When researching my recent post on the ébauche, I came across a recommendation for the book The Art of Impressionism: Painting Technique and the Making of Modernity by Anthea Callen. Her scholarly effort was lauded for its thoroughness, not just by people searching for the working methods of the Impressionists, but also by artists interested in the techniques employed in the nineteenth century French art schools. Callen, who trained as a painter, felt it was necessary that readers, to understand the Impressionists, first understand the training these artists had received prior to their rejection of the Academy. The book is, unfortunately, out of print, and used copies are selling for nearly $500.
Callen does, however, have another book, Techniques of the Impressionists, which, though also out of print, is much more affordable. I purchased my copy a few weeks ago for under $10. I have yet to read the book cover-to-cover, but I have enjoyed skimming through the work, stopping at images that catch my eye, and reading Ms. Callen's descriptions. Her foreword, portions of which are reproduced below, was enough to get me interested in the book; I wish more authors of art books had Callen's perspective.
Ironically, people who write on art frequently overlook the practical side of the craft, often concentrating solely on stylistic, literary or formal qualities in their discussion of painting. As a result, unnecessary errors and misunderstandings have grown up in art history, only to be reiterated by succeeding generations of writers. Any work of art is determined first and foremost by the materials available to the artist, and by the artist's ability to manipulate those materials. Thus only when the limitations imposed by artists' material and social conditions are taken fully into account can aesthetic preoccupations, and the place of art in history, be adequately understood. It was with an intuitive conviction of the importance of this approach that I began my research into artists' materials and techniques over ten years ago. My conviction has been strengthened by my findings, which I am presenting here in an abbreviated and, I hope, accessible form. Looking at art is the key to art history, and I trust that this book will encourage people to look at paintings with renewed enthusiasm and a greater understanding of how and why they were made. ... understanding stems from remaining in contact with how things are made.¹
¹Anthea Callen, Techniques of the Impressionists, (Tiger Books International, Ltd., London, 1988), p. 6.