Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Stuart's Pigments and Paint Application continued (2nd part)

American Painters on Technique: the Colonial Period to 1860, "Gilbert Stuart: the First American Old Master": Mayer, Lance, and Gay Myers; Los Angeles, J Paul Getty Museum, 2011

Stuart also had opinions about Titian and Rubens that may have influenced his own method of applying paint.  In sharp contrast to painters who loved the mellowness and deep tone of Titian's paintings, Stuart believed that "Titian's works were not by any means so well blended when they left the esel...Rubens...must have discovered more tinting, or separate tints, or distinctiness, than others did, and that, as time mellowed and incorporated the tints, he (Rubens) resolved not only to keep his colours still more distinct against the ravages of time, but to follow his own impetuous disposition with spirited touches." [Dickinson "Remarks" 2.]

One odditity in the layout of Stuart's palette, as reported in three different accounts,[Jouette 1816] is that the color blue was placed farthest to the right, next to the thumbhole.  This position of honor (nearest to the hand that holds the paintbrush) was traditionally given to the white pigment and is shown that way in most other palettes of all periods.  It is tempting to think that Stuart had a special reason for placing his blue in this prominent position--he loved to commingle bluish strokes with his flesh to imitate the effect of blue veins under the skin.  But this unusual arrangement is contradicted by five other accounts that have him placing the blue more conventionally on the other (left) side of the palette,[Dunlap 1834] so it is possible that Stuart sometimes arranged his palette this way, and sometimes not.

Stuart's principal blue pigment (and in some accounts the only one) was Antwerp blue.  Unfortunately, this is an imprecise term, and we cannot say exactly what "Antwerp blue" meant in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  By the middle of the nineteenth century, the term had come to mean a weaker variety of Prussian blue, but modern authorities point out that in earlier times colormen may have also sold completely different copper-based pigments--or even mixtures of pigments--under the name Antwerp blue.[Harley 1982] During Stuart's lifetime, the finest and most permanent blue color was known to be ultramarine, but it was extremely expensive (the much cheaper artificial ultramarine becoming available only after the artist's death in 1828). The expense of ultramarine helps explain some of the slightly confusing explanations of various observers about Stuart's use of blue pigments.  Jouette said Stuart "uses no ultramarine but keeps it by him." [Jouette 1816]  Jocelyn gave the most complete explanation: "though he [Stuart] preferred Antwerp blue to all other ordinary blues, he would doubtless have used Ultramarine...but for the expense, and especially the trouble & uncertainty of procuring it." The final word on this matter should be given to Stuart himself, who would probably have been impatient with the discussion: "I can produce what I wish from these colours, nor can any man say whether or not I put into my faces ultramarine.  Colouring is at best a matter of fancy & taste." [Jouette 1816]

Stuart did not change his palette very much during the time when there are good records of his colors..........TO BE CONTINUED...


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