In this detail of a beautiful painting by Angela Cunningham, the ébauche is still visible in the model's lower body.
This unfinished painting by Bouguereau shows where the artist stopped working after only completing part of the finishing stage. Bouguereau was known to have worked quickly, often painting on top of the ébauche while it was still wet. In this painting it can be seen that Bouguereau treated the adolescent's skirt as if it were entirely a shadow, laying in a brown tone, then going over that with a frottis of red-blue.
“Sauce” was a term used throughout 19th century France to refer to a transparent, fluid mixture of red-brown paint, diluted with turpentine and a boiled drying oil like linseed oil.¹⁷ Often, the color used was red ochre¹⁸, but sometimes bitumen was added, which, unfortunately, was not archivally sound.¹⁹ By the end of the century, detractors of classical art used “sauce” as a derogative term, saying of paintings executed with a brown underpainting that they were painted with “gravy.”²⁰
After the outline was established and the shadows were loosely yet accurately blocked in using the “sauce,” the painting was ready for “first-painting” or “dead-colouring.” This was often begun while the “sauce” was still wet. First the highlights were rendered in pigment mixed abundantly with white²¹, using a thick impasto for the most “impressive light areas.”²² This paint was to be laid in “spontaneously and freely to lend interest and brilliance to the pictorial arrangement.”²³ Next, the half-tints were painted, moving from the highlights to the shadows using no fewer than six separate tones. Finally, the deepest tones were applied to the shadows, allowing the student to work over the thinly-painted, initial red-brown lay-in, and thereby establish an overall basic effect of the finished picture.²⁴
Contemporary realist Anthony Ryder lays in his underpainting with an open palette, though his results are very similar to the 19th century ébauche.
Many painted academiés from the nineteenth century leave areas of exposed ébauche. Though today this may be a stylistic choice, in the past it was often because the students ran out of time when trying to complete their finish- students usually had only a week to work from a single pose. In this painting by Will St. John, the ébauche can be seen in the lower part of the painting. St. John teaches a class on the ébauche for The Grand Central Academy School of Art.
A picture properly laid-in, or dead-coloured, should present in general a quiet atmospheric effect, with silvery gray, and transparent neutral brown tints predominating among the other colours.²⁸
Jacques-Louis David, Portrait of Madame Adélaide Pastoret, 1791-1792. A very fine example of the antique ébauche.