Saturday, August 28, 2010

Observations of Gammell: Jessica by Dennis Miller Bunker

Dennis Miller Bunker, Jessica, 1890

One of the most beautifully studied heads in American art.  The transitions of tone and the minor shifts are stated with great subtlety without losing the larger color relations.  At the same time the edges and accents throughout the canvas are given exactly the relative degree of definition perceptible to eyes focused so as to take in the entire area depicted.  In the painting itself the young woman appears to exist in space, surrounded by atmosphere and light and shadow.  Yet the draftsmanship is so sure that we never lose our sense of the form in all its inherent loveliness.  The combination of qualities has only rarely been attained in the painting of a head.

R.H. Ives Gammell, Twilight of Painting, (Parnassus Imprints, Orleans, MA, 1990), p. 175.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Observations of Gammell: The Academic Approach vs. The Impressionist

Robert Hale Ives Gammell (1893-1981) was an American painter, muralist, teacher, and author, who was very outspoken in his condemnation of the Modernist art movements.  In the United States, he was a student of William McGregor Paxton (who in turn was a student of Jean-Léon Gérôme), as well Edmund Tarbell, Joseph DeCamp, and Philip Hale.  In France, he studied at the Académie Julian and the Atelier Baschet.  Gammell's unique position as one of the last Americans to receive classical training in the early twentieth century, and of being, by birth, free from financial worries, allowed him to pursue the type of art he loved, despite personal and professional criticism.¹

R.H. Ives Gammell, Song of Lamentation, 1938

With the 1946 publication of his book, Twilight of Painting, in which he defended classical methods of art making and attacked the "clumsily applied daubs of paint" which he felt characterized the emerging art schools of the time², Gammell began to attract serious students, including Richard Lack, Robert Douglas Hunter, and Robert Cormier.  In the thirty-five years in which he actively taught, nearly eighty students received training from R.H. Ives Gammell, many of whom have continued to keep alive the art of painting he feared would be lost.³

Jean-Léon Gérôme, Greek Slave, 1870

This unfinished painting and the one... [below] point the contrast between the academic and impressionist approach.  Gérôme proceeded from a firmly established outline and his interest was concentrated on the figure itself from the start, though the carefully worked-out perspective indicates that he had the rest of his picture planned and possibly sketched in a separate study.

William McGregor Paxton, Nude, 1915

Paxton, on the other hand, made his composition by moving the model and the furniture about the room until they formed the balanced design he wanted.  In starting the picture he laid in the broader areas of color as they appeared to his eye without particular regard to what these areas represented, gradually adding detail and refining shapes.  Carried to their ultimate limits by very competent painters the two methods could lead to quite similar results.⁴

¹R.H. Ives Gammell, Twilight of Painting, (Parnassus Imprints, Orleans, MA, 1990), p 7.
²ibid., back cover.
³ibid., pp. 7-8.
⁴ibid., pp. 181-182.

Reprints of Gammell's book, Twilight of Painting, can sometimes still be found at The Atelier Bookstore.  Otherwise, copies of the original and the reprint can still be found through used book venues such as Amazon, Bookfinder, AbeBooks, etc..


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Can You Spot the Impressionist?

Which of the following two paintings is an example of impressionism?

Claude Monet, Water Lilies, 1916

William McGregor Paxton, The Breakfast, 1911

Though the initial reaction would likely be to name the work by Monet as the singular impressionist piece, in truth, both paintings are impressionist works.

The term "impressionism" (with a small "i"), as it was generally used in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, describes a major tradition of Western painting in which the painter reverently and perceptively transcribes the visual impact of a real scene before him as it appears to his uniquely trained and developed visual faculty.  Such a painter is particularly concerned with matters of optical phenomena such as truthful rendering of light, shade, tone, color, and relative degree of definition.  Painters like Vermeer and Velásquez were among the most distinguished practitioners in this tradition, which then became dominant in the latter half of the nineteenth century.  Plein-air painting was but one - albeit one of the most far-reaching - developments of this tradition.  But the visual phenomena recorded by Monet and his followers, as well as the techniques evolved to record them, were only one aspect of a large and general preoccupation of the age.¹

... the element in painting which we call impressionism is simply the pictorial expression of an artist's reaction to his visual impressions.  The dominant characteristic of the painter, the trait marking him out from other men, has always been an exceptional sensitivity to such impressions.  Whenever any painter transcribes a visual impression to paper or canvas, to that extent he is an impressionist.  Obviously, then, all painters who have made representation a part of their aim have been, to some degree, impressionists.  For many, rendering visual impressions was a minor part of their art or at most it remained ancillary to some other esthetic purpose.  But others found the phenomena of the visible world so surpassingly beautiful and fascinating that they devoted their lives to rendering with paint or pencil what they saw, as they saw it, using the other elements of their craft to enhance their portrayal.  Painters of this latter sort have now been designated impressionists because no other title is so descriptive of their aims.  To ignore or to belittle the esthetic value of impressionist painting is to reverse judgments which have prevailed over a very long period.  To discard the working methods evolved by the impressionist masters is to greatly reduce the scope of painting as an art.
The essential characteristic of the impressionist painter is his attitude to what, in studio parlance, is often called nature.  The word "nature" has long been in common use among painters to designate objectively observed aspects of the visible world.  These aspects may be compared with an artist's representation of them, and when the representation differs from the thing represented, the divergence may safely be attributed to the artist's defective powers of observation, to the inadequacy of his rendering or to his intentional alteration.  Nature provides the starting point of the rendering as well as a criterion by which the truth of the finished product may be judged.  The general validity of this criterion has been accepted by virtually all painters of the Western tradition from Giotto to Cézanne.  But the impressionist tends to place visual truth ahead of all other pictorial qualities.  He does this because the beauty he perceives in nature seems to him of a higher order and of a more deeply satisfying kind than any other.  Consequently nature remains his chief source of inspiration and his dominant purpose is to render as faithfully as possible those aspects which stir him most.  He realizes that an aspect is necessarily conditioned by its beholder, without whom it could have no existence at all.  He is perfectly aware, too, that this subjective factor modifies his own observation and introduces an element into his rendering which is largely responsible for its artistic validity.  So he strives to render his impression of reality, not to create a facsimile of it.  But the true impressionist remains humble before nature.  And the great practitioners have proclaimed that the more completely they gave themselves to the study of nature the finer were their results...
... the chief contribution of nineteenth-century painting was the renewed study if color which it under went in the sixties.  Landscape painting and the study of color relationships observable in nature out of doors, as demonstrated by the group exhibiting with Claude Monet, brought a new element to the art of painting, an element which actually revolutionized that art and seemed at the time destined to expand its scope immeasurably.  We have now so completely assimilated the discoveries of that era that people have forgotten their once revolutionary character.  The change which they brought about in our perception of color remains especially evident, of course, in the painting of landscape.  More subtle and therefore less perceptible to the untrained eye, but perhaps even more important in its effect on the art of painting, was the change in the painter's perception of flesh-tints.  Because the human body, and especially the head, furnishes the most important theme for the painter's art, rendering the subtle and elusive character of flesh has ever been his central problem, the one which has generally been the supreme test of his craftsmanship.
The great change in perception of color which took place in the nineteenth century was primarily due, as I have already indicated, to the vogue of plein-air painting.  The effort to render brilliant light effects, and especially sunlight, forced painters working out of doors to study color relations as they had never been studied before.  Their researches led to the adoption of methods now familiar to all, such as the use of more or less pure tones in juxtaposed touches.  Although the more extreme of these methods soon fell into disuse they served to make painters aware of color variations to which they had formerly been blind and this awareness came to be partially shared by the public.  Plein-air painting became a necessary part of the professional painter's training and the acuity of vision which he developed out of doors affected the work he did indoors as well.  He saw that things were colored very differently from the way they had previously been depicted and that they looked vastly more beautiful and exciting to the eye.  
By temperament an impressionist and living in a period when the impressionist ideal was universally accepted, Paxton dedicated his powers to setting down on canvas the beauty he found so stirring in nature, which he looked at with eyes of very exceptional sensitiveness and accuracy.  It is not an exaggeration to say that he accomplished his object more completely and faultlessly than an other painter who worked in the color-scale evolved in the late nineteenth century.  Paxton's pictures may be taken as examples of the ultimate limit to which that kind of painting can be carried.²  

William McGregor Paxton, Portrait of Elizabeth Blaney, 1916

¹ William Coles, William McGregor Paxton, N.A. 1869-1941, (Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, 1978),  pg.8.
² R.H. Ives Gammell, William McGregor Paxton, N.A. 1869-1941:  Introductory Essay on Impressionism, (Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, 1978), pp. 14-18.

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.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Underpaintings Updates

Ramon Casas i Carbó (1866-1932)

It never fails, that once I put up a post filled with images I labored to find, a month passes, and I find a painting which I wished I had included in the original article.  Such was the case with Random Inspiration: Ramon Casas i Carbó (1866-1932);  not long after I published the story, a great painting by Casas showed up at auction.  I had hoped that it was the first of many more works coming to surface on the internet, and though I have found several other works by Casas in the past year, that first one was the best by far.  I've decided to share it here.


Albert Herter (1871-1950)

There have been several times where I have put up a post, and I have later received messages from people who were in some way connected to the article I wrote.  When I put up the post on Albert Herter in September of 2009, I received word from a gentleman whose family once owned the Herter estate, El Mirasol, in California.  He is the same person responsible for the HerterArt website, and was kind enough to provide a link back to my blog.  As a child at El Mirasol, this gentleman was amazed to see Albert's mastery of so many different mediums, and the site he has developed to honor the Herter family's artistic talents is a fascinating read, and a testament to how strongly aesthetic beauty can impact a child's life.


Charles Courtney Curran (1861-1942)

After putting up the post on Charles Courtney Curran, I was not surprised to hear from some of the artist's relatives.  I knew the family members were out there, and that they possessed some of Curran's originals;  one of the images in the post had appeared earlier in 2009 on the Antiques Roadshow, when one of Curran's grandchildren was looking for more information on the artist.

I was surprised, however, to hear from someone at Ball State University's Museum of Art regarding Charles Curran.  The museum's director, Peter Blume, and his assistant, Carl Schafer, had undertaken a grant to enable the university to digitize the 11,000 works in their collection, and the photographer they employed, Steve Talley, contacted me to let me know that he had just pulled a Curran painting out of storage and had photographed it for the DIDO Project (Digital Images Delivered Online).

The painting is back on display and has become popular amongst the employees and student guards.  It was also used on the University's Museum Alliance handbook last year, to the surprise of many, who were unaware the museum possessed the work.

Also regarding Charles Courtney Curran- Fine art and antique dealer Kaycee Benton is currently preparing the catalog raisonné on the artist, and is seeking any and all information on him.  I look forward to the volume's completion.


Elizabeth Sparhawk-Jones (1885-1968)

During one of my trips to visit the Putney Painters in Vermont, the members, while sitting at their easels,  were discussing brush handling in various works of art when someone brought up the painting, The Shoe Shop, at The Art Institute of Chicago.  Suddenly, Richard Schmid turned to me and said, "That's who you should write about on your blog- Elizabeth Sparhawk-Jones!"  So, given that charge, I set out to learn more about Sparhawk-Jones, of whom I knew next to nothing.

Sadly, in researching Sparhawk-Jones online, I found there was really very little interest in the artist, and therefore, very little about her to be found.  The one exception to this was the site developed by writer Barbara Lehman Smith, who was, at the time, compiling a book about Sparhawk-Jones.  Smith had been the accidental recipient of three boxes of private papers belonging to the deceased artist, and this serendipitous event compelled the author to write about the artist's tumultuous life.

Smith's book, Elizabeth Sparhawk-Jones: The Artist Who Lived Twice, has since been published, and is now available for purchase.


New Book From Dorian Vallejo

Since putting up the post about Dorian Vallejo's recently published book of drawings, Dorian has added a gallery to his site featuring original works he has created for the Collector's Editions of Drawings:  Inspired by Life.  The online gallery can be seen by following the links on Dorian's website.


Ryan S. Brown

Artist Ryan S. Brown, a finalist at this year's Portrait Society of America's Annual International Competition, was one of the artists whom I listed in my regular section, What's on View.  Ryan's 2010 solo show held at Astoria Fine Art in Jackson Hole, Wyoming was a success, and the artist shared a video of his opening night on YouTube.


The Marquardt Beauty Analysis Mask

I did several posts in the past using the Beauty Masks developed by Dr. Stephen R. Marquardt in his attempts to find an objective manner in which to measure the human perception of facial beauty.  My research into applying Marquardt's masks to art was, for me, an interesting diversion begun nearly ten years ago, after seeing Marquardt and his theories on the BBC mini-series The Human Face, hosted by John Cleese and Elizabeth Hurley.  When I decided to do a series of articles on the construction of the human head based on ideal proportions, the MBA mask was the first subject that came to my mind.

Original image plotted using the female mask.  Pitt's features fill it well enough, with the exception of his more pronounced jawline, a desirable trait in males.

The updated image plotted using the male mask.  Although this fits Pitt's jawline and face width better, it does not align as well with his nose and mouth as did the female mask.

When the Marquardt Beauty Analysis site makes claims that they are doing further research, and updating their mathematical measurements to create more specific gauges for beauty, they are not joking.  I first visited the MBA site years ago, and when I did, there were no separate masks for smiling females, nor for males in repose.  I think MBA has even added new editions to their site since my original post on the subject.

Beckham plotted using the female mask.  The athlete's features fit the mask extremely well, better than many female celebrities.

Beckham plotted using the male mask.  The female mask provides a better fit, which perhaps indicates an ideal beauty, rather than a male beauty.

Sadly, when I created my two articles on the Beauty Masks, I did not update my personal research into developments made at the MBA Center.  I had only gotten as far as learning they had charted objective measurements for smiling females, when I stopped updating my earlier investigation, and relied upon the notes and downloads I had made many years ago.  What this meant for the illustrations I used in my posts were that the exemplars of men measured using the "universal" Beauty Mask were no longer accurate-  I should have used the more recently created Male Beauty Mask.

The original plotting of Jay Leno using the female mask indicates that the star has a pronounced chin, a trait for which he is well known.

The updated plotting using the male mask matches Leno's eyes and jawline better, but suggests that his nose and philtrum are short for his head-size.

Using the Male Mask, I have finally re-plotted the faces of the male celebrities I had shown in my previous posts, and have included them here along with their earlier, female counterparts.  The original articles can be seen here:


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.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Color Palettes: The Academic Ébauche Part II

In this detail of a beautiful painting by Angela Cunningham, the ébauche is still visible in the model's lower body.

The execution of the Academic ébauche followed a deliberate set of organized steps. Using his nine parent colors, the student would typically begin by laying out his palette, which consisted of more than a dozen rows of mixtures arranged into three sections of tone; one for the lights, one for the shadows, and another for the half-tints.¹⁴ He would then trace an earlier-completed preliminary drawing onto his canvas in charcoal, and, when the transfer was finished, would either repeatedly tap the work surface with a mahlstick, or blow upon it, to remove the excess charcoal particles.¹⁵ With the drawing thus ready to accept oil paint, the student would then retrace the drawing’s outline, and establish his principal dark masses using a mixture called the “sauce.”¹⁶

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.

In these early stages of the ébauche, the varying tones were not to be blended together, rather, they were to be laid next to each other so as to form a mosaic. Only after the tones were laid accurately, and the dimension and relief of the subject could be read from across the room, were the individual value patches to be linked. This was accomplished using a clean brush for each separate juncture, or by using a brush lightly loaded with pigment of the correct value, and teasing the line between divisions of tone by dragging the brush across the painting in the manner of mimicking the form of the model.²⁵ In this way, the patchwork of tones in the painting would be quickly melted into each other, leaving a smooth gradation throughout.

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.

To complete the ébauche, all that was left to do was apply several “inspired brush-strokes” in both the light and dark areas as to enliven the surface and retain the original feeling of immediacy in the underpainting.²⁶ The greatest freedom was permitted in executing these last touches.²⁷

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.

Before the “second-painting” was begun, the ébauche was set aside to thoroughly dry. It was then scraped, and oiled-out with linseed or nut oil which was applied with a brush, then wiped down with a silk rag.²⁹ The same procedure as was used for the ébauche was used again to work toward the finish, though the lights were rendered more brilliantly and colors of greater chroma were introduced in the later stages.³⁰

Monday, August 9, 2010

Color Palettes: The Academic Ébauche Part I

Jean-Léon Gérôme, Arnaut Officer, 1857.
Unfinished panel showing Gérôme's preparatory phase of painting.

Nineteenth century students of the French Academy were taught that the ébauche, or lay-in, was an essential, if not the most important step, in the development of a painted picture.¹ Rather than making judgements against the glare of a white canvas, the addition of the ébauche enabled the pupil to approximate the qualities of color and value in their true relationships, and thereby built up the student’s confidence and skills at effective comparison. It helped them to work more quickly from the live model, and also aided them in the building of a painting which would retain its color brilliance longer, even when upper layers of paint became transparent with age.² Over the course of the century, the importance of the lay-in, and the amount of which this underpainting was permitted to show in the finished work, increased, eventually culminating in Impressionist works, in which the more expressive ébauche became the final goal of the paintings.

Jean-Léon Gérôme, Greek Slave, 1870
An unfinished painting by Gérôme in which the background has been blocked in during the ébauche stage.

After the middle of the nineteenth century, the actual application of the ébauche varied slightly from teacher to teacher, which has led to some disagreement among contemporary artists as to the proper execution of this initial painting step. There is, however, a general consensus today as to the proper colors employed in these Academic ébauches, which is, namely, a palette weighted heavily toward earth colors.

In 1827, Swiss painter P.L. Bouvier published his highly influential book, Manuel des jeunes artistes et amateurs en peinture, in which he provided vital information on the artistic practices and materials used in early nineteenth century France³, including those colors best suited for painting flesh in the ébauche. The nine colors Bouvier recommended were blanc, jaune de Naples, ocre jaune, ocre de rue, ocre rouge-clair, ocre rouge-brun ou brun-rouge foncé, cinabre de Hollande, noir de bouchons, and bleu de Prusse anglais.⁴

American poet, Laughton Osborn, published in 1849 his translation of Bouvier’s seminal work, converting the colors of the ébauche into the following list:⁵

Silver White
Naples Yellow
Yellow Ochre
Roman Ochre
Light Red
Deep Brown-Red, or Red-Brown Ochre
Some good blue-black
English prussian-blue

Silver white is a “nonstandard term that has been used for both flake white (PW1) and zinc white (PW4),”⁶ but in this case it is certainly referring to blanc d’argent, by which the French always meant flake white.⁷ Roman ochre is a variety of natural ochre (PY43).⁸ Deep brown-red or red-brown ochre were each just a calcined form of Roman Ochre or brown ochre.⁹ Light red is natural red iron oxide (PR102). The vermilion mentioned would be cinnabar (PR106), which is native vermilion, and not manufactured.¹⁰ Blue-black in this case is cork black (noir de bouchons) which is also known as vine black (PBk6), made from calcined wood.¹¹ Naples yellow (PY41), yellow ochre (PY43), and Prussian blue (PB27), are all self-explanatory.

Ochre de ru as made by Sennelier

Osborn’s translation of ocre de rue as Roman ochre (PY43) is probably accurate. According to chemist and paint-maker, George O’Hanlon of Natural Pigments, ochre de ru is a “dark colored ocher, typically a yellow brown hue,” which would seem to match Ralph Mayer’s description of Roman ochre in The Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Technique. Tubed brown ochre might make a suitable replacement, and in fact, Sennelier paints markets a brown ochre (PY42/PW6/PR101/PG7) whose French name is listed as “ochre de ru”, though this color more closely resembles an acidic earth green than a yellow-brown.

A digital representation of the colors of the ébauche as described by author, Albert Boime. In Boime's incomplete translation of Bouvier's palette, light red was not included, leaving only eight colors for the ébauche: silver white, Naples yellow, yellow ochre, ochre de ru, red ochre, cinnabar, ivory or cork black, and Prussian blue.

Toward the end of the century, when a more transparent underpainting became desirable, the ochres in the ébauche were replaced with bitumen, a blackish brown solution of asphalt in oil or turpentine¹², and burnt sienna (PBr7).¹³

The ébauche stage of a painting demonstration given by Jacob Collins

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

News From American Painting Video Magazine

American Painting Video Magazine has recently announced that they are teaming up with the magazine, Fine Art Connoisseur, beginning this fall. The venture includes plans to share information about related topics across the two separate media platforms.

Included in the Fall edition of APVM will be a demonstration by Jeffrey Larson in which he paints a still life outdoors.

Jeffrey Larson, Reflections, 2007, oil on canvas, 20" x 38"