Sunday, August 28, 2011

Bardwell and The Murray Method

Mulberry fruit at the campus of the University of Kansas

Thomas Bardwell, in his 1756 book, The Practice of Painting... (see earlier post), offered to young students painting instructions that were, for their time, the best and most comprehensive ever published.  He formulated his technique of painting in stages (ie. First Painting or Dead-Colouring, the Second Painting, and the Third or Last Painting), by studying the works of the artists of the past, and after personally learning from "a tedious Course of Mistakes."  Through the decades, as as other authors published books with contemporary information on mediums, varnishes, grounds, and pigments¹, the information on the technical process of painting was borrowed from Bardwell, keeping his methods relevant more than a century after their initial publication.

So influential was Bardwell's book, that a single sentence from that work spawned its own method and adherents:  "Shade-Teint," wrote Bardwell, "is made of Lake, Indian Red, Black, and White, mixed to a beautiful Murrey Colour of a middle Teint: This is the best Colour for the general Ground of Shadows: for which Reason I call it the Shade Teint: It mixes with the Lights delightfully, and produces a pleasant clean Colour, a little inclined to the redish Pearl."²  This "Murrey Colour" of which Bardwell spoke, referred to the stain created by mulberries, and was a common term in heraldry for a hue somewhere between gules (red) and purpure (violet).  The Murray Method, which derived its name from the color murrey, was nothing more than using Bardwell's "Shade-Teint" as an unifying, monochromatic underpainting color.  In subsequent stages, other colors were applied, reserving opaque colors for establishing the lights, while transparent colors were overlaid the murrey base to create the shadows.

Tints of Violet Hematite  from Natural Pigments

The Honourable John Collier in his book A Manual of Oil Painting (1886) had this to say about the technique:   "Some artists have considered that it is as well to separate the difficulties of colour and of light and shade, and to attack them separately.  There are various methods founded on this principle, the most thorough-going of which was a good deal practised in England about thirty years ago.  It was called the Murray method, and consisted in modelling the subject very carefully in a sort of purplish-grey, called Murray (or mulberry) colour.  When the modelling was complete the colour was added by thin glazings of transparent pigments."³

His First Day of School

Though, as Collier indicated, the popularity of the Murray Method reached its zenith in the mid-nineteenth century, it was not without its practitioners in the twentieth century.  Probably the most prominent of these was Norman Rockwell, who on occasion began his illustrations with a monochromatic "Murrey" underpainting using Mars Violet (artificial violet red iron oxide).  Of the specific painting, His First Day of School, done as an advertisement for Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, Rockwell said, "The binding color (the color I used in all the background and shadows) was Winsor & Newton Mars Violet.  I love this color because it is the richest and warmest I know."⁴  He applied the pigment in a dry-brush manner using virtually no medium, and when it was done (one and a half days later), worked back into the lights thickly with Shiva's Underpainting white, a fast-drying, half-casein / half-oil paint with heavy body.⁵  The following day, when the underpainting was dry, Rockwell sealed it with shellac, and began his final painting in earnest.⁶

¹ Leslie Carlyle, The Artist's Assistant, (Archetype Books, London, 2007), p. 197.
² Thomas Bardwell, The Practice of Painting and Perspective Made Easy, (London, 1756), p. 10.
³ Honourable John Collier, A Manual of Oil Painting, (Cassell & Co., New York, 1887), pp. 60-61.
⁴ Norman Rockwell, Rockwell on Rockwell:  How I Make a Picture, (Watson-Guptill Publications, New York, 1979), p. 168.
⁵ Idem.
⁶ Rockwell, p. 169.

Violet Hematite from Natural Pigments (the natural alternative to artificial violet red iron oxide).

Mars Violet Deep from Winsor & Newton (several years ago, Winsor & Newton revamped their pigment line, and cancelled production of their Mars colors with the exception of Mars Violet Deep).


1 comment:

Julia Lundman said...

ah! great post - thank you for all your research!