Winsor & Newton Archive of 19th Century Artists’ materials

The Archive Materials

The Winsor & Newton colourmen and artists´ suppliers archive consists of handwritten recipe books, bound records of processes and shopfloor accounts (time and pricing for manufacturing their products), as well as miscellaneous details of their daily operations from the company´s beginnings in the early 1830s through to the twentieth century.

Included in this project are all the nineteenth century recipe and workshop manuscripts from Winsor & Newton: 87 hand-written books in total. The earliest original material is found in the booklet subsequently entitled "A Relic of Old Times", which is dated 1833. Many of the manuscripts contain material extracted from elsewhere, such as published treatises, other notebooks, patents or periodicals, the earliest being present a note of a patent dated 26 September 1809 which is for plaster casts. Some manuscripts have chronologically ordered recipes, others are non-chronological compilations.

Not all of the records are to do with artists´ materials, a collection of small books entitled "Omnium Gatherum" contain miscellaneous notes which extend into personal items such as medical recipes (notably for gout and toothache), household recipes, notes on suppliers and customers, travel and hotel suggestions, notes on buildings and services, and on staff.

This material is available as a database (see The Database link) which consists of a series of photographs of individual pages of each of the manuscripts, and a related database that indexes these images in considerable detail (by key words, materials, named individuals etc.) This approach combines considerable flexibility and convenience in locating relevant material, together with the advantages of seeing the full manuscript text, along with notations such as corrections, interpolations, and diagrams, as well as erasures.

The value of the Winsor & Newton recipe books is that they allow researchers to determine what materials were used to create a given pigment or tube paint: information that could be of great significance for interpreting analytical data from actual paintings in technical or authenticity studies and evaluations of deterioration.

Being able to establish whether an artist mixed a given set of pigments to achieve a colour, added certain materials to their paint, or whether this was already done by the paint supplier can enhance an understanding of the artist´s choices and individual relationship with their materials. Furthermore, paint defects, such as the powdering of lead chromate pigments in important works of art (a phenomenen observed for example in several paintings by Vincent Van Gogh) can be better understood and treated by studying contemporary recipes for this material, some of which have been discovered for the first time in the Winsor & Newton archive.

See example recipes with records from the database and the example page images. The database may be consulted after applying for access. A limited index of material is provided to indicate the content available in the database.