in the John Berrien House, ca. 1791, in Savannah, Georgia.
Another fragment of wallpaper, found below the floorboards of the Chintz Room, provided the reference point for the ground color of the paper: a bright verditer green, only slightly different from the shade found in the New Room.