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I am in the copyist program at The Met, copying The Flight into Egypt by Tanner, link below:
In searching for more information about Tanner's techniques, I came across this 2011 presentation:
My questions are specifically about the content from 33:20-34:46.
I'm trying to figure out two key techniques. First- the dragged paint technique. Brian Baade mentioned this briefly in the presentation for the Near East Scene-Mosque in Tangier painting. In trying to achieve the same effect, I can't seem to get my paint to break. I buy my pigments, not make my own. Do commercial pigments come with too much oil? Is there some way of getting a dryer paint? Second- the impasto texture of the paint in The Good Shepherd. Brian Baade mentions that he doesn't know what method was used to apply paint, but I thought I'd ask about what tools/techniques were found to produce the most similar result.
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
I am very happy that there is interest in Tanner's painings and techniques.
I have quite a bit on my plate at the moment, but will respond over the
weekend. In the meantime, if you can get access to it, I co-wrote a chapter on
Tanners techniques (Pursuit of the Ideal Effect: The Materials and Techniques of Henry Ossawa Tanner) in the publication for the show Henry Ossawa Tanner: Modern
Spirit. If you get a chance to read through that chapter, you will see why
answering this question is more complicated than one might think. Finally, I
wil be conducting a new study of Tanner's media this winter, which will inform
a new paper, entitled:The Spiritual from the Material: An Exploration of Henry Ossawa Tanner's Complex Tempera Systems in
his Later Visionary Paintings.
Thank you, I found the book and read through your section. I see what a challenge his work presents to a conservator! It was very helpful. Thank you for the recommendation.
I am so, so sorry about how long it has taken me to get back
Your question is far more complicated than would initially
seem possible. If you were able to view the talk that I co-presented the
Smithsonian American Art Museum and you read the chater you must realize that paint and media are a
huge question when it comes to Tanner. By the end of the 19th century,
he was a highly skilled practitioner of standard oil paint media. Archival records
and analytical evidence indicates that starting at least as early as 1918,
Tanner began experimenting with mixed media effects, combining idiosyncratic emulsions
made from a combination of mastic varnish, the mucilage extracted from soaking
flax seeds, parchment glue, and a touch of drying oil and lanolin, with more
common oil paints. That is one of the recorded recipes but there were probably
other incarnations. There are even some notes made by Tanner to suggest that
some of his recipes needed to be applied while the media was hot. This would
make sense if the paints contained large percentages of animal glue. Our
substantial examination and analysis indicated that he would often interlayer
pigmented layers of these media with oil paints, sometimes with an intervening
application of a coat of animal glue or sometimes just coat the oil paint layer
with an unpigmented application of his emulsion recipe. Each of these possible
layers would have a massive impact on the rheology, handling, and optical
properties of the subsequent layer and the full effect achieved when viewing
into the numerous paint layers.
That brings us to another point; cross-sections that we took
from Tanner paintings from around 1900 to near the end of his life all have an inordinate
number of layers. Sometimes as many as 23. This number of layers and possible
complex binding media make it almost impossible to really give simple
directions about how to emulate his effects.
As I wrote, it would be a good idea to read through our
technical chapter, but it will not really provide a guide for copying Tanner.
One should realize though, Tanner’s very idiosyncratic media
usage did come with a price. Many, many of his paintings from his mature years,
especially those with the most intriguing surface qualities, suffer from major
preservation issues. This is not surprising. The more complicated the paint
stratigraphy, at least in oil painting, the more likely the probability for
problems. This is massively compounded when interlayering essentially incompatible
materials. Finally, many of the ingredients in Tanners emulsions will remain eternally
soluble in common solvents/cleaning systems. Some of Tanners paintings are
sensitive to water, mineral spirits, and alcohols, making it very difficult
(but not impossible for a highly trained conservator} to come up with a
So… I worry that I have not really given you any useful advice
here. Perhaps this impotence subconsciously aided in my procrastination in
replying. What can I say….
In your shoes, I would start by making experiments
interlayering handmade oil paint with commercially available egg-oil emulsions to
get a sense of the effects that occur when emulsions and oil media are interlayered.
Then play around with adding layers of animal glue over oil layers and then add
layers of tempera. From there I would expand to other hand-made emulsions. Sounds
complicated, doesn’t it. The result will also probably be rather unstable as
On the other hand, you could begin to explore the very
different qualities that can be achieved by adding small amounts of amendments or
mediums to paints that contain few or no stabilizers. These oil paints can be
made by hand or purchased from a few suppliers that specialize in oil paints
with no additives (when you begin working with paints like these you will
quickly realize why most manufactures add small amounts of stabilizers to make
the paint more useful and consistent). I do not generally laude the superiority
of hand made paint as it is generally inferior to high quality commercially available
paint. The issue here is that most commercially made paints have stabilizers
added to avoid some of the problematic handling properties that you may want to
utilize or manipulate. To a simple oil/pigment paint I would then experiment
with adding oils of different handling properties (stand sun thickened,
oxidized, etc) dry amendments like bentonite, calcite in oil, etc) and see what
effect you can achieve, especially in layers. Really, the list goes on and on.
As to you question about dryer paint. That is easy, make or use
a paint that has less oil, or one that contain additives that make what is
called a shorter paint. I am not sure that this will achieve the Tanner effect,
though. You probably want a paint that is not necessarily dry but very sticky
so that the color skips along the tops of the canvas threads without retaining
the texture of the brush hairs. I may try adding a sticky oil, but one that
does not overly level the stroke, to my paint. Something like sun thickened or
oxidized oil. There are so many variable to this though that you will have to
do a bunch of experiments with your specific paints to really figure out how to
achieve what you want.
So again, I apologize for the late response but I really
find this a difficult question to answer satisfactorily.
Please feel free to post addional comments or questions on this subject. It is also of great interest to me.
WOW! Thank you so much for all of your help! I have so much research to do! I'll let you know how everything goes!