Blenheim Palace - North Portico Ceiling

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Blenheim Palace, North Portico Ceiling before the work


Blenheim Palace, North Portico Ceiling after the work


Blenheim Palace, North Portico Ceiling detail of the eyes

North Portico Ceiling

The North Portico forms the centrepiece and principal entrance to Blenheim Palace.  Gladys, the second wife of the 9th Duke had the North Portico ceiling decorated in 1928 by the artist Colin Gill (a cousin of Eric Gill).  In each of the panels Gill painted eyes; the eyes of Gladys and the 9th Duke.  Three of the eyes are blue and three brown. Over time the paintwork had deteriorated; the conservation and restoration of the eyes has recently been completed.

Paint analysis of the eyes determined they were painted with artist’s oil paints.  The setting for the eyes is of gilded rays, on an oil primer, and either a blue or purple brown background.  Artist’s oils are not given to cope well in an external environment and lost both cohesion and adhesion to the plaster substrate over time.  Past leaks through the slate roof above also took their toll.  Prior to undertaking the conservation work only two of the eyes remained relatively complete, the other four having suffered to various degrees.

The aim was to conserve all that remained of the Colin Gill paintwork.  Algal growth, dust and cobwebs were gently brushed off with a soft brush.  The paint was then treated with a solvent-based acrylic co-polymer to re-adhere the paint and help bond it together.  The paint had become very powdery over time.  Where the paint loss was total the shape and pattern of the eyes could still be read from the paint remains and also the ghost of paint layers and scratch marks that were used when first painted.  The missing areas of the eyes were repainted in the manner of the original to fully restore the decorative scheme.

The panel mouldings and cornice to the portico ceiling were redecorated and the gilding renewed as part of the work. The gilding had significantly dulled and deteriorated over the years.

The completed work has made the roof above weather tight and brought back to life the unique and very striking ceiling decoration that is viewed overhead by all the visitors who come to Blenheim.