Notebook, 1993-

Eastlake's Methods and Materials of Painting of the Great Schools and Masters

Eastlake, Sir Charles Lock [One-time President of the Royal Academy], Methods and Materials of Painting of the Great Schools and Masters [Formerly titled: Materials for a History of Oil Painting]. Vol. One. New York; Dover Publications, Inc. 1960 [Originally published by Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans in 1847]

Professional Essays - Transsparent Painting

When many colours are mixed together, their effect can only be clear by being so thinly spread as to show the light ground through them; but, if a thick system of painting be adopted, it is a great object to avoid a clayey mixture of the colours. This has been attained by colorists in various [p. 349] ways. One mode is to use few colours at a time, because then they may be mixed without restraint. This mode was often adopted by the early Italian masters, and by Reynolds--it consisted in paintng at first chiefly for form and chiaroscuro, with a hint only at the ultimate colour. The work might be of any degree of solidity, but, even in this process, the shadows can, if desired, be left without body, so as to show the ground through them. The more ordinary process was, however, to paint lights and shadows with an almost equal body, the shadows being kept light, comparatively cool, and clear. This preparation, when dry, was then rendered fit for a new application of colour, by a very thin rapidly drying varnish--a spirit alone, or [as some preferred] a thin coat of oil, which was carefully wiped off again, leaving the surface scarcely moist. The warm colours, still few in number, were then freely used; transparent and rich tints being alone used in some shadows. Lastly, when again dry, the whole might be glazed, and not necessarily with one tint only. The harmony of the whole work would probably require a variety of tints--these, however, being transparent, would [with common precautions] no more affect the mere transparency of the work than the mixture of tints in water colour. The essential condition in glazing is that the superadded colour should always be darker, or, at least, quite as dark as the under-colour; if not, a leaden opacity will be the result. [p. 350]

Another method. Thick painting, with prepared tints, both warm and cold in great variety, but each mixed at first on the palette with a rapidly drying medium, so as to insure the cooperative isolation of each touch, if desired. This is the method of Rembrandt in some of his finest works: in many, so painted, the shadows are still kept transparent, in others, their richness is insured by repeated but independent, and more or less unmixing operations. One most agreeable consequence of this method is that tints, representing a cool depth on which the superadded warm colours are impinged and which may be partially reproduced at any time, dry soon enough and sufficiently to prevent the clayey immixture of the impinged tints; and not only is this effect produced, but the superadded touch does not melt into the tint underneath, but finishes abruptly with a more or less broken, ragged edge, which, by a contrast of mere texture, independent of the difference of hue, is thus sharply distinguished from the bed on which it is impinged, and, aided by the difference of hue [the under-colour being generally of a retiring nature] seems suspended in air, and conveys the idea of depth--the in-and-in look--which is the great charm of the master-works of oil painting, in the liveliest manner. Sir George Beaumont, whose precepts and taste were chiefly derived from Reynolds, used to say that "transparency does not necessarily mean effects produced by literally transparent [p. 351] colours, but generally by seeing one thing within or partly within another."

In Rembrandt's works of the class referred to, the mere material application of the tints--[so distinct that the order of their application by the partial exhibition of what is underneath or behind them may be seen]--expresses the quality of depth, and closely resembles the peculiar semi-transparent effect of some stones--such as the agate--a comparison which Sir David Wilkie often made. There can be no doubt that these effects in pictures, when seen near, are more transparent than flesh, but, at a due distance, the imitation is perfect. In this finest of all exaggerations, the principle is the same as that of the extreme richness of colouring, and especially of the shadows, adopted [more especially in large pictures] by the great masters; the effect of air and the imperfection of vision soon reduce the darker glowing tints to the just truth of nature; whereas, when the truth is only literally rendered in a near view, the shadows appear opaque and black at a very moderate distance.

As regards the vehicles which may be used to insure this rapid drying, the first condition is that after extracting from the course the excess of oil in which they were ground, the drying and more or less resinous vehicle should be mixed in due, and [as regards the darks] in varying proportions with all the tints. [pp. 349-352]



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