Friday, February 8, 2013

Painting Techniques of the Masters

This book is one I picked up a couple of years ago at a used book sale. Only now have I studied it. Notice the word "studied". Each double page spread has black and white detail shots on the top left with alpha labels. The right page contains a full page reproduction of the painting. At the bottom of the left page is the technical guide containing not only explanations of the specific details called out by the labels on the detail figures, but often general comments about the artist.

This book is truly astounding in its value to the aspiring painter and the clarity and simplicity of the writing. For those of us who cannot attend one of the great museums of the world accompanied by an exceedingly well-informed explicator of painting techniques, this book is a glory hole.

My copy is one of the Revised Enlarged editions of the early 1970s. Because of the often poor quality of the black and white details, the labels are almost lost to view, but a magnifying glass will help enormously. The book is long out of print—though I fail to understand that. Watson-Guptill is a respected publisher and should have known better than to let this one go. Thankfully there seem to be many used copies available.

Here is a brief excerpt from the text explaining this Cézanne Still Life:

. . . He wanted to construct the composition so that it was a solid as a granite pylon. Now follow his thinking as he works out each part. The line of the wall at A competes with the jug, and therefore [he] fades it out. At B, however, the line of the wall is important, since it links two parts of the composition; therefore, it is strengthened here by a darker tone along the edge. The edge of the napkin at C is also important to the structure of the whole, and therefore [he] reinforces the contour here with a shadow behind the cloth. Now follow the line along the contour of the jug. The oval opening (D) is not drawn in correct perspective. If he had drawn it in perspective, the shape would have been too delicate and thin for the rest of the forms; therefore, [he] deliberately reforms it into a shape which fits the composition. . . .

Written by Hereward Lester Cooke, Curator of Painting, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. the book considers paintings by about 100 artists from Peter Bruegel the Elder to Picasso. Rich teachings were offered in the texts which explained paintings which had absolutely no appeal for me personally. It doesn't matter.  The details described explain how a certain effect was achieved; that effect can live outside the work in which it occurs. One does not have to like a work to appreciate a technique.

If you are a painter—at any level, this book will give you hours/days of thought-filled pleasure.

I am entering a plea to any of the great publishers of fine art books: one of you please figure out how to rescue this treasure and reprint it with the best printing techniques available. It will of course require re-capturing all of the paintings which I assume are still in The National Gallery of Art in D.C. But, it should be done. 

No comments:

Post a Comment