Hill Street, Mayfair

Painted staircase hall (Rex Whistler, 1930), Hill Street, Mayfair

The terraced town house was built by Benjamin Timbrell c. 1748-9 and is Grade II listed. The first floor staircase hall decoration consists of the principle painting by Rex Whistler (1905-44), depicting a fantasy landscape set between two classical columns, as if viewed from an open loggia. The painting is signed and dated, MCMXXX (1930).

The other three walls are covered in a grisaille tromp l'oeil decoration, depicting classical architectural features, symbols of the arts and sciences and a niche enclosing a male figure in Roman dress and an overmantle mirror with the monogram of Whistler. The ceiling depicts the sky with large voluminous clouds. The decoration is signed by Felix Harbord, dated 1959 and covers Whistler's original decoration for these walls.

An initial investigation, including preliminary cleaning tests, raised concern about the visual unity of Harbord's decoration which was extensively overpainted in the 1970's. Furthermore, new plaster elements, constructed to conceal a modern lighting system, exacerbated the integrity of the decoration.

The treatment consisted of stabilisation, overall cleaning and integration of new elements. A major aspect of the treatment was to recover the integrity of the disparate elements of the trompe l'oeil decoration while improving the overall appearance.

In pictures

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The team during cleaning Cornice before cleaning Cornice after cleaning