Friday, February 20, 2009

Massive Black DVDs

Massive Black Media has recently released two interesting oil painting demonstrations by award-winning illustrators Dan Dos Santos and Gregory Manchess.  On Massive Black's sponsored site,, you can see trailers for these two demos, Warbreaker and Above the Timberline, as well as tutorials by other talented artists, many of whom work digitally.  Make sure to check them out, as they all look great.

View Dan Dos Santos' Warbreaker trailers 1 and 2, and Greg Manchess' Above the Timberline here.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Zorn in America: First Impressions

Today I received my copy of Zorn in America:  A Swedish Impressionist of the Gilded Age by William and Willow Hagans.  It seems like a thoroughly researched book, with a wealth of biographical information on the artist, and I look forward to reading it.  I cannot at this time comment on the written content of the book.  However, I do feel able to report on the images in the Hagans' work on Zorn.

I am first and foremost an artist, so the plates in a book on any painter are what I am often most interested in, and unfortunately, this book is not the best source for pieces by Zorn.  Although there are several photographs, etchings, and black and white representations of portraits by Zorn which I had not seen before, the color plates are few, and better represented elsewhere.  Of the over 130 images contained within the 390 pages, there
 are only 19 color plates spread over 16 pages. 

If you are an artist interested in studying more images by Zorn, then I suggest you spend a little more and get the Zorn (Chinese) book I mentioned in an earlier post.  However, it is quite possible that Zorn in America will provide a perfect companion book to Zorn (Chinese), offering an English text to the images of the latter book.  I'll report back as soon as I get the chance to read what was obviously a major undertaking by the Hagans.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Random Inspiration: Lionel-Noël Royer (1852-1926)

Vercingétorix Throwing His Weapons at the Feet of Caesar
Lionel-Noël Royer, 1899

Lionel-Noël Royer was born December 25, 1852 in Chateau-du-Loir, France.  At age eighteen, after volunteering and serving in the Prussian War, Royer was offered tuition to study art by General Athanase de Charerette de la Contrie, who had noticed the young man's drawing skills.  Royer studied under Alexandre Cabanel and William Adolphe Bouguereau in Paris, and won several medals during his career while exhibiting with the Salon, including a third class medal in 1884, and a second class medal in 1896.  Like most Academics, his work ranged from portraiture to history and genre painting, the latter of which were often used as illustrations.  The 1899 painting of Vercingétorix Throwing His Weapons at the Feet of Julius Caesar is his most famous work.  Royer died June 31, 1926 in Neuilly, France.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Words of Wisdom

... no color has any definite and fixed existence of its own - once it is out of the tube.  It is changed and varied infinitely as its surroundings change and vary.  Even when it is fixed definitely under the varnish of some masterpiece, it remains subject to the same old law, and, to a certain extent, can be made attractive and lovely, or forbidding and ugly according to the background against which the picture is hung.

- Birge Harrison,  Landscape Painting 1909  

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Norman Rockwell: American Imagist

Currently on exhibit at the Naples Museum of Art in Naples, Florida is Norman Rockwell:  American Imagist.  The show features original tear sheets from all 323 Saturday Evening Post covers Rockwell illustrated between 1916 and 1963, as well as over thirty original oil paintings and studies by the artist.  This exhibit is on tour, and after it closes in Naples on April 11, 2009, it will travel to The National Museum of American Illustration in Rhode Island, where it is scheduled to open May 31.

The curator of Norman Rockwell:  American Imagist, Judy Goffman Cutler, along with her husband, Lawrence, have made a significant contribution to American illustration over the past thirty years.  Not only have the Cutlers written several books on illustrators, including the recently published J.C. Leyendecker monograph I reviewed in an earlier post, but they have also assembled the world's largest private collection of American illustration art and memorabilia.  Their collection forms the basis of the National Museum of American Illustration, housed at Vernon Court in Newport, Rhode Island.

The images in this post are some of the originals which appear in the exhibit.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Zorn in America

A new book on Anders Zorn, Zorn in America:  A Swedish Impressionist of the Gilded Age, by William and Willow Hagans, is being published by The Swedish-American Historical Society in coordination with the American Swedish Institute.  This book, featuring over 130 images, contains information on the over-one-hundred Americans of distinction which he either painted, or caught in an etching, during the seven trips he made to America between 1893 and 1911.

The Hagans have posted a website with information on Zorn's American subjects.  Included on the site is an outline of the book, a list of all the Americans whom Zorn painted by year, and a listing of Zorn's works in American collections.

Zorn in America will be available for purchase from The Swedish-American Historical Society for $29.95.  I contacted the Society today, and they are expecting the first shipment of printed books to arrive any day this week.  They should be available for purchase from their website as early as next week.  I plan to buy a copy, so I will be sure to post my impression of the book as soon as I can.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Color Palettes: Sir George Clausen (1852-1944)

The Girl at the Gate 1889  oil 67.5" X 54.5"

George Clausen, although a respected teacher at the Royal Academy and though eventually knighted, never really got the recognition in his home country that he deserved.  He was a Naturalist, which meant to his critics and detractors, that he was a painter of ugliness:  ugly people doing ugly things, painted in ugly colors.  To those who appreciated truth and representational paintings, he was a hero, who introduced England to an innovative manner of painting, which not only elevated the arts, but also man's relationship to the natural environment. 

It is hard to imagine now that the paintings of the Naturalist movement were radically new in their time.  The painters of this movement, though closely aligned with the academic tradition, consciously made a decision to break with the precepts of the past.  Their works might not have been as startling as those being created contemporaneously by the avant-garde Impressionists, but the Naturalists were nevertheless challenging the face of art. 

These artists were among the first to disassociate themselves with the convention of executing their paintings of landscapes in the comfort of their studio using a formulaic approach.  Instead, they would either paint their canvases out-of-doors, in direct observation of their subject, or they would paint multiple studies outdoors from life, to bring indoors to complete.  Some even had special outdoor closets constructed in which to work, or had glass houses made so that they could paint their models in full natural light, but free from wind and insects.  Gone were the warm shadows and cool light learned while working in the studio and which earlier plein air painters of the Barbizon School were never able to eschew.  In their stead came the warm light and cool shadows of a bright, sunlit day, or the even more subtle pearlescent color effects obtained when observing their subjects under an overcast sky. 

It was the aim of these Naturalist painters to present the regions where each lived in a truthful, objective manner.  They wanted to portray their contemporary world, unedited, with all of its foibles laid bare.  These paintings of laundrywomen, street urchins, and field workers were not intended to make political commentary, per se, but were meant to present "slice-of-life" pictures of a section of modern society that had previously been ignored by historical and religious painters of the Academies.  Instead of painting symbolic archetypes of the poor or downtrodden, which would have read as critiques on the human condition, the Naturalists painted detailed portraits of these subjects without interjecting any of their own personal feelings of their subject's position in life.

Photography, which had made significant advances in portability over the previous decades, became an essential tool for the Naturalists, and shaped how these artists executed their work.
First and foremost, it was an aid in recording daily life, and the Naturalists used their photographs more like sketches for a final composition.  They were able to carry their cameras into locations, such as farm fields, and document laborers at work, in un-rehearsed poses.  These more casual arrangements became the basis for new pictorial compositions unlike those traditionally put forth by previous, academically-trained artists.  It also led to cropping the figures in their paintings in unusual ways, in mimicry of what these artist/photographers were encountering in their photographic negatives.

The Naturalists were the first Photo-Realists, which as a classification, must be examined in relation to the time period they lived and worked, and not judged from a modern perspective.
After all, these artists were limited by the technological advancements of photography to that date, and often by their own mastery of that burgeoning field.  Their paintings were not marked by universal detail, because their photographic reference was often limited in clarity.  What the photographs brought to the paintings, and what marked their canvases as having relied upon photo reference, was the judicious use of detail in the foreground, and the lack of focus in the distance;  a direct influence of limited depth of field in the images made with the portable cameras.  In fact, the artists of the earlier, Realist movement, who did not rely on photographs, created much more exacting pictures than did most Naturalists, and the Naturalists themselves probably did more finely detailed work in their own student academies then they did when fully immersed in the Movement. 

What the public found in these Naturalist canvases was a hyper-reality.  The figures in the Naturalist paintings represented frozen moments of daily life, just as the photographs did in which the gallery-goers had by then been versed.  These were real people as painted subjects, not idealized allegorical caricatures.  For many, the actions described in the images were familiar, and enabled the viewers to relate to the paintings in a way they never could to the heroic and romanticized depictions of political persona, or to the unflawed characters of myth and religion.  Often, the individuals peopling these art works were painted life-size, as the artists were creating large compositions in hopes that their pictures would be purchased  by the government for public display:  these fully-realized figures appeared as actors on a stage and only added to the verisimilitude.  The colors used were studied direct from life, and came closer to representing the natural world than had the paintings of the studio systems of the past.  If photographs were amazing two-dimensional glimpses at reality, then these paintings were photographs nearly made corporeal;  they were so like life, that at some exhibits, visitors would actually gather at a single painting and not move, waiting to catch the person in the frame finally breathe. 

Jules Bastien-Lepage
Joan of Arc Listening to the Voices  1879 
Oil  100" X 109.25"

It is uncertain where or exactly when George Clausen was first introduced to the Naturalist paintings being created in France, but it is clear that his exposure to their movement, and particularly to the work of their premier painter, Jules Bastien-Lepage, made an indelible mark on his career.  What is known is that sometime in the early 1880s, Clausen participated in the art colony at Quimperlé on the Brittany coast, where like-minded artists interested in Naturalist painting gathered to paint the local region.  Between his studies there, and in Paris while in the studio of William Bouguereau, Clausen had assimilated the developing working methods of this novel group of artists.

By 1881, Clausen, following Bastien-Lepage's example, had moved to the country to document his own country's native and familiar pastoral farmlands and farm culture.  He filled notebook after notebook with drawings of English farm laborers and field workers at their tasks, capturing a rustic lifestyle which, though not easy, was romanticized during that time of industrial progress.  To further supplement his studies, and to record firsthand observations of his subjects, Clausen also purchased the portable, Marion Miniature "Academy" camera, which enabled him to produce some of the earliest unposed photographs of field laborers.

Winter Work  1883  Oil 77.5" X 92"

 Combining the processes of photography and field sketches in a similar manner to that being developed by the artists in France, Clausen created his first major, rustic Naturalist painting, Winter Work, in 1883.  Unfortunately, the painting and its preparatory studies were not met with high regard by the English critics, who found them "too stark," and questioned Mr. Clausen's choice of subject matter, and his desire to represent actuality.  They were deemed "displeasing," and painted only for "ugliness' sake."  (from a review in The Magazine of Art).
It was clear that the Naturalist movement which had its naissance in France, would not be as welcome in Great Britain.

To the conservative English, the Naturalist movement was too radical.  They were still holding fast to their traditions, and the Pre-Raphaelite artists, who represented a return to earlier subjects and a simpler time, still held sway.  For the artists of the Naturalist movement to be able to show their work, they would need to challenge the exhibition system in Great Britain, which is what they finally did in 1886, when Clausen and a group of other young painters formed the New English Arts Club.  The NEAC enabled the Naturalists, and the even more experimental Impressionists, to finally get a toe-hold in the British art environment.

This victory seems to have been a double-edged sword for the Naturalist movement, however, as the painters of the Impressionist faction were not supportive of the methods of their brethren at the NEAC.  Charismatic figures like Walter Sickert and James MacNeill Whistler, who advocated Impresionism, openly derided the use of photography in creating artwork, and the public, never hearing a rebuttal from the Naturalists, found themselves siding against photo-realism.  Many of the Naturalists abandoned their methods for fear of public condemnation, and figures like Bastien-Lepage, although deceased, and those who still idolized the him, suffered blows to their reputation as artists.  Those who continued to work in the same manner as before, became secretive about their methods, and often created propagandized photo-records of themselves working directly from life in order to avoid the stigma of being labeled a "photo-realist."

In 1906, Clausen became Professor of Painting at the Royal Academy.  Two collections of his Academy presentations, Six Lectures on Painting and Aims and Ideals in Art, are now available online.  

Though his art probably reached its apex with the 1889 painting, The Girl at the Gate, he was still a respected artist later in his career, albeit not to the degree he deserved.  His 1916 artistic contributions to the wartime effort did earn him special recognition, and in 1927 he was Knighted for his lifelong pursuit in the arts.  Sir George Clausen died, aged ninety-two, in 1944.

According to Harold Speed in his book, The Science & Practice of Oil Painting (1924), the following palette was used by Clausen.  Included is some further information about Clausen's other materials.

  • Lemon Chrome
  • Chrome Yellow
  • Orange Chrome
  • Chinese Vermilion
  • Light Red
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Flake White
  • Cobalt Blue
  • French Ultramarine
  • Emerald Green
  • Blue-Black
  • Burnt Sienna

Lately he has been using Smalt blue as the only blue in skies;  grinding the powder colour as he needs it with oil and a little copal varnish.  He prefers to mix a brown tint rather than use a ready-made one;  and finds Cologne earth useful for greys when mixed with blue.  For thinning he only uses linseed oil and turpentine spirit, never any patent mediums or varnish as he thinks they tend to dull the colours in time, as indeed they do.

He generally uses his colour fairly stiff, but in painting still-life and flowers, etc., he likes it thin and flowing, and mixes wite with oil and turpentine before commencing work.  He gets his effects with solid colour rather than glazes, which he modestly says he does not understand.  Round brushes are preferred by Mr. Clausen, and absorbent canvases.  These are the only safe canvases for thick painting, as the large body of oil that would come to the surface if an ordinary canvas was used, would considerably darken the work in the course of time.  Whereas with an absorbent

 canvas the excess of oil is sucked up by the canvas and very little is left on the surface to darken with time.  Mr. Clausen is left-handed, so carries his palette with his right hand.  For the ordinary left-hand palette the order of the colours should be reversed.

Why Chromes?  Were they better at reproducing the colors of nature?  Not necessarily.

At the time Mr. Clausen was using the chrome colors, there was a disagreement as to whether the cadmiums or the chromes were more permanent.  Many felt that the cadmiums were prone to darkening over time, and were much less stable in oil, meaning that when washing or oiling out a painting not sealed under varnish, that the cadmium particles would wipe right off the canvas.  The chromes on the other hand tended to bind better in oil, and exhibited very little color change over the decades.  Additionally, the chromes, which were available in the same color range as the cadmiums, were much less expensive.  That was the conclusion based on observation then.

Today, after many more years of testing, observation, and improvements made in tubing colors, the consensus has shifted.  Cadmiums are once again the preferred color choice.  The chromes have been found to be more fugitive.

Ralph Mayer in The Artist's Handbook of Materials and Techniques describes the chromes thusly:

CHROME ORANGE.  CHROME RED.  CHROME YELLOW.  Lead chromates.  A large variety of shades, from pale primrose yellow to a deep orange-scarlet, are produced by variations of the process of manufacture.  They are opaque, work well with oil, and are used in large quantities in cheap paints.  Even the best grades are not permanent, turning dark or greenish.  They may also react with some of the other colors.  Replaced perfectly by cadmiums for artists' use. (emphasis mine)

The emerald green mentioned is most likely emerald chromium oxide, better known as viridian (PG18).  Viridian is considered completely lightfast, whereas "emerald green" (copper aceto-arsenite), is often fugitive, can darken when exposed to other pigments, and is poisonous.  In fact, in France, copper aceto-arsenite, was sold as an insecticide under the name "Paris Green."  Viridian was known as emeraude green in France, and it is likely the similarity in the words "emerald" and "emeraude" led to the confusion in properly naming the pigment in English speaking countries.

Detail Images of paintings by Sir George Clausen

My gratitude is extended to Dr. Gabriel Weisberg, without whom I would scarcely have had enough information to write a single paragraph of this post.  I looked to several sources, but Weisberg's history, Beyond Impressionism:  The Naturalist Impulse is the ultimate treasure trove of knowledge  on the subject.  Weisberg is the leading authority on 19th Century and early 20th Century Academic art and  I cannot recommend his book highly enough.

In a recent email from Dr. Weisberg, I was assured that "big things" were about to happen for the Naturalists, and I will be sure to share his good news on this blog as soon as he ends my suspense and lets me know what is on the horizon for the artists of this all-too-ignored movement.