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Thursday, May 29 • 3:00pm - 3:30pm
(Paintings Session) Eclectic Materials and Techniques of American Painters) 1860-1910

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During the course of writing two books on American painters’ techniques, the authors have compiled and interpreted first-hand descriptions of techniques from artists’ notebooks, painting manuals, periodicals, suppliers’ catalogues, letters, diaries, and interviews. This talk focuses on the diversity of methods used during the period 1860-1910, when increased numbers of Americans traveled to various parts of Europe for instruction, resulting in an explosion of transplanted techniques. The influence of French teachers was especially strong; painting over brown underlayers, as Thomas Couture advocated, sometimes produced problems when paint became more transparent over time. A British handbook on technique that was edited for an American audience by Susan N. Carter reflects the influence of Couture on Americans and the diversity of approaches toward adding media at this time, as well as giving insights into Americans’ special relationship with the pigment chrome yellow. The painter Elizabeth Boott wrote letters that shed light on techniques used in Couture’s studio and in William Morris Hunt’s classes in Boston, as well on Frank Duveneck’s practice, in Munich, of adding medium copiously and applying extremely glossy varnishes. Hunt and his pupil Helen Knowlton were important as teachers and authors; Hunt’s comments on the darkening of the works of William Page were perceptive, but both Hunt and Knowlton reflected the growing unfashionability of caring too much about technique as the century neared its end. Other trends of this period include changing views on the aging of paintings, and a growing love of varying techniques simply for the sake of variation.

Some of the earliest artists’ advice columns, published under the editorship of Montague Marks in the magazine Art Amateur during the 1880s and 1890s, are useful in providing details of techniques at that time. These columns document, for instance, Thomas Dewing’s use of extremely thin, matte varnishes; the growing popularity of the shellac-based Soehnée’s varnish as both a retouching and a final varnish; and the surprisingly early beginnings of the tempera revival in America. Another important, little-known source is a series of interviews by DeWitt McClellan Lockman, who asked his fellow painters the kinds of detailed technical questions about topics like varnishing, pigments, and added media that tell conservators (for once!) what we really wanted to know. The Lockman interviews give insights into many topics, including changing varnishing practices and evolving ideas about adding medium, the increasing use of kerosene and other petroleum-derived solvents, and the growing influence of the controversial French author J. G. Vibert, whose many idiosyncratic theories included a preference for petroleum solvents and for zinc white over white lead. Albert Abendschein is an author who is still little known, but who had an influence on painters of the Ashcan school among others. His 1906 book documents many trends of this period, including the growing tempera revival and experiments with wax that spilled over from murals to easel painting; wax and commercially-produced paints containing wax and/or non-drying petroleum fractions were used by a number of American painters around the turn of the century.

Speaker(s)
avatar for Gay Myers

Gay Myers

Paintings Conservator, Lyman Allyn Art MuseumnNew London, CT
Lance Mayer and Gay Myers work part time at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum in New London, Connecticut, but spend the majority of their time as independent conservators employed by large and small museums and private collectors. They have treated many important American paintings, including Rembrandt Peale’s The Court of Death at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1994-95, The Raising of Lazarus by Benjamin West at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of... Read More →

Co-Author(s)
avatar for Lance Mayer

Lance Mayer

Paintings COnservator, Lyman Allyn Art Museumn
Lance Mayer and Gay Myers work part time at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum in New London, Connecticut, but spend the majority of their time as independent conservators employed by large and small museums and private collectors. They have treated many important American paintings, including Rembrandt Peale’s The Court of Death at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1994-95, The Raising of Lazarus by Benjamin West at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of... Read More →


Thursday May 29, 2014 3:00pm - 3:30pm
Bayview A-B