San Francisco and the de Young

Renoir - from

Renoir - from

This last weekend I was in San Francisco again with my wife. It was only for a day and a night, but while we were there, and on our way back down the coast, we took in a lot of art. Our biggest art stop (besides perhaps Hearst Castle) was the DeYoung museum. Our stepmother Suzy works at the museum, and suggested a visit while we were in town. It was perfect timing: the Post-Impressionist exhibit is there right now. This is a followup to the Birth of Impressionism show from this summer, and it was an awesome show. The first thing you see walking into the first room is this big fat Sargent portrait – one of those cool ladies in satin dress. Absolutely stunning to see it in person, knocks the top of your head clean off. Damn that guy was good! In that same room were Monets I’d never seen before, Pissaro, Degas, and Renoir. Moving on, we were treated to a room of Van Gogh, another of Cezanne (swoon), and yet another of Gauguin. These are some of my favorite guys, and it’s always great to see them in the flesh. The Renoirs were a particularly magnificent treat – he’s one of those artists whose work is particularly diminished in reproduction. If you get a chance to see any in person, jump at it. Van Gogh is another – you just don’t know his work if you haven’t seen it up close.

Vilhelm Hammershøi - from

Hammershøi - from

We were not quite as interested in the later stuff – it didn’t take too long for modernism to start flying off the deep end – but all of it was cool to see. There was a room or two of outstanding pointillist work, including various Seurats and a couple from my favorite pointillist, Theo van Rhyssellberghe. A couple of other standouts were a painting by Vilhelm Hammershøi (the one seen at right, absolutely love it) and a few impressive works by Henri Rousseau. These were all works on loan from the Musée d’Orsay in Paris; this collection isn’t making any other stops in the United States, and probably won’t ever make it across the Atlantic again in its entirety. The only reason it’s here now is because the d’Orsay is currently being renovated. Maybe in another eighty years or so. So if you’re in San Francisco, or if you aren’t, I can definitely recommend the exhibit.

Something else that was magical about the museum visit is that I was lucky enough to be given a tour of the conservators’ painting room. The DeYoung is one of the few museums that still conducts its own conservation, rather than outsourcing the work, and I got to see a few of the pieces they were working on there, and to speak with a few of the conservators. One of them, Elise Effmann, gave us a tour and spent a good amount of time discussing things with me and explaining details of the trade. In case you don’t know me well enough by now: for me this was awesome. I’d like to talk about this more later; I think artists who are interested in the durability of their paintings should be soaking up as much as possible from the professionals who are working at keeping the older paintings alive. These are the folks who know which art materials have been more durable, and which materials eventually lead to problems in conservation. Elise, for instance, was able to confirm something I’ve thought in the past, and actually mentioned briefly in the last post: oil paintings in which soft resins have been incorporated into the paint layers are particularly troublesome to conserve. One of the primary tasks of the conservator is the removal and reapplication of final varnishes; and when soft resins are a part of the paint layer, they are all too easy to damage. Your paint layer can come right up with the varnish. Even if that doesn’t happen, then the resin will darken and yellow in your painting over time; and unlike the yellowing of oil, the yellowing and darkening of resins is not reversible by sunlight. It’s very fashionable now, as it was in the nineteenth century, to use things like mastic varnish, Venice turpentine, Canada balsam, megilp, Maroger medium, what have you, as a painting medium; but if you want your oil paintings to be durable (“archival,” in modern parlance), then it just isn’t a sound idea. Want archival? Then just use oil and pigment. Simple. More on that later. Thanks Suzy!

Verdaccio layer continued

verdaccio layer

verdaccio layer

Here is the next stage of the verdaccio layer, continued from the last post. Though unfinished, this will be the last time I can work on this stage of the painting. Please forgive the glare in the shadows – the paint is still wet, of course – but the shadows are uninteresting in this technique, they’re simply painted directly using the Zorn palette. It’s in the lights that the complex mixtures of chromium oxide and “sinopia” are used. There are warm and cool grays at this stage, to be brought to life with a final yellow glaze in a few weeks. Next week I begin work on the verdaccio layer of the figure painting.


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2 Responses to “San Francisco and the de Young”

  1. chris Says:

    hello me again just a few questions if thats ok.

    the last pic you posted of the final layer before the this gray layer painted once or twice as there are two pics of the head that are gray -is the first pic you posted the piambura and the second the gray layer.

    is this grey layer painted on top of the piambura the same tone-value as the piambura

    should all of the tones -values of this stage be the same tone -values as the final finished painting will be .or should certain parts be kept lighter to allow for the glaze which will darken them

    hope you dont mind all the questions but as i mentioned in my last comment i have gaps in my knowledge of this style witch i have been trying to teach my self for years .so to get the chance to ask questions and fill those gaps is a great opportunity and i really appreciate your tacking the time to help .all the best chris

    • sunsikell Says:

      Hi Chris, thanks for stopping in again. I realize the posts I’ve made on this painting technique are a bit scattered, due to the weekly and bi-weekly schedule of the classes I’ve been taking. After I’m done with this class, I plan to post a more comprehensive description of the entire process in a single article. In the meantime:

      I’ve posted four pics of this head: the first two, here, are the imprimatura and drawing, and the piambura. The pics posted here and in the previous post are both what you called the “gray layer” or verdaccio – but the work was broken up over two class sessions, since I spent a lot of time mixing colors in the first session and didn’t get to complete the layer. This verdaccio layer consists of subtle greens and reds, cools and warms, mixed from chromium oxide green and “sinopia.” Hopefully the warms and cools are visible in the photo. I’ll describe the particular mixes in a subsequent post, but this red color Gottlieb calls “sinopia” is actually a mixture of mars or earth violet, alizarin crimson and transparent red oxide. I’m going to try to simplify this in later work.

      The verdaccio layer is intended to be the same values as the piambura.

      The colors are indeed intended to be lighter than the finished work, since, as you say, the yellow glaze will darken the final result. It should also make those subtle greens and reds of the verdaccio layer a bit warmer. I don’t know yet whether I went light enough here, but I tried to paint a bit lighter than what I saw in the model. I’ll find out whether I succeeded when we apply the final glaze in a couple of weeks.

      I appreciate your questions and am glad to help out. Please don’t hesitate to ask any other questions you might have.

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