“Guess what this is?” mystery solved

Interesting orange and brown abstract patterns

Mystery object

Art puzzle solution revealed at last!  Read on.

So we’ve all been wondering what this striking orange and brown pattern belongs to.

Is it an abstract painting?  A rock strata?  Some fossilized crud left on the bottom of a dish that hasn’t been washed for too long?

Good guesses all, but not quite accurate.

At last, the mystery will be revealed, after the jump.

Both the puzzle and the solution come to us by courtesy of Patrick Baty, expert on historical pigments.

Our mystery object is…drum roll please….

…a paint sample that has been magnified under a microscope.

Patrick explains: “(We are) looking at a number of layers of red-brown lead based paint with overlying varnish (bottom half) & 20th c zinc and TiO2 layers (above).”

I asked Patrick via Twitter why samples like this are taken.

“Firstly I can show how the object has changed colour/treatment over the years;  second I can often date a layer; third I can warn of instability and likely toxicity and fourthly I can advise on how it might be repainted, commenting on any technical issues.”

It comes from a dragon which is part of Holborn Viaduct, a restoration project Patrick is currently working on.

Dragon from Holborn Viaduct

Dragon from Holborn Viaduct

I mention to Patrick that what he does is almost like being an archaeologist.

“Yes. That’s exactly what I am, with art / architectural historian and paint technologist thrown in. Also high profile buildings, the colour of which is seen by millions (at least on the exteriors and also Museum / Historic House interiors).”

I’m fascinated. I’m an artist but I only think of making the art – aside from using archival materials, I don’t think much about what’ll happen to it in the future. I never realized how complex the job of preserving/ restoring art really is.

“It’s about people,” he explains. “One has to know what they did and why and then think of the impact of a restoration on modern eyes (then take the flak).”

More of Patrick Baty’s recent restoration projects can be found here.

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