Thursday, August 12, 2010

Color Palettes: The Academic Ébauche Part III

Later in the 19th century, artists began incorporating the spontaneous look of the ébauche in their finished works, as in this painting by Naturalist Émile Friant.

In his book The Mastery of Oil Painting, Frederic Taubes offered a similar underpainting palette to that of the Academy, consisting of lead white, ochre, umber, Prussian blue, and Venetian red.³¹ Taubes proposed that colors like umber and Prussian blue were especially desirable in the first-painting because of their exceptional siccative qualities.³² He also suggested specifically adding Copal Varnish to the stiff white lead used in the underpainting.  Not only would this additive make the paint be more pliable, it would also make the initial layer thinner and more absorbent; since the liquid part of the varnish is volatile, as it dries, the only deposit left in the paint would be the resin which would impart this quality to the paint.  As white predominates the color mixtures, there would be no need to add the varnish to the other colors on the palette.³³

Paintings by JoshuaLa Rock

It is likely that when artists in the nineteenth century Academy were choosing the colors for their ébauche, their decisions were based not only on availability, but also on the speed of drying time. As this was also the time period in which artists like Bouguereau and Vibert were known to experiment with creating absorbent canvases, it is also likely that other artists receiving training at the École des Beaux- Arts were searching for a similar property in their ground layers. This combination of fast-drying pigments and an absorbent surface would have sped up the ébauche process, allowing students more time to work on their finish, when they often only had a single week per pose to complete all stages of their painting.

Joshua LaRock, Nina

By the end of the century, progressive artists like the Impressionists, were eschewing the dark ébauche in favor of beginning their paintings with the bright hues related to the local colors of their subject.³⁴ These artists preferred the spontaneity and freedom of the ébauche stage to the look of the highly rendered finish, and therefore concerned themselves with vibrant brushstrokes and the juxtaposition of unblended tones and colors. To the artists who worked in the full Academic method, the art of the Impressionists looked incomplete, and earned the progressives the criticism that their work would be improved had they finished their educations. Though animosity was suffered between these divergent schools of Impressionism and classicism, it was their common education in the application of the ébauche which enabled them both to create the works of art that defined their individual genres.

Contemporary painter, Morgan Weistling, uses a technique which resembles the ébauche. Weistling's colors are low in chroma, and are placed on the canvas as if he were laying individual tiles of tone.

¹ This specifically refers to painting. It was pre-supposed that a student who had advanced to the level of painting instruction had already mastered drawing.
² Albert Boime, The Academy & French Painting in the Nineteenth Century, (Phaidon Publishers, Inc., New York, 1971),p. 39.
³ Anthea Callen, Techniques of the Impressionists, (Tiger Books International, Ltd., London, 1988), p. 86.
⁴ P.L. Bouvier, Manuel des jeunes artistes et amateurs en peinture, (F.G. Levrault, Paris, 1832), pp. 210-211.
⁵ Laughton Osborn, Handbook of Young Artists and Amateurs in Oil Painting, (John Wiley Publishing, New York, 1849), pp. 156-157.
⁶ Ralph Mayer, The Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques, 5th edition, (Penguin Books, New York, 1991), p. 56.
⁷ idem.
⁸ ibid., p. 55.
⁹ Osborn, p. 165.
¹⁰ Mayer, pp. 42 and 97.
¹¹ ibid., p. 61.
¹² ibid., p. 37.
¹³ Boime, p. 194.
¹⁴ Osborn, pp. 156-163.
¹⁵ Boime, p. 37.
¹⁶ idem.
¹⁷ Callen, p. 188.
¹⁸ Boime, p. 37.
¹⁹ Callen, p. 188.
²⁰ idem.
²¹ J.S. Templeton, The Guide to Oil Painting, (Rownby, Dillon, and Rowney, London, 1845), p. 38.
²² Boime, p. 37.
²³ ibid., p. 38.
²⁴ idem.
²⁵ Osborn, pp. 173-174.
²⁶ Boime, pp. 38-39.
²⁷ Boime, p. 39.
²⁸ Templeton, p. 37.
²⁹ Templeton, p. 44.
³⁰ Boime, p. 39.
³¹ Frederic Taubes, The Mastery of Oil Painting, (Bramhall House, New York, 1953), p. 157.
³² idem.
³³ Taubes, p. 156.  Copal varnish, when properly prepared and applied, will dry to the touch rapidly, and will not be as susceptible dissolving when additional layers of paint containing turpentine are added (Damar varnish, on the other hand, will always be vulnerable to even mild, volatile solvents.).
³⁴ Callen, p. 186.


Marvin Mattelson said...

Hi Matt,

Nice job. I think it needs to be pointed out that it was not standard practice for all 19th century academic artists to do only one finish layer on top of the ébauche as seems to be the practice according to the contemporary atelier work you've show here as examples.

Artists such a Bouguereau built up his layers in varying degrees based on a number of criteria. As a result his paintings aren't as hard edged and his color is more subtly modulated.

I also find it hard to believe that every artist used the same exact palette for their lay-in. I've never met two artists who could agree on everything. ;-)

Gregory Becker said...

Great series of posts. I would love to see a palatte layout of tiling colors.

tinoradman said...

Matt, there seem to be inconsistency in your writing:

"Though Prussian blue possesses a ferrocyanide complex that acts as a weak siccative in oil, it seems unlikely that painters in the nineteenth century chose their palette of earth colors for this particular property."

So, it seems that the drying properties were not principal argument in favor of earth palette. In next chapter you wrote something completely opposite:

"It is more than likely that artists in the nineteenth century Academy chose their colors not only based on availability, but on speed of drying time..."

innisart said...

Valentino- You are absolutely correct- I wish it had been caught earlier, and I hope it didn't confuse too many people. I made some adjustments, and I hope it reads better now.

Gregory- I'm thinking of laying out a palette with the specific strings described by Laughton Osborn, including the hair colors, and putting a post up with images of those mixtures.

Marvin- This does appear to be the palette taught at the Academy, as late as 1832, at least. A very similar palette is detailed earlier, (in 1756, and across the Channel no less), in the writings of English painter Thomas Bardwell. At least we know it stood the test of time.

Though the colors did vary over more-than-a-century of teaching, what is most important is that low-chroma earth colors were used, instead of brighter synthetics (when available), and that the underpainting was not monochromatic (albeit it was similar in tones). The palette I list is but one of many that was taught, I am sure.

I think every artist will use as many layers as it takes to get the results he or she needs; it is just that in the second painting, the most difference can be seen.

Bouguereau... well, Bouguereau did stuff with his layers that the average artist couldn't duplicate with twice as many layers of paint. ;)

Palettes like these are fascinating to me, because I think there is great beauty attainable with these more subtle colors, a point that is often under-appreciated by those artists raised on cadmiums and their like.

Marvin Mattelson said...

Well Matt, being a former student of mine, you know how I feel about cadmiums on the palette. As I tell all my students, painting flesh tones with cadmiums is like trying to parallel park in a Boeing 747. ;-) And my hero Paxton, who I've patterned my palette colors after, never used cadmiums.

In regards to Bouguereau's use of layers, yes, it takes more than just the building up multiple finish layers to create the depth and luminosity he achieved. On the other hand, no one has ever matched his results by painting alla prima or by applying one finish layer over the lay-in, have they?

Keep up the good work.

Tom Wharton said...

Hi Matt.
This was a very informative series of posts. Thank you.

NPL said...

Would just like to ask what books you would recommend starting with, if someone is interested in learning more about accademic ebauche?
Great post as always!
Thank you
/Linus, art student

innisart said...

Hi Linus-

There are probably a great number of books that describe the process and of which I am totally unaware. What I can suggest is to look at the writings of Bouvier, the Swiss artist who recorded the teaching methods he encountered while at the Academy. American Laughton Osborn translated Bouvier's work in 1849, and it is available for free online:

If you visit Anthony Ryder's website, there is a nice set of demonstration photos which give an idea of what the ébauche looks like (though Ryder uses an open palette). You can see those demo shots here:

Finally, I had one artist comment that this method reminded him of his training in the Reilly Method. It is not quite the same, but there are similarities. In the Reilly Method, there is a monochromatic underpainting. This wash-in is not necessarily as thin as the typical ébauche, and the darkest darks are often opaque. The next layer is more like the mosaic described in the post. There are many books on the Reilly Method (he was a very influential teacher), but the books are in demand and can be pricey. Some authors include Apollo Dorian, Jack Faragasso, Frank Covino, and Angelo Grado.

Hope that helps!

innisart said...

The url for the Osborn book was cut, so try this link instead:

Craig Banholzer said...

Great series of posts. However, I'd love to see more examples from the Nineteenth Century. Jacob Collins and his students have developed a very strong contemporary version of the ébauche, but I'm not sure that so many examples of their work really enlightens me as much as authentic examples would. What about Thomas Couture?