James Leman’s glorious palette – Part 1

This series of blog entries describes the scientific analysis of pigments and dyes used on the Leman Album designs.


The Leman Album is a collection of stunningly colourful early 18th century designs for woven silk textiles created by James Leman (Figure 1). It was chosen in 2016 to be the focus of a multidisciplinary research project under the umbrella of the V&A Research Institute (VARI).

Figure 1: The Leman Album (E.1861-1991) © Victoria and Albert Museum.

Figure 1: The Leman Album (E.1861-1991) © Victoria and Albert Museum.

I saw my first Leman designs in May 2003. I had only been working at the V&A for about three years… that period now feels like a lifetime ago!

The designs were vibrant and full of colour (Figure 2), and my colleague Merryl Huxtable, V&A senior paper conservator, gave me access to a few of them to see what pigments and dyes I could identify using a Raman microscope, a type of scientific equipment which allows to recognise most historical pigments non-destructively.

Figure 2: Leman design 38 © Victoria and Albert Museum.

Figure 2: Leman design 38 © Victoria and Albert Museum.

Figure 3: Raman spectra of the yellow pigment orpiment from a Leman design analysed in 2003. Image by Lucia Burgio © Victoria and Albert Museum.

Figure 3: Raman spectra of the yellow pigment orpiment from a Leman design analysed in 2003. Image by Lucia Burgio © Victoria and Albert Museum.

After a quick series of tests demonstrated that I could indeed identify pigments on the Leman designs conclusively and in a very short time (Figure 3), the designs returned to storage in the Paper Conservation studio, only to come back to the Science Section thirteen years later, in the autumn of 2016, for a much more detailed and thorough analysis (Figure 4).

 

 

Figure 4: Leman design 98 under the V&A Raman microscope. Photography by Lucia Burgio © Victoria and Albert Museum.

Figure 4: Leman design 98 under the V&A Raman microscope. Photography by Lucia Burgio © Victoria and Albert Museum.

The main question was: can science help understanding the Album and its context better?

Our scientific analysis of the Leman Album was centred on four main points:

  • The evaluation of the state of the designs (for conservation and storage issues)
  • The identification of the artists’ materials – to compare them with what was available and used at the time, and to better inform choice of conservation treatments
  • To find out if textile dyeing materials were used on the designs rather than the traditional watercolours one would expect for paper substrates
  • To reconstruct the original appearance of the designs where degradation and/or fading of the original materials had occurred (Figure 5).
Figure 5: Leman design 25, showing fading of a purple colouring material © Victoria and Albert Museum.

Figure 5: Leman design 25, showing fading of a purple colouring material © Victoria and Albert Museum.

 

Most of the scientific analyses were done at the V&A by V&A scientists and interns using V&A scientific equipment. We also put in a successful bid for IPERION CH European funds to carry out additional tests. Sadly, it is unlikely that generous European grants such as this will be available to the V&A once Brexit becomes operational…

Stay tuned, over the next few weeks I will let you know more about our scientific investigations of the Leman album.


Read other Leman blogs:

One thought on “James Leman’s glorious palette – Part 1

happy wheels:

The designs were vibrant and full of colour. I like this.

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