Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A great painting photo and a little more about the Mulhaupt painting from last night.

Here is a great photo of my friend Renee Lammers from her blog. I read it routinely, she is on a painting marathon for this month. I liked this photo taken on Monhegan because it makes her look so confident and even heroic. This is the best picture of a contemporary plein air painting woman I have seen in a long time. This is what the power looks like!

I posted this Mulhaupt (1871-1938) painting last night and muttered a few incantations over it. When I rechecked my post this morning for the inevitable spelling errors I realized that I could say a little more about it.Part of my intent on this blog is to do a pocket history of American landscape painting and I am doing that progressively so I don't want Mulhaupt to jump the que. I will return to do a bio on him when I get to his era. But I will talk a little about this particular painting.

I have painted enough similar scenes and experienced the challenges of making a picture out of this particular thing to know what a great piece of work this is. When I see pictures by the old Gloucester artists of the waterfront with all of the boats and accoutrement's of the long passed fishing industry, I think, that they had such great subject matter that making paintings would have been easier. But scenes like this are of course still available and Mulhaupt was working with material that is still before us today. Let me load up some bullets here and make comments on this piece.
  • The painting is a linked up tracery of dark against light. There is a filigree of foreground elements leading us up from the foreground to the stand of birches.
  • The birches which are the main characters on this stage are arrayed in their delicate fineness in front of the foil formed by the dark grouping of trees behind them.
  • I have spoken about counterchange many times and this is a fine example of that. The trees are light in front of the dark background and dark against the sky.
  • The background progresses across the canvas in a design I have called the "string of pearls" here is a post about that. Artists often combine and mix and match design motifs in their work and Mulhaupt has done that in this piece.
  • The tonality of the piece is mostly gray with warm burnt sienna accents. Both the background mass of trees and the variations on the birches themselves are knocked in using this warm color. Gray and warm red is a restrained and dignified scheme. The snow could have been shadowed or painted with a sunlight influenced color that would have been cheerier, but Mulhaupt went for the soft sell. It gives the painting a more wistful if less assertive look. I think too many painters today go for the punchier more highly colored look when a quieter effect would be more appropriate.This piece is poetic as a result of that choice.
  • Three corners of this piece are empty. I often tell students that you can have the corners for free. There doesn't need to be much in them, but the lead in does decorate the lower right corner, which gives greater variety than had all of the corners been empty.
  • If you put your finger on the lower left had corner of the painting you will notice that everything marches backwards into space from that point. Each element of the painting is successively behind the others as they recede into space. That sequential delineation of space is real characteristic of Gloucester, Rockport work. It gives a definite foreground, middle ground distance delineation and of course is installed more than perceived.
  • The delicate tracery of the branches is the result of some reduction. He has downplayed them so the aren't too assertive. Again I have painted scenes like this and know he has judiciously lopped off branches to keep the foreground airy so it balances with the inward middle ground. These trees have been pruned so as to not assert themselves over the deeper parts of the tableau.
  • I have no idea why the sky has cracked so, but I guess it was too thickly painted and may contain ivory black which can suck up a lot of oil and desiccate a passage. Old paintings crack though and it doesn't really detract from the painting. A good restorer could fix this, but were it my painting I would leave it alone as it doesn't seem to be flaking. This problem is called craquelure.

15 comments:

willek said...

This Mulhaupt is not dissimilar from the demo you did for us at Winter Camp II. You marched right up to that scene and I could not, at the time, see what there was out there to paint! It would be interesting to see them side by side.

Mike Thompson said...

There was a discussion at Art Renewal Center over the last couple of years about oil paintings delaminating from acrylic gesso, with the initial thought being that it might not be as archival as once believed. It has been quite a while since I looked over the site, but the forensic findings revealed that zinc oxide was the culprit. Zinc oxide is quite brittle but it has to be added to titanium dioxide or the paint stays gummy. You can also buy white that is just zinc oxide, I think it is sometimes said to be ''transparent'' white.

I know you use Liquin as your medium and when it dries on my glass palette it is really tough to scrape it off even with a sharp razor blade. Have you had any paintings crack since you began using Liquin? And the zinc oxide in titanium dioxide white, has it caused any cracking in your paintings that you know about? You have stuff going back 40 years or so but I think Liquin is only 25 or 30 years old.

I have seen paintings with ''circular'' cracking, said to be due to excessive temperature cycling that something like coal heating would cause a hundred years ago, before modern thermostats reduced the sudden temperature hysteresis to couple of degrees F.

One more thing about some whites. I once bought a tube of Grumbacher white that was so stiff you practically had to stand on the tube to get it to come out. It could be that the white was just lean to begin with. Of course, none of this might apply because the white was probably flake white and the canvas was probably oil primed.

Paul Birnbaum said...

About the cracking sky - A restorer once explained to me that backgrounds show more craquele because the older painters typically spent less time on the background and applied the paint more thinly than the subject matter, which often received more layers of paint. Not sure if its true but sounds plausible. thanks for posting this Stape - love Mulhaupt.

Terry said...

Hi Stape,
This business of keeping the chroma in check, is something that takes real focus. I tend to paint 'brightly' outdoors letting the green set the chroma level. Than when I get them home I feel they look like children's book illustrations, very cheery but not the feeling I was shooting for. Am contemplating using a variation from Jim Gurney , pre-mixing a palette and trying to limit myself to it, using values and drawing. I love working w/ Zorn's palette but I miss playing purples, oranges and blues against each other. Any advice?
Love the power woman photo, my heroine! Thank you, Terry

mariandioguardi.com said...

Circular crazing is usually (but not always) from the painting having been poked at from behind. The back of the canvas is far more susceptible and vulnerable to humidity and fingers than the front. Poke the front of a painting and the paint and canvas should stretch. Poke at the back of a painting and the paint can pop off.

Mike Thompson said...

That's what I get for trusting the Doofus Guide to Fine Art Restoration.

Actually, after that I went back and looked at the painting more closely and it looks like it was restretched and painted over. (However, some image enhancement software can leave artifacts.) There are parallel lines to the border at the top and on the upper left side that look like ridges of paint under the present picture. Stape had a blog entry on texturing canvases eons ago.

家唐銘 said...

Man proposes, God disposes..................................................................

Stapleton Kearns said...

Willek:
I learned a few things from Mulhaupt that were arrows in my quiver for that demo.Artists' ghosts whisper to me as I work.
............Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Mike;
I have not had any paintings done with Liquin crack. I never use acrylic gesso. I dislike the stuff, it is like painting on a condom.
............Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Paul;
I think the sky was probably very heavily painted. I have done similar pieces and found myself cutting back with the sky repeatedly. It also might be because he used ivory black, I don't know.I have never seen the painting in the flesh.
...............Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Terry;
Using the three color palette won't have a dechromatitizing effect. You will have to install a color scheme based on your intentions rather than natures dictation.
.....................Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Marian;
I used to know what caused that, I will have to look it up and get back to you. Information is draining out of my ears like sand when I am asleep.
............Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

家唐銘;
and Moses supposes.
............Stape

Jean Spitzer said...

This is a fascinating post, but the image of "information draining out of [your] ears like sand" while you sleep is probably what will stay with me the longest. Thanks.

timothy parks said...

Tim said: Love Mulhaupt, thanks for this one. I was told a long time ago, (I think it was in Vose gallery, but I could be wrong) that a lot of paintings end up cracked that way because the were taken off the stretchers too soon and rolled before the oil paint has dried sufficiently, and they were painted too heavily to be rolled.