Chandelier Conservation & Repatination: The Breakers

Newport, Rhode Island

Since their installation in 1895, the chandeliers in the Great Hall had never been taken down. Originally, both wired for electricity and piped for gas, the silk covered wiring used in these lighting fixtures had begun to degrade, resulting in short circuits in several of the lamps. In an effort to keep the gilt bronze surfaces bright, they had been coated with oil, which had built up over the years, trapping dust and darkening the gold significantly.

Since the chandeliers were hung from a 50 foot ceiling, we began by erecting a 50 foot staging tower with two outriggers. Once the lowest portion of the chandelier had been disassembled, we released the side braces and rotated the staging so that the chandelier main shaft, which was a two inch gas pipe, was inside. This allowed us to disassemble the remaining portions of the gilt bronze decoration and lighting fixtures. The various sections were then moved to the shop where they were soaked for brief periods, to remove the oil and dust.

The original patination was an oil-based pigment that was applied to various parts of the gold. It had been so degraded by the earlier application of oil that they dissolved during the cleaning and conservation process. Using flat Japan colors, we re-patinated these accents, having recorded their location. While we were completing our work, an electrical firm was completing its work, running new wires to the center shaft of the chandelier. We then returned the cleaned and conserved parts to the Breakers and began the re-assembly process. Once the light fixture portion of the chandeliers was in place, the electricians completed the electrical wiring.