Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Techniques of the Impressionists

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.


Erik said...

Thanks for the info. I just ordered this book: Paint with the Impressionists: A step-by-step guide to their methods and materials for today's artists
Also looking forward to reading it.

David McLeod said...

I really like the excerpt...I forget that all artists are not on the same playing field and certainly encourages me to do the best I can with what I have.

Andre Lucero said...

I have "The Art of Impressioniam" by Callen and it is quite useful and thorough. There are not that many good books on the techniques and materials of impressionism. many are written on the theory or ideas on etc... I do reccomend this one.


Hi congratulations on the blog. You could put the size of the tables so that we could have a greater idea about the artists. Hugs.