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French Patina At The Frick – A How To

In the summer of 2010, Pierre completed a big project in the well-known museum, The Frick Collection. The estate sits on a picturesque block in the Upper East Side of New York City, across the street from Central Park. Pierre Finkelstein of Grand Illusion Decorative Painting will take you through the many steps needed to complete the intricate and delicate process of historical reconstitution.  You will read about the meetings, concepts, installations, the application, and final steps to completion. See also:  Part 1: Museum Plaster Ceiling Repair, Part 2: Plaster Molding Ceiling Repair, Part 3: Making a Plaster Mold


Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919) built this 18th century, French-style estate in the early 1900’s to house a sizable collection of artwork, furniture, manuscripts and more. In 1905, the ornamentation panels found in The Boucher Room made their way to the US from a castle in France. At first, they were installed in a bedroom, but in the 1950’s, they were moved to the first floor. What is now known as the Boucher Room, consists of one room and 2 connecting hallways.   


When the project leader from The Frick called, he discussed that the room was in need of renovation (including new lighting) and the decorative painting had lost its quality over the decades with contrived techniques and aging substrates. Because of this, the decorative painting wasn’t worth preserving, thus making this a complete re-do.  GIDP was asked to lead the painting renovation after previously renovating The Fragonard Room and also painting several faux marble pedestals. A prestigious team of wood carvers, recreated the ornamentation style to fit the panels and surrounding areas. The room’s features include large panels, ornate molding and ornaments, towering panels by Boucher, and a focal mantle. The decorative painting techniques GIDP used were; french patina, ornamentation, striping, gilding, faux marble, and aging.


Use our step-by-step instruction below


Here is a list of the tools & supplies you will need to achieve this technique.  Supplies available at are linked below and listed at the bottom of the page.



STEP 1 – ESTABLISHING THE EXISTING LOOK:  Several photos of the room were taken before the furniture and paintings were removed.  Photos were taken of every area since everything would be painted over. This was a crucial step in order to study each area and think about the design plan.



STEP 2 – SCRAPE SURVEY:  Since the museum committee pays attention to historical details, it was no surprise when they ordered a scrape survey. This fascinating test describes details of the paint layers and reveals historical clues. The data showed that the last renovation was done in the early ’80s where glazing was done with an oil-base glaze (which yellowed badly) and the carved elements were decorated with rather, “speedy” hands.

Note: In the 1980s, decorative painting jobs were done by house painters with limited experience. This was the end of three decades of challenging times for the industry.



STEP 3 FIRST MEETING: During the first meeting, it was decided that the main goal was to re-create the 18th-century period look, but with modern products that will withstand future decades. The director of the museum stressed the importance of “framing” the artwork, by complimenting the panels of  Boucher. 

Note:  Often artisans struggle with taking second fiddle to the artist’s work. A decorative painter must embrace the idea that their work doesn’t have to be the focal point. In this case, the painting was servicing the artwork, not the other way around.



STEP 4 THE CONTRACT:  As with most projects, the contract was broken into 2 parts:  preparation/basecoat; and decorative painting. From there, it was further broken up into each of the 3 rooms (main room plus 2 hallways) with both sections. That leaves 6 contracts with prices based on square footage. This is the best way to deal with any size job so that items can be removed or added easily. Also, this method allows for payment for completed rooms as they are delivered. A 50% deposit is then requested from the client.



STEP 5 COLOR DESIGN AND FIRST SAMPLES:  Because of the previous relationship with the museum, there was trust involved when GIDP came up with a color scheme (practically unguided). After studying the space in its natural light and focusing on the Boucher panels, it was decided to pull out the blues and grays and translate them into a range of colors from multiple color charts. Soon, it was possible to visualize the room from floor to ceiling.

Pierre suggested darkening the ceiling (to compliment the mood), making the transition to the wall less drastic. This look was achieved by choosing gradual colors for the crown and intermediate crown. This was the last chance to see the room with the paintings still in place. In the studio, 3-dimensional ¼ panel samples were created for the meeting with the curator. It was a simple rendering just for color placement only. This sample showed the tonalities of the panel, stiles/rails, molding, and baseboard. The curator saw these and thought it was on the right track for the big meeting with the entire board of directors.



STEP 6 ON SITE SAMPLING: For the big meeting with the board of directors, a floor-to-ceiling sample was prepared. A few paintings were requested to be pulled from the vault and proper lighting to be connected. Base colors were mixed for each section of the room. Once a level of satisfaction was reached with the tonalities (after testing each color on a sample card), a long, vertical section was preserved for proper viewing.

The panels and millwork were to be painted with French Patina. This technique mimics the “ropey” texture of  the painting style of the 18th century. This thickness was due to the materials of the day: rabbit skin glue, whiting, and pigment. Before the meeting, everything was prepared but the glaze that creates the aged look of the French Patina. A few options were shown with different tonalities of glaze. This allowed the group to voice individual opinions towards options that were presented. Working with clients on the decision-making process is a skill that comes with experience.

*Giving clients a voice is always recommended. Listen to what they want and always be ready to justify advice given when choosing between 2 options. 



STEP 7 – ROOM REPAIRS:  The rooms were closed off to the public and the paintings, furniture, and fixtures were all moved into the museum vault. The floors were protected and the preparation process started. The ceiling needed a large amount of repair (due to new light fixtures installed). Also, the walls needed much attention (heavy sanding, loose paint to be removed, and divots to patch). After that long and messy process, a coat of clear shellac was placed on all surfaces to seal. They were now ready for the basecoat. 



STEP 8 – PROPER PREPARATION – APPLY BASECOAT:  Starting with the ceiling, basecoating began on a large scale. The newly renovated walls were primed, sanded, and dusted for our arrival. Essentially, this is a heavy-bodied water-base Basecoat mixed with a thick acrylic Glazing Medium ratio of 1:2 (2 parts tinted paint and 1 part thickening molding paste). This thick paint will enhance the visual texture of a brushstroke.  

2 coats of french patina were applied, consisting of a ropey basecoat on all panels & millwork. This technique mimics the “ropey” texture of the painting style of the 18th century. This thickness was due to the materials of the day: rabbit skin glue, whiting, and pigment. Brush the french patina on with a Glazing Brush. A generous amount will give more texture.  

Next, make final prints in the direction of the grain with a Tooth Spalter. If the brush is used just so, then the result are controlled, refined, and authentic to the marks of the 18th century



STEP 9 – APPLY STRIPES TO MOLDING:  Blue stripes are applied on the molding and ornaments with the Rondin Brush.



STEP 10 – BASECOAT THE ORNAMENT: Using a polychrome technique, ornaments were hand-painted from light pink to dark blue to create a modeling effect. The pointed sable Detailing Brush is the best brush for this job.



STEP 11 – OVERGLAZE WITH PATINA:  Then, it was time for the glazing on all walls (including the ornaments). Due to the absorbent nature of the basecoat and the sheer size of the room, an oil glaze was used (3 parts turpentine, 1 part linseed oil, Japan drier). With a similar technique as the application of the thick basecoat, the glaze was applied with oil Glazing Brush, stippled and pulled with a Tooth Spalter. Let dry.



STEP 12 – APPLY TALC:  Once dry, talc was applied on every glazed surface to matte down and prepare for gilding. This proved to be an extremely important step to ensure the gold leaf did not stick on unwanted surfaces.



STEP 13 – PREPARE FOR GILDING:  Areas to be gilded were covered with red tinted shellac. The Rondin brush was absolutely perfect for long stretches of molding without taping off. The process was repeated with red tinted oil size (oil size was preferred because it laid smoothly and allowed for a comfortable tack time).



STEP 14 – GILD SURFACE: 23K gold leaf was applied on all areas using the gilder’s tip technique, which shows the join lines of each leaf laid. To do this, sectioning was achieved by slicing delicately with a gilding knife on a gilder’s cushion and placing the strips directly on the surface with a gilder’s tip.

Loose leaf was skewered and the gold was burnished using a Chiqueteur or Gilder’s Mop



STEP 15 – APPLY PATINA OVER GILDED SURFACE: At that point, the gilding needed to be brought back to the 18th century – it needed to be faux aged. The patina process stated by dipping a Rondin brush in alcohol. The gold was gently scrubbed off in areas to reveal the red undercoating. This gave a very traditional “water-gilded,” worn look.



STEP 16 – PROTECT AND FINISH:  Finally there was lots of cleaning, touch-ups, and fine-tuning of all areas. The protection was taken down and GIDP moved out of the space.


The outcome was fantastic and the crew was very proud of their accomplishments after a challenging two months at the museum. The conservator at the museum was thrilled with the work and he praised our professionalism and cleanliness on the jobsite.  

The GIDP crew was always dressed in uniform and was respectful and friendly (after all, the museum was open to the public during the job). It was one of those jobs we will all remember!

See also:  Part 1: Museum Plaster Ceiling Repair, Part 2: Plaster Molding Ceiling Repair, Part 3: Making a Plaster Mold