If you want to know more about what the Impressionist artists used for paint, what sort of canvases and grounds they painted on, how they applied their paint, where and in what sort of conditions they painted and finally whether and how they varnished and framed their works then this is the book for you!
This magnificent book is the first full-scale exploration of Impressionist technique. Focusing on the easel-painted work of Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Cezanne, Cassatt, Morisot, Caillebotte, Sisley, and Degas in the period before 1900, it places their methods and materials in a historical perspective and evaluates their origins, novelty, and meanings within the visual formation of urban modernity. Yale University PressInterestingly Professor Callen also corrects some impressions that many people have about Impressionist painters. For example, plein air painting started long before the start of Impressionism, not all Impressionists painted 'plein air' and none of them used mass produced tube paints! (see note 2 at end)
Drawing on scientific studies of pigments and materials, artists' treatises, colormens' archives, and contemporary and modern accounts, Anthea Callen demonstrates how raw materials and paintings are profoundly interdependent. She analyzes the material constituents of oil painting and the complex processes of "making" entailed in all aspects of artistic production, discussing in particular oil painting methods for landscapists and the impact of "plein air "light" "on figure painting, studio practice, and display. Insisting that the meanings of paintings are constituted by and within the cultural matrices that produced them, Callen argues that the real "modernity" of the Impressionist enterprise lies in the painters' material practices. Bold brushwork, unpolished, sketchy surfaces, and bright, "primitive" colors were combined with their subject matter--the effects of light, the individual sensation made visible--to establish the modern as visual.You can browse the contents page here and here. It is packed with an incredible amount of well researched detail about context and practice in the past and as things changed during the course of the nineteenth century in France. It also has a fantastic glossary and very detailed bibliography and endnotes.
Yale University Press
Bear in mind that I knew within about 30 seconds of picking it up that I was buying this book. This morning I sat down to have a skim read of it. I'd waited until I had enough time. As it was it took well over two hours just to dip into it. I'm not even going to attempt to tell you all the new things I learned as a result. It's the sort of book you read in stages and/or slowly - savouring every page. You then make sure you never ever loan it out, reread it again periodically and dip into it on a regular basis.
It also has the very best photography of Impressionist paintings and small sections of them that I have ever seen in a serious art book. For that alone both author and publishers are to be congratulated. You can compare the weave of one sort of canvas to another and look at many other details of paintings. What I particularly appreciated was the way in which you could really examine the nature and quality of the mark making - giving you the quality of information which I normally get by getting 'up close and personal' with a painting. I'm the sort who spends ages staring at a painting or drawing trying to work out what an artist painted it on, what colour the ground was and what colours they used - so you'll appreciate that this book represents everything I ever wanted to know. I also love the way she labels each painting with the standard format and size of the canvas used!
Plus it has many reproductions of paintings that I've never ever seen before in any other book (but that's probably me to some extent!). Examples of such included:
- numerous examples of ébauches
ebauches - block-in or underpainting, the initial layers of an OIL PAINTING, executed in fluid, dilute paint (see SAUCE) which establishes the composition in masses of light and shade, or or colour (cf ETUDE AND ESQUISSE)
The Art of Impressionism - Glossary
- Cezanne's the Garden at Les Lauves. If you click the link below you can see more Cezanne paintings of Provence and if you then click the link to this painting on that page you can read what Cezanne has to say about painting in 1905 when he was nearly 70 - a year earlier than the date of this painting!
The Garden at Les Lauves, c. 1906
oil on canvas
The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC
oil on canvas
The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC
- Claud Monet's Oatfields is one of only two paintings by Monet which remains unvarnished, has changed hands only once since its original purchase and is in a private collection.
The difference perceptible to the naked eye between the unvarnished Oatfields and the varnished variants shown beside it, was staggering. It is not a difference which is apparent in reproduction....I confess I found the academic turn of phrase a bit wearing at times. I'm not quite sure why academic language continues to avoid the use of plain English (unlike many other parts of the Establishment which have shifted towards a framework which emphasises accessibility) - but it does - and this book definitely qualifies as a university level text. Here's an excerpt.
Prof. Anthea Callen Chapter 12 Framing the Debate
The book is listed by the National Portrait Gallery as having been consulted in the preparation of the Directory of Artists Suppliers. I loved looking at all the facsimiles of original illustrations of various aspects of art supplies!
I'll comment again when I've actually finished reading this book properly - but I suspect I'll be referencing this book very many times on this blog before that happens!
(1) Anthea Callen is Professor of Visual Culture in the Department of Art History at the University of Nottingham's School of Humanities. Her publications also include " The Spectacular Body Science, Method and Meaning in the Work of Degas ".
(2) On original publication of this piece, I misrepresented the artists' uptake of tube colour. I misread (with skim reading) what was stated about the manufacture of paint and confused the fact, as reported in the book, that the Impressionists avoided the uncertainties then associated with mass-produced paints with their uptake of tube paints. The text has now been corrected to make this clearer.
- The Art of Impressionism - Painting Technique and the Making of Modernity
by Anthea CallenYale University Press. (2000) Hardback, 240 pages; Illustrations: 150 colour plates, 120 b&w illustrations ISBN 0300084021; ISBN-13 9780300084023
- Amazon: The Art of Impressionism