Inside the Conservation Lab: Girandole returns to Quincy House

May 16, 2018

At Historic New England’s conservation lab in Haverhill, Massachusetts, our team recently finished work on a girandole looking glass made between 1800 and 1820. This looking glass unfortunately needed TLC for quite a long time. It was in poor condition when it came to Historic New England and remained in storage for many years. Now that it has been conserved, you can see it back in its original residence, Quincy House.

Conservator Liah Cox works on the Quincy House girandole

Girandoles were very common decorative pieces in the early nineteenth century, favored by people from Europe and America. “Girandole” is a French word that was originally related to candle holders. Today in America we often associate girandoles with gilt ornate neoclassical framed mirrors that may or may not have candle holders attached.

The frame arrived in the conservation lab with de-laminating gilding, missing carved decorative elements, and large areas of gesso loss. Our staff conserved the frame using traditional methods for water and oil gilding. We made an effort to not disturb any of the original gilded surface and to only repair the areas of loss.

Before treatment

The original gold surface was consolidated and cleaned. Once the original gold was stabilized, we filled in the surrounding areas of loss with gesso. The gesso works to fill the grains of the wooden substrate and provides a hard, even surface.

Next, “bole” or clay was applied over the gesso, creating a smooth layer that can be gilded over. We applied the extremely thin gold leaf using gilder’s water, then burnished and toned it to match the surrounding areas.

For aesthetic purposes, some of the original gilded surfaces were oil-gilded rather than water-gilded. We used oil gild to replace losses in those areas. These areas were gessoed, sealed, and coated with an oil size. Once the size became tacky, the gold was applied and toned.

After treatment

Gold leaf is extremely thin and can be damaged very easily. This delicate craft has become very specialized, and can be very difficult if not approached correctly. It requires select techniques to handle the fine gold and adhere each crucial layer that makes up the surface. For our team, this girandole proved to be a fun and rewarding project.

Stop by and see this lovely girandole when Quincy House opens for the season on Saturday, June 2, during Historic New England’s annual free Open House.

Girandole installed in Quincy House dining room