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Question asked 2016-11-07 22:12:01 ...
Most recent comment 2018-12-21 21:51:34
Technical Art History
Art Conservation Topics
I am wondering about the reliability of the information in Ralph Mayer's book the Painters Handbook? If not reliable and even if it is I would appreciate any and all recommendations.
Answers and Comments
EditDeleteModerator AnswerI am slightly confused by your question. The most common Ralph Mayer book is The Artist's Handbook of Materials and Techniques. The Painter's Handbook is the title of another seminal work on the subject by Mark David Gottsegen who was also the head of AMIEN and the spiritual forefather of this forum. I will quickly describe and critique both.
Mayers's book is more encyclopedic, so much so that it is sometimes difficult to find the precise section that is most germane to the question one needs answering. It is full of really detailed information about the history, chemical components, working properties, interactions, and stability of a wealth of art materials. It does, however, contain materials and recommendations that today are considered less than optimal. There are sections on restoration that are inappropriate, archaic, and potentially dangerous. The 3rd edition in front of me has a recipe for using lead white oil paint to marouflage (glue a canvas mural to a wall). This is something that makes contemporary conservators cringe. Conserving these murals when they fail is very difficult (as the adhesive is both irreversible and prone to eventual failure) and hazardous. Conservators need to do these treatments in sequestered rooms with HEPA vac extraction, in hazmat suits, and with substantial safety equipment. He also has recipes for making restoration fill materials from whiting and linseed oil which were ill advised even when he wrote the manual. The book also contains other inappropriate restoration practices that have likely contributed to a good deal of DIY damage to paintings . Mayer also suggests materials that are no longer approved for permanent artwork. His glazing mediums and retouch varnish recipes contain a high proportion of soft resin, which are now known to create paint films which are sensitive to the solvents required in future conservation treatments. The book also contains a good deal of Mayer's own biases that are stated as scientific fact. On the other hand, The Artist's Handbook is a seminal work that contains much of interest and is filled will important information that is not available anywhere else. It is, however, outdated in some of the particulars.
Gottsegen's book is shorter but works far better as a concise handbook that is easy to reference. The materials is mostly up to date, although neither bookcmention the dangers of zinc white in oil paint as this discovery is relatively recent. I have found few errors in The Painters handbook and recommend it to my students. It contains less detailed information than Mayer's but is a far more useful manual.
Really a painter interested in materials and techniques should own both books but realize that conservation science and technical art history continue to unearth discoveries that will make all manuals outdated eventually.
Feel free to restate your question if I misunderstood your main point.
I do think that the Gottsegen book is a far more useful manual, but do understand what you mean. The book is rather "simple" and direct. That is one of the reasons that it functions far better as a general painting manual. However, the first edition contained some info that I missed in the revised edition (for instance how to transform a tube of lead white oil paint into a proper lean lead white oil ground).
The very comprehensiveness of Mayer's The Artist's Handbook of Materials and Techniques is also one of its downfalls. Her wrote on everything is an extremely authoritative manner. Some was based on science and testing and other parts on his obvious biases. The truth is that the more you have very strong opinions on, without conclusive evidence, the more you are going to be proved wrong.
In some ways, especially as a recipe book, I actually prefer The Materials and Techniques of Painting by Kurt Welte to these volumes. It is also outdated, also very opinionated, and based on the author's general tone, I do not think that I would have cared for him as a teacher, but I find it the most useful of the three as a book of recipes and techniques.
As to the omission of the problems of zinc white and other contemporary issues, none of this was known when these three authors wrote, so it is unfair to criticize their omissions.
People knew about the relative brittleness of zinc white oil paints for
quite a while. Most beleived that this small degree of brittleness was offset
by zinc white's more reactive nature in oil allowing for a much stronger paint film
than titanium alone. This is also why many in the industry added a small amount
of zinc white even to tubes solely labeled titanium white. It was the staple for tints. It is really very recent
that we have begun to understand the massive issues caused by zinc carboxylate
(soaps) formation and the speed at which these move through a paint film. Even
today, only the most forward thinking manufacturers have begun to reformulate
their paints based on this research.
All of these painting handbooks were written before the depth
of the zinc soap problem was understood. Of course, Mark's book was the most
recent and likely the subject would have been included in subsequent editions
if he had not passed away so young.
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