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Dear MITRA staff I was informed by my teacher about a process he referred to as "double Improimatura" in which one starts with a coat of Venetian Red oil paint or similar (thinly applied) followed by a light grey layer, which should be scumbled over the top. This was supposed to create an opalescent kind of grey. However despite using very thin layers, I've found the Venetian Red is quite dominant and I'm concerned about it showing through more and more over the years as I know oil paints become increasingly transparent over time. Needless to say, perhaps, I probably will not use this procedure again!--or if I do it will be with a much, much lighter and more translucnet undercolour than Venetian Red. In the meantime though I would like to salvage the panels I've treated in this way, to whatever extent is possible. Multiple, very thin, scumbled/scrubbed on coats of Lead White mixed with a light grey (composed of palette scrapings neutralised to a grey colour) haven't subdued the VR to the extent I would prefer so I thought I should do some more scumbled "layers" with some titanium thrown into my grey mix, given that it has more opacity than Lead White. I dont want to compltely obliterate the VR, just for it to be welll subdued so that my grey remains fairly grey not a grey-sprinkled dull pinky colour. BTW I am prepared for the fact that all these panels may need to be considered suitiable only for studies or master copies, given that the prognosis in terms of overall darkening may be rather dire. Would this be an appropriate level of pessimism to have? Is my plan--to continue with a couple more scumbles, this time with some Titanium White added as noted above-- if executed with due regard to fat over lean (flexible over inflexible) principles and if pplied in the same very thin, scrubby scumbly way, reasonable?
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Sorry about all the typos above...!
It was a common practice in the 17th-18th
century to have just such a double ground. In the 1600s it was often done out
of economy. The rough texture of the canvas would be filled with a very affordable
red or brown earth. The gray or white layer containing the much more expensive
lead white pigment would only need to be thick enough to obscure the colored
It was also common in the 18th century to have a
ground just as you describe where the indirect effect would yield a cool smokey
appearance to the surface due to the turbid medium effect. It is also true that
paints containing lead and zinc whites become more transparent over time due to
increased transparency resulting from metal soap formation.
As to your current situation, I think that it is fine to add
additional layers to achieve your intended effect. It is true that in general,
the more layers, the more likelihood of potential problems. Having written
that, I think your plan to add some titanium white to an additional layer would
be sound. You may have to adjust the mixture as titanium white is both far more
opaque but it is also a much colder white.
There may be some darkening overtime, but this may not be a
major problem, especially if you paint the paint proper with some body. Much of
the problem encountered in past is that the brightest highlights remained white
but thinly executed mid tones were lost due to the increased transparency.
Thanks Brian That's good to hear; much appreciated. I will be careful to ensure reasonable thickness in the overlayers once I start the actual painting so as not to have my mid tones melt away as the general transparency increases. Cheers, Jenny
I discovered once in priming a darker rough weaved natural coloured linen, that the lead priming was thinner in the weave high spots. This allowed the the tone of the canvas to show through somewhat on the top of all the little lumps. I wondered because of this, whether the old practice of using earth tones (somewhat matching the tonal scale) scraped across to fill in the weave and flatten the surface, was originally used to prevent this broken white/grey priming effect. With the lead priming placed on top of this, it prevents the thicker and whiter interstices of just using lead white.. One imagines it was then quickly noticed by the painters the useful visual effect of the final, but more uniform pale grey.
It's helpful in working over an underpainting like this to add a medium to whites and flesh passages that renders them resistant to staining and quick to dry. Doing so helps amplify light colors and increases contrast. This practice can be seen in the work of Artemisia Gentileschi, where some pentimenti from the initial work can be barely seen, next to figures and drapery which are brilliant and prominent. Modern painters can use one of the alkyd-based mediums to achieve this resistance, which earlier artists achieved with semi-fossil resin varnishes in cooked oil.
17 Rembrandt Canvas Gray Ground.jpg
I have always found that when oil priming if you use a heavy
cream-like consistency gently applied with a spatula you have a far more covering
surface than when applying a paste-like consistency of oil ground. Back in art
school I would often prime canvas and linen with heavy-paste lead white
unthinned using a long priming knife. I saw the same issue with the heads of
the threads remaining relatively uncovered even after multiple coats. This is
far less the case when doing the above.
There is no doubt that filling the interstices of the fabric
with a fabric like color and then priming with a white or off-white priming like
I describe creates less of the issue you describe. I do believe, though, that
doing the same with cream-like primings using only white lead would do the
same, it just would have been more expensive.
I have included an image of a double ground that I reconstructed for a project about dutch strainers and Rembrandt's painting technique. You see that there is no strike though and the top ground is quite opaque. This is an emulation of the earlier, 17th century ground practice and not the smokey indirect effect that the OP is talking about.