Several months ago, I received, as a gift, the book, Techniques of the Artists of the American West by Peggy Samuels, Harold Samuels, Joan Samuels, and David Fabian. I haven't had the opportunity to read it cover to cover yet, but in jumping from section to section, reading about several individual artists, I have found the book quite enjoyable.
Techniques of the Artists of the American West examines twenty one paintings by twenty one artists known for their paintings of the western United States. Each analysis is broken down into two sections: the first part written from the perspective of the art historian and biographer, the second, from the point of view of the art conservator. After a brief introduction to the artist, which covers the dates of their activity, and what was the impetus for their journeys west, a single picture by that painter is examined in overall terms, and then in more specific terms through a series of close-up images. By no means is the discussion presented in a step-by-step manner: instead, the work is dissected, and is built up again from the stretchers to the final scumble.
It would be wonderful if the descriptions of the techniques went into greater detail, but compared to most books, the reports offered here are practically unheard of in their analytical approach. The processes by which the paintings are examined vary from piece to piece, but the methods employed within the book include infrared photography, x-radiograph photography, microscopic cross-section images of paint layers, photomicrographs, rear-light transmission photographs, and, of course, many detailed close-up images in raking light. Colors are described, the order in which the paint was applied, whether a layer was a scumble or a glaze, if the paint was applied wet-into-wet, if the paint was applied with brush, knife, or finger, if medium was used, if the initial drawing was altered, and if the technique the artist used shortened the longevity of the painting.
The twenty one artists profiled, along with the paintings examined are:
- Oscar Edmund Berninghaus - Ceremony of the Rabbit Hunt
- Albert Bierstadt - Cho-Looke, The Yosemite Fall (Camping in the Yosemite), 1864
- Ralph Albert Blakelock - Indian Encampment, North Dakota
- Ernest Blumenschein - Jury for the Trial of a Sheepherder for Murder
- George Catlin - Fire in a Missouri Meadow, and a Party of Sioux Indians Escaping From It: Upper Missouri 1871, 1871
- Maynard Dixon - Apache Land, 1915
- Henry Farny - Nomads, 1902
- Nicolai Fechin - Indian Maid Seated
- Thomas Hill - Hunter and Setters in the Foothills with the Great Basin Beyond, 1871
- Grace Hudson - Love's Labors, 1898
- Frank Tenney Johnson - In Old Isleta, 1935
- Sydney Lawrence - Mount McKinley
- William Robinson Leigh - Hopi Indian Runners, 1913
- Thomas Moran - Indian Village, 1915
- Georgia O'Keeffe - The White Flower, 1932
- Frederic Remington - Downing the Nigh Leader, 1907
- Charles Marion Russell - Whose Meat?, 1914
- Charles Schreyvogel - The Messenger, 1912
- Joseph Henry Sharp - Pipe Song
- Worthington Whittredge - On the Cache la Poudre River
- N.C. Wyeth - Indians Watch with Astonishment as Car Speeds By
Techniques of the Artists of the American West is a good book for artists wishing to learn more about the typical methods used by this finite group of artists. The writing is informative, but not too heady. I wish the paper was a better quality, but the images are still good despite being rather too matte for detail. There are other books out there which break down old masters' technique with greater thoroughness, but I know of no other books which deal with these particular artists in this manner. It's unfortunate that the book is no longer in print, and that the welcome idea of conservators teaming up with art historians to decipher paintings has not become more popular.
I have included two pages here in order to show how the paintings are broken down:
On a related note, a new website dedicated to Frederic Remington has been launched. Be sure to check it out to see more of his art.