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Art Terms Explained III

 

 

 

Somerset & Wood logo  Part III: Watercolours

At Somerset & Wood our most widely stocked medium is watercolour. In contrast to richly worked up oils, the often effortless-looking lightness of watercolour paintings belies the skills of the watercolourist and the complexities of the medium.

Watercolour painting is interesting to study as a medium because it is relatively recent in its current form, and it is a particularly British art. Perhaps more than any other medium, the evolution of watercolour painting has been determined by the development of the paint material itself. Although water-based painting dates back to ancient times across many cultures of the world, it was only with commercial improvements to watercolour pigments in the mid-18th century that watercolour painting as we know it achieved a Golden Age in Britain.

The development of watercolour painting also coincided with the acceptance of landscape as a subject in art, the medium lending itself to sketching en plein air and quickly capturing the visual effects of light and weather on the natural environment.

Artist’s quality: In 1846 Winsor & Newton produced the first moist watercolours in metal tubes, the top quality pigments of which are described as artist’s quality. In earlier centuries, artists ground their own colours from natural pigments.

Atmospheric perspective: The capacity of watercolour to be applied as both thin washes and with more concentrated precision means a sense of dramatic perspective can be created by varying the tone, colour and detail between foreground and background, as in this example:

Fisherfolk, Filey Bay, Yorkshire - Original 1874 watercolour painting

Fisherfolk, Filey Bay, Yorkshire, 1874 – Somerset & Wood Fine Art

Back runs: These occur when a wet brush touches a damp area of paint, causing the original wash to run and dry unevenly. The technique can sometimes be employed intentionally, creating a bloom effect for example:

Grace Haverty, Summer Bloom - Original mid-20th-century watercolour painting

Grace Haverty, Summer Bloom - Somerset & Wood Fine Art

Bodycolour: Most commonly white, bodycolour is the name for opaque gouache mixed with transparent watercolour, which is added in small touches to highlight or accentuate accents or details. The zinc oxide pigment “Chinese White”, a superior quality gouache, was introduced by Winsor & Newton in 1834. J.M.W. Turner instituted the practice of applying diluted white gouache as a wash. Bodycolour typically denotes reflections on water or light cast on architectural details:

C. Vidal, Continental Castle View - Original 19th-century watercolour painting

C. Vidal, Continental Castle View - Somerset & Wood Fine Art

Cockling: The risk when painting with highly diluted pigments is that the paper will suffer cockling, or rippling. To prevent this, artists initially pasted or pinned the damp paper on to drawing board. By the beginning of the 19th century commercially manufactured stretching board was available.

Flat wash: Whilst the uneven drying and fluidity of watercolour are qualities often exploited by artists, sometimes the desired effect is for an area to be blocked-in consistently, without drying lines or variations in tone. This creates an effect of graphic clairty:

Patrick Faulkner, Grand House - Original mid-20th-century watercolour painting

Patrick Faulkner, Grand House - Somerset & Wood Fine Art

Frisket: Frisket is a material that protects an area of work from unintended change. In watercolour painting this is typically a masking fluid, a type of liquid rubber under which when dry and painted the areas remain paint free. The frisket is rubbed off when the watercolour is dry. Frisket can be used to delineate areas of fine detail without a painting feeling over-worked. Here the grasses in the foreground were created in this way:

Byron Cooper, Autumn Woodland - Original 1891 watercolour painting

Byron Cooper, Autumn Woodland, 1891 - Somerset & Wood Fine Art

Gouache: Gouache paints are watercolours made opaque by the addition of white bodycolour. They were favoured by early commercial artists for their effectiveness in producing flat, opaque and vivid areas of colour. Gouache particularly suits subjects such as children’s illustrations, which benefit from the medium’s clarity and vibrancy:

Alan Fredman, Bear Illustration - Original mid-20th-century gouache painting

Alan Fredman, Bear Illustration - Somerset & Wood Fine Art

Graduated wash: The translucency of watercolour allows for subtle colour gradation, fading from dark to light. This technique particularly lends itself to effective rendering of open skies:

Nathaniel Neal Solly, Pfalzgrafenstein Castle -Original 19th-century watercolour

Nathaniel Neal Solly, Pfalzgrafenstein Castle - Somerset & Wood Fine Art

Gum arabic: Made from the sap of the African acacia tree, gum arabic binds watercolour paints together during manufacture. Also added neat to the surface of a watercolour painting, gum arabic creates a glossy finish which intensifies colour. It can bring a quality of heightened realism such as in this botanical painting:

M.H. Potter, Clematis Flower - Original 1826 watercolour painting

M.H. Potter, Clematis Flower, 1826 - Somerset & Wood Fine Art

Line and wash: This is used to describe a work which combines drawing in permanent ink with layering of watercolour washes. The watercolour brings the drawing to life with colour and tone.

Patrick Faulkner, Stately Home - Original mid-20th-century pen & ink drawing

Patrick Faulkner, Stately Home - Somerset & Wood Fine Art

Monochromatic: The adjustment that can be made to watercolour by varying dilution allows for the subtle variation in tone of a single colour. Early watercolour artists of the 18th century produced what were essentially tinted drawings, with a restricted colour range. Monochromatic painting can be used to create a sepia effect, or is often used in illustration where tone rather than colour is to be reproduced in print:

Fishing Boats, Brighton - Original 19th-century pen & ink drawing

Fishing Boats, Brighton - Somerset & Wood Fine Art

John Hubbard, Schoolboys East Anglian Magazine - Original 1951 pen & ink drawing

John Hubbard, Schoolboys East Anglian Magazine, 1951 - Somerset & Wood Fine Art

Pan paints: These are the hard blocks of watercolour sold in boxes, as opposed to softer paint sold in tubes. Pre-dating the tubed pigments, these cakes were easy to transport and suited artists painting outdoors and capturing the fleeting effects of light and weather.

Pure watercolours: This distinction means to paint in watercolour alone, without bodycolour or graphite underdrawing. The effect of purity is heightened by the translucency of watercolour – existing essentially in one layer, any mistakes cannot be hidden, and the resulting painting has a wonderful lightness. This technique is particularly suited to a swift and fresh rendition of landscape:

Myles Tonks, Country View - Original early 20th-century watercolour painting

Myles Tonks, Country View - Somerset & Wood Fine Art

Reserve: Masking fluid or tapes can be used to preserve areas of white paper, also known as negative space. Areas of unpainted white give watercolour paintings a real sense of lightness and also depth, which is evident in these two pictures:

Lucy Middleton, Meadow - Original early 20th-century watercolour painting

Lucy Middleton, Meadow - Somerset & Wood Fine Art

Myles Tonks, Rocky River - Original early 20th-century watercolour painting

 Myles Tonks, Rocky River - Somerset & Wood Fine Art

Rigger: A rigger brush has extremely long thin bristles, used for painting fine lines with a consistent width. Whilst watercolour paint is suited to producing broad sweeping washes, these brushes enable the painting of contrasting details such as fine grasses, tree branches and ships' rigging.

Nathaniel Neal Solly, Butterbur and Oak Tree -Original 1865 watercolour painting

Nathaniel Neal Solly, Butterbur and Oak Tree, 1865 - Somerset & Wood Fine Art

HMS Serapis Ship Leaving Harbour – Somerset & Wood Fine Art

HMS Serapis Ship Leaving Harbour – Somerset & Wood Fine Art

Scratching out: By scratching the surface of the watercolour painting when dry, an artist can produce areas of white highlight. Areas of scratching out are more pronounced even than reserve areas left white, as they alter the texture of the paper surface. This technique is particularly effective when used to denote cresting waves as the edges of the scratched area may be irregular:

Morning, Arrival of Mail Steamer - Original 19th-century watercolour painting

Morning, Arrival of Mail Steamer - Somerset & Wood Fine Art

Galleon Ship with Swiss Ensign - Original 19th-century watercolour painting

Galleon Ship with Swiss Ensign - Somerset & Wood Fine Art

Wet into wet: Painting new watercolour onto existing colour whilst the paper is still wet causes a blending of pigment that gives a subtle and variegated effect. This technique is especially effective when painting areas of sky and water:

Elizabeth Scott-Moore, Poole Harbour - Original mid-20th-century watercolour

Elizabeth Scott-Moore, Poole Harbour - Somerset & Wood Fine Art

Wove paper: The invention of wove paper in the late 18th century went hand-in-hand with advances in watercolour as a medium. Earlier laid papers had an uneven surface which would cause watercolour washes to pool. Wove paper, however, has an even texture and thickness, allowing for much more precise and reliable results. By the 1780s James Whatman had developed a wove paper which was ready-sized with gelatin. This led the way for the production of a vast array of quality papers in the 19th century, in a variety of sizes, textures and surfaces, which would be highly sought after by the watercolour artist.

Copyright © 2016 Somerset & Wood Fine Art Ltd. All rights reserved. 

 

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Pith Artists and the ultimate Chinese take-away

At Somerset & Wood our Friday nights are spent unconventionally, sifting through antique artworks and taking flights of fancy to far away continents and days gone by.

This week we have been immersed in the art of Chinese paintings on pith, and the many and various subjects that were depicted in these 19th-century export paintings. The very term “export paintings” sounds somewhat derogatory – art produced cynically, to cater for the demands of a culturally ill-informed overseas market. Indeed, pith paintings were never considered high art but rather were souvenir paintings by local artisans, inexpensively produced and easily transported on the long voyage home. They are now valued for what they tell us about the history, activities and socio-cultural exchanges that took place when East met West in an age before photography.

Chinese Pith Paintings Album    Antique 19th-century Chinese Pith Painting, Junk Boat  

The album                                          Junk Boat - Somerset & Wood Fine Art

Our pith paintings were housed in an album, which fortunately has generally preserved the paintings in excellent condition. The delicate nature of the pith – in many cases now nearing two centuries old – is quite remarkable. That a material that was once so full of life, literally the living inner tissue of the Tetrapanex papyrifera plant, should now be so brittle that any handling puts it at risk, seems somehow appropriate and part of the works’ special charm. The vibrancy of their paint (uniquely vivid because of the pith’s properties) seems to defy the fragility of the support, and the brittleness lends the picture a poignant sense of mortality - these jewel-like pictures are teetering on the edge of annihilation. Like some exquisite butterfly at the end of summer, they are all the more affecting because of their fragile beauty.

   Antique 19th-century Chinese Pith Painting, Musician Woman Playing Qinqin Lute    Antique 19th-century Chinese Pith Painting, Corporal Punishment Bastinado

Characteristic cracks and losses to the pith paper 

Our collection  includes many different subjects, ranging from decorative floral arrangements to disturbing scenes of ancient torture. Yet it is the consistency with which such divergent subjects are depicted that is particularly intriguing. The unfortunate young chap sitting in the stocks in one painting could almost have stepped straight from the celebratory lantern procession in another, the bright colours used in the torture paintings seeming incongruous with their gruesome subject:

    Antique 19th-century Chinese Pith Painting, Torture Man in Stocks             Antique 19th-century Chinese Pith Painting, Child with Lobster Lantern

                   Torture Man in Stocks                                                 Lobster Lantern 

Torture reached a height in China at the end of the 19th century with the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion. The Boxers were a rebel society with the slogan “Support the Qing, destroy the foreigners”, who stood up against what they saw as hordes of Western Christian missionaries invading their villages. The rebels were suppressed with brutal force by the governing powers because of the threat they posed to the stability of the Qing dynasty. The export paintings, to today’s eye, could appear to glorify torture; they take on an especially ominous tone in light the subsequent treatment of the Boxers who fought against the very Western presence that the export market represented. That torture was deemed appropriate subject for matter-of-fact depiction in souvenirs, however, tells of a past world where such practices were less shocking and more routine, in a society governed by rites and ritual.

Chinese torture      Antique 19th-century Chinese Pith Painting, Torture Man Bound to a Wooden Frame    

Brutal torture during the Boxer Rebellion               Torture Man Bound to a Wooden Frame

From images of torture we move to other depictions of weaponry, this time used in ritual dance. Depicting men and women alike, in these paintings we see weapons cross over from combat into the roles of ceremony and popular entertainment. Managing to dance elegantly whilst wielding a machete would have been a foreign concept to the Western viewer – as much in the 19th century as today.

      Antique 19th-century Chinese Pith Painting, Sword Dance Woman         Antique 19th-century Chinese Pith Painting, Sword Dance Man

                  Sword Dance Woman                                             Sword Dance Man

This leads on to a group of images of musicians, playing the traditional instruments erhu (violin), tanggu (drum) and qinqin (banjo). Traced back thousands of years to the time of Confucius, music had an important role in Chinese society. Musicians were an important part of religious and imperial ceremonies, and they represented cultivated sophistication and social harmony, cultural qualities that were readily promoted to the Western market in pith paintings.

         Antique 19th-century Chinese Pith Painting, Musician Woman Playing Erhu Violin                 Antique 19th-century Chinese Pith Painting, Musician Woman Playing Tanggu Drum

              Musician Playing Erhu Violin                             Musician Playing Tanggu Drum

Alongside these culturally specific images of people, customs and costumes, our collection also includes a number of natural history subjects. Understandably, attractive images of native flora and fauna were popular with both artisan and customer. As well as having an immediate aesthetic appeal, at once these seem more accessible to the Western eye – looking at the paintings now, I am struck that the subjects of flower, shell and butterfly have a reassuring familiarity and universality, reminding that tastes can coincide across continents.

The flower paintings were not intended to be scientifically-accurate botanical drawings, but rather to produce an appealing, harmonious design, with a pleasing balance of colours. The flowers do, however, resemble indigenous species, and as a result the images carry the symbolism attached to certain flowers in Chinese culture. Many of the flowers resemble the peony, China’s most significant flower, symbolising prosperity, and also the lotus, representing purity, humility and tranquillity.

Lotus Flower    Antique 19th-century Chinese Pith Painting, Lotus Flower & Butterfly

Lotus Rising from the Water, Song Dynasty      Pith Painting, Lotus Flower & Butterfly

Shells too, in Chinese culture, carry additional meaning. Our collection includes four pictures of shells, composed in what looks like a kind of alternative still life. Once objects providing protection for living sea creatures, the shells have become principally decorative. Furthermore, in ancient China shells were used as an early form of currency, so they carry additional connotations of wealth and exchange. Shells as a subject allow for jewel-like colours and pleasing shapes, which here are somewhat stylised. These paintings lack the rules of perspective in Western art, and indeed a number of the paintings show a fascinating mix of Chinese and Western art styles. They combine the detail and realism valued in the West with a Chinese painting style, favouring flat sweeps of colour and ornamental elements.

Antique 19th-century Chinese Pith Painting, Shells       Ancient cowry shells       Antique 19th-century Chinese Pith Painting, Shells

Pith Paintings, Shells                   Ancient cowry shells used as coins

Reflecting on the collection as a whole, these pith paintings are fascinating as a record of how the East marketed itself to the West in the 19th century, and how its portrayal was defined in part by Western expectations. Incidentally, that today pith paper is often erroneously called “rice paper” seems quite fitting, perpetuating their identity as objects defined as much by their Western consumer as their Chinese creator. Living in an advanced age of technology and worldwide travel, it is hard to imagine a time when travelling to another continent involved months at sea, and you couldn’t even take a photo when you got there. I find that true appreciation of these pith paintings comes by envisioning their value as prized travellers’ mementos, and the colliding of worlds that they represent.

Copyright © 2016 Somerset & Wood Fine Art Ltd. All rights reserved.

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Albums of Curiosities: Playing Art Detective

Dealing in antique works on paper, a lot of the pictures we come across have originated from albums. And for us it is these albums which provide some of the most interesting research opportunities and the potential to build a unique picture of the past – the stories, people and places around artworks infinitely broadening and deepening their aesthetic value.

India Album cover  Harriet Sneyd album cover  1821 Album cover

Most simply, the albums fall into two categories – compilations by the artist themselves, bringing together works created in a particular period or place, and compilations by collectors, often more eclectic, but equally revelatory.

In both instances we benefit from the pictures having been pre-curated in some respect. The very act of having been grouped together gives them added significance or meaning, and this in turn tells us something about the compiler.

1820s Harriet Sneyd Album

Our Harriet Sneyd album is a recent example of the first kind, a collection of watercolour paintings by this early 19th-century upper class lady. The paintings tell a fascinating story about their creator and her European travels towards the end of the age of the Grand Tour. Remarkably, the collection survived with an ambrotype of Mrs Sneyd herself, bringing to life the hand from which the paintings and drawings were penned.

Harriet Sneyd ambrotype        

A small fragment of paper accompanying the collection tied together the artist’s story – her maiden name and identity as wife of Thomas Sneyd-Kynnersley, and hence her means and opportunity to travel and pursue painting as gentile recreation.

Sneyd fragment

Fortuitously, nearly all the paintings were inscribed with place names and dates, revealing a wonderfully detailed record of when and where Harriet Sneyd had travelled in the period 1818 to 1845. Less fortuitously the handwriting was spidery, worn, indistinct, and in a few cases downright – frustratingly - illegible!

Harriet Sneyd, Continental Chapel - Original 19th-century watercolour painting  Sneyd Inscription       

Harriet Sneyd, Continental Chapel  Any suggestions on what this inscription might say?

The time taken to decipher the legible inscriptions paid dividends, and we built up a account of European travel around predominantly Austria and Switzerland, with additional excursions into Germany, Italy, France and Croatia.

She was evidently attracted to the sublime landscape of these Alpine regions, painting dramatic views at Prebischer Thor and Saxon Switzerland, Mondsee and Liezen in Austria and the Dolomites in Italy. Some scenes include historic monuments, such as at Kulm in Austria, and the monument to General Moreau outside Dresden.

Harriet Sneyd, Prebischer Thor, Switzerland - Original 1830 watercolour painting    

Harriet Sneyd, Prebischer Thor             Harriet Sneyd, Mountain, Liezen, Austria

These subjects align Harriet Sneyd with the interests of another British early 19th-century touring artist, J.M.W. Turner, working in the same locations in the 1830s and 1840s. Having drawn inferences about our artist from the body of work in our hands, it was very pleasing to make a connection with a “great” – Turner drawing Dresden: The Monument to General Moreau at Räcknitz, with the City in the Background in 1835 (in a sketchbook now in the Tate) and painting Bozen and the Dolomites in 1840.

Harriet Sneyd, Dresden from Moreau Monument - Original 1830 watercolour painting    Dresden: The Monument to General Moreau

H. Sneyd, Dresden from Moreau Monument  J.M.W. Turner, Monument to General Moreau

Harriet Sneyd, Church, Botzen, Tyrol, Italy - Original 1830 watercolour painting   J.M.W. Turner Bozen and the Dolomites

H. Sneyd, Church, Botzen, Tyrol         J.M.W. Turner, Bozen and the Dolomites

1840s Indian Album

Our 1840s Indian album lacks the immediate coherence of the Sneyd album, but the story it tells is no less rewarding. The album is inscribed M.V. Hunter, whilst most of the pictures are signed A. Hunter, leading us to infer that the owner of the album was a family member of the artist. This itself gives a coherence to the provenance of the pictures, and suggests a certain intimacy in the collection as a whole in contrast to if the works were collected by a stranger.    

1840s Indian Album - M.V. Hunter

Although predominantly by A. Hunter, the album includes additional works of quality by different artists, indicating that the individuals in this family operated in artistic circles and had access to pictures of quality. There is a watercolour of Greenwich hospital by C.M. Hodgson, the subject and artist of which were satisfyingly revealed by partial removal of a backing:

C.M. Hodgson, View of Greenwich Hospital, Kent - Original 1840 watercolour

C.M. Hodgson, View of Greenwich Hospital, Kent - Original 1840 watercolour

C.M. Hodgson, View of Greenwich Hospital, Kent , 1840 - Somerset & Wood Fine Art

There are other pictures, by H. Marshall and C.J.J. But the significance of these names is a mystery – signatures and initials tantalising in the connections they intimate but ultimately won’t yield.

Clothing in the paintings help authenticate the era, such as the “Four Characterful Gentlemen”, fabulously of their time and clad in brown-topped “top” boots, colourful patterned waistcoats and tail-coats typical of the Regency period. Viewed today it is hard not to see these as representations of historic costumes, rather than depictions of the prevailing dress of the day.

Four Characterful Gentleman - Original early 19th-century watercolour painting

Four Characterful Gentleman, early 19th-century - Somerset & Wood Fine Art

These pictures root the album in a British identity, but the pictures by A. Hunter, however, are of unusual Indian scenes. The inclusion of an Indian “Company painting” in the collection potantially associates Hunter with the East India Company, then at the height of its involvement in colonial rule in India. The paintings pre-date the Indian Rebellion of 1857, which ended in the dissolution of the East India Company in 1858 and led to the British reorganisation of the army, the financial system and the administration in India to be directly governed by the crown as the new British Raj.

Whilst the artist likely had connections with governing powers of the early British Empire in India, the subjects of Hunter’s own artworks are notable in their everyday, albeit somewhat stylised, subjects. Etchings depict village life with women carrying pots and a village barber, with the appearance of being observed first-hand. They have the appearance of one-off artist proofs, more intimate in character than prints intended for multiple impressions.

A. Hunter, Indian Lady Carrying a Pot -Original early 19th-century etching print   A. Hunter, Indian Barber under tree - Original early 19th-century etching print

A. Hunter, Indian Lady Carrying a Pot and Indian Barber Under Tree

A. Hunter, Indian Elders under Tree - Original early 19th-century etching print   A. Hunter, Indian Horseback Rider - Original early 19th-century etching print

A. Hunter, Indian Elders under Tree and Indian Horseback Rider

As a picture of the album’s history and significance emerges and the pieces of the jigsaw become clearer, we are left wondering was this Dr Alexander Hunter, a Scottish surgeon and artist who set up India’s first arts institution, the Madras School of Industrial Art, in 1850? The dates and subjects fit; and it is documented that to help finance the Art School at Madras Hunter sold his own etchings, drawings and paintings, to the value of many hundreds of pounds. We cannot know for sure, but the prospect is tantalising and we relish the opportunity to feed into a body of knowledge about the past which enriches the present.

Copyright © 2016 Somerset & Wood Fine Art Ltd. All rights reserved. 

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Art Terms Explained II

condition

   S&W logoPart II: Condition

In our business it is crucial that we describe condition accurately. Condition obviously plays a big part in the value of a work, and most importantly for us selling online, we want our pictures to meet expectations and not disappoint.

It is often very difficult to describe fully in words the condition of an object. Individually describing all marks of ageing and wear can over-emphasise their significance. When an artwork is for personal appreciation it is often the overall effect of the condition that is more important than each individual blemish.

In museums and galleries, however, condition reporting - creating detailed accounts of the exact condition of an artwork - is a significant part of the conservator's job. By giving an accurate picture of the state of a artwork, it provides a point of reference by which to judge any further deterioration or damage - on loan or in transit, for example. And also it provides a fixed record of the qualities that constitute an artwork at a particular moment in time, its inherent yet changeable condition being part of its identity as a historical or cultural artefact surviving across decades and centuries.

Here are some of the terms which we find most useful when it comes to our own condition reporting.

Abrasions: As it sounds, this is surface losses to the media by rubbing or scraping.

Accretions: A less commonly used term but frequently seen in the case of old artworks, this means an accumulation of surface dust, dirt or grime etc.

Blanching: This is when there are milky areas to the (oil) paint or varnish (Blooming to the vanish is superficial cloudy area in the varnish, often caused by moisture penetration).

Bleeding: Usually caused by moisture, this is the suffusion of colour into adjacent areas. In watercolour painting this quality can be deliberately exploited.

Buckling: A term to describe ripples of ridges caused by disruption to a canvas.

Cockling: This is a wrinkle or wrinkles in a canvas or paper, without actual creasing.

Craquelure: This is a network or pattern of cracks across a painting’s surface caused by shrinking of the paint or varnish. Craquelure can help judge authenticity.

Crazing: This term is used to describe microscopic fissures in a layer of varnish.

Crushed impasto: Thick layers of paint are vulnerable to damage, and peaks of impasto paint can be crushed by knocks or improper restoration; impasto itself can help identify the authenticity of a work as being by a specific artist.

Crease: One of the most frequent condition issues with antique works on paper, crease lines resulting from folding or bending can often be barely visible, especially when properly mounted.

Discolouration: This term covers all changes of original hue, which may or may not be the result of ageing.

Fading: The loss of brightness or brilliance of colours as a result of excessive exposure to light, fading can affect watercolours in particular. The degree of fading can depend on the quality of pigments and papers used.

Foxing: Perhaps the most common condition issue we see affecting works on paper, foxing is brownish-red spots related to ageing. The exact cause of foxing is unknown, as is the origin of the word. Foxing may be the result of fungal growth or of the oxidisation of iron or copper in old paper. The term itself may derive from the reddish-brown "fox-like" colour of the stains, or the rust chemical ferric oxide which may be involved.

Insect damage: A disconcerting but all too common condition issue, insect damage can manifest as small holes or grazed surfaces, often indicating an artwork has been exposed to adverse humidity or temperatures.

Loss: A succinct term to describe missing material whether surface paint or the support (paper or canvas) itself.

Mat/Mount burn: Also called acid burn, this distinctive and easily identified condition issue is discolouration caused by contact with an acidic mat/mount material, effecting a line or area where there was previously a mat.

Scratches: Losses to paper or canvas caused by marking the surface with something, scratching the paint or paper surface can sometimes be used to deliberate effect.

Staining: This specific discolouration is caused by a foreign substance. Stains to paper are often caused by glues used when mounting.

Tears: Breaks as a result of tension, tears can be significantly detrimental to an artwork, but when repaired well they can be barely visible and not detract from the overall effect of a work.

Toning: The result of ageing (prolonged exposure to humidity and pollutants), some degree of toning is very common to antique works on paper. The toned area is acidic; contact with acidic paper, such as a non-acid-free mount, can contribute to toning.

Water damage: Water or humidity can be particularly damaging to artworks on both paper and canvas, causing bleeding, staining, paint loss and warping.

Copyright © 2016 Somerset & Wood Fine Art Ltd. All rights reserved.  

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Art Terms Explained

Mary Tye, Village School East Anglian Magazine - Original 1955 pen & ink drawing

Somset & Wood Fine Art Logo

 

 

 Part I: Attribution

The art world like any other has its own vocabulary – or jargon, to give its less favourable name. Whilst part of the beauty of art is its ability to stand alone without attendant words or explanation, when we do try to describe an artwork it is important that the terms are specific and universally understood. 

In this, the first post in this series about art terms, we look at the various phrases around attribution – a vital lexicon which can make or break the value or importance of a picture. Of course, the science (or art) of attribution itself is a potential minefield, but it helps at least to have a handle on the implications of the various terms used.

Attributed to, Probably, Possibly: These terms indicate, in increasing degree, a level of doubt over whether a work is by the named artist. The qualifications of the person attributing the work, as well as its provenance, determine the legitimacy of these terms.

Studio of, Workshop of: This means that the work was produced in the named artist’s studio or workshop and importantly, the concept is by the named artist. Although created by students or assistants, the work would have been intended to leave the studio as by the named artist.

Circle of: This is used to indicate that a work is of the period of and resembles the style of the named artist.

Follower of: This is when an artist of unknown identity was working specifically in the style of the named artist. They may or may not have been directly trained by the named artist.

Style of: This is used to indicate a stylistic relationship; the work may or may not be contemporaneous with the named artist.

School: Used when the specific artist, studio or following is unknown, this term indicates a geographical area of origin.

After: This is used to define a copy of any date, explicitly by a different artist from the named artist.

Imitator of: This is used (somewhat euphemistically!) to mean a copy executed in the style of the named artist with the deliberate intention to deceive.

Signature: This term confirms that a work is signed with the signature of the named artist.

Bears signature: This is used to indicate that a signature is on the work and it may be by the named artist.

Copyright © 2016 Somerset & Wood Fine Art Ltd. All rights reserved. 

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The Wild Places: Myles Tonks RI RBA

"Anyone who lives in a city will know the feeling of having been there too long. The gorge-vision that streets imprint on us, the sense of blockage, the longing for surfaces other than glass, brick, concrete and tarmac." Robert Macfarlane, The Wild Places, 2007

Myles Tonks, Low Tide - Original early 20th-century oil painting

Myles Tonks, Low Tide - Somerset & Wood Fine Art

Looking at Myles Tonks’s oil on board, Low Tide, a sense of calm washes over me – the ebb and flow of retreating sea and rushing clouds reassuring that time and tide wait for no man.

Myles Tonks RI RBA (1890-1960), nephew of better-known artist and (infamous) teacher Henry Tonks, is said to have enjoyed travelling alone to paint in remote areas where he could be at one with the countryside and as removed as possible from humanity.

In his enchanting book The Wild Places (2007) Robert Macfarlane ruminates on this very notion – the healing powers of nature’s beauty and, more specifically, nature where the evidence of human presence is minimal or absent.

To look at Myles Tonks’s landscape paintings is to be immersed in a vision of Britain without the shackles the man-made world.

Myles Tonks, English Fields - Original early 20th-century watercolour painting

Myles Tonks, English Fields - Somerset & Wood Fine Art

A yearning for the wild is perhaps felt more keenly in Britain than abroad. Macfarlane notes that our densely populated land means that wildness has time and again been declared dead. E.M. Forster wrote in 1964:

“Two great wars demanded and bequeathed regimentation, science lent her aid, and the wildness of these islands, never extensive, was stamped upon and built over and patrolled in no time. There is no forest or fell to escape to today, no cave in which to curl up, and no deserted valley”.

Historically, the landscape genre in art has reinforced a sense of nature as subject to human intervention and cultivation. Long considered a lowly genre of art, below history, portrait and genre painting, it was not until the 17th century that landscape was even treated as a subject in its own right, rather than as background to or scenery for human activity.

Nevertheless, human figures were still, in the 18th and 19th centuries, an important component of landscape painting, existing to indicate scale and evoke the viewer’s empathy. English masters of the genre, such as John Constable, would maticulously include human figures to suggest the harmony of Nature and man.

John Constable, The Hay Wain, 1821, National Gallery, London

John Constable, The Hay Wain, 1821 - National Gallery, London

It was the near-abstract paintings of J.M.W. Turner that would really revolutionise landscape painting and free the subject from the necessary trace of human activity. Myles Tonks’s sparsely painted Rainy Beach owes a gracious debt to Turner’s cloud paintings:

J.M.W. Turner - Storm Clouds Sunset

Joseph Mallord William Turner, Storm Clouds Sunset, 1825

Myles Tonks, Rainy Beach - Original early 20th-century watercolour painting

Myles Tonks, Rainy Beach - Somerset & Wood Fine Art

Myles Tonks was born at Darley, Warwickshire in 1890 and he studied at Medway School of Art, as well as receiving training from his uncle, Henry Tonks, the influential Slade Professor of Fine Art. Henry Tonks’s other students included David Bomberg, Mark Gertler, Harold Gilman, Spencer Gore, Augustus John, Gwen John, Percy Wyndham Lewis and Stanley Spencer.

Whilst the elder Tonks was ruthless in his teaching of life drawing and copying from the Antique, and he himself excelled in figure painting, Myles Tonks used this grounding in draughtsmanship to develop his love of landscape. He was especially attracted to the remote, uninhabited mountains and far-flung coasts of the British Isles – of the Scottish Highlands, Wales and the West Country.

Tonks's specific subjects, however, are often understated rather than inherently dramatic. Rather than evoking a feeling of the sublime they elicit something more tranquil. He captures a sense of what it is to be immersed in nature at close hand. An unremarkable corner of riverbank vegetation, or view across wooded fields, is transformed by the speedily applied paint by which he harnesses the energy of rushing water or entangled foliage.

Myles Tonks, Rocky River - Original early 20th-century watercolour painting

Myles Tonks, Rocky River - Somerset & Wood Fine Art

Myles Tonks, Woodland Water - Original early 20th-century watercolour painting

Myles Tonks, Woodland Water - Somerset & Wood Fine Art

Just as Robert Macfarlane finds solace in the wild, the nature viewed in Tonks’s art is a welcome balm for the soul. For all of us with metropolitan malaise, we need a dose of that.

Copyright © 2016 Somerset & Wood Fine Art Ltd. All rights reserved. 

 

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The art of Gift Giving

With the prelude to the annual festivities of Christmas comes that beneficent yet arduous task: present buying. It provokes in me a profound ambivalence. The personal reward that comes from finding something that will bring pleasure to a loved one is tempered by a unique stress and anxiety – but will they like it? And, more importantly, will they no longer like me if they don’t?

Elsie Powell, Cats Cartoon - Original early 20th-century pen & ink drawing

 Elsie Powell, early 20th-century Cats Cartoon - Somerset & Wood Fine Art

It seems to me that gift giving is at its most rewarding when it is most meaningful, and this is why when giving forms of art – books, music, films, pictures – the stakes are high.

In some respects, choosing a gift is a test of how well we know the recipient. Not only do we want to please them, we want to impress them with how well we know their tastes and desires: in short, how much we care.

At Somerset & Wood, dealing in art and the artefacts of material culture, the objects we encounter often tell a story about the lives of their creators and owners. One of the most intimate examples of creative gift giving is the commonplace books of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

                   Commonplace Book    Commonplace Book

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Young women in particular would collect the contributions of their family, friends and acquaintances in the form of poetry, proverbs and small drawings. We have come across a number of these charming books, and the content is often moralising in theme. Poems such as “What is love”, “How to Live” and “What is a friend” immortalise their authors on the page and communicate to the recipient the values of friendship and love.

        

    From 1886 Nurse's Album                                            From 1902 Album

    

  From 1921 St Brandon's Student Album               From 1917 First World War Album

In the art world the lines between private and public consumption are often fluid, and whilst art can be used in personal transactions such as these, it can also become public currency. Picasso famously exploited the idea that small artworks may be exchanged for goods as a form of payment. The story goes that when the time came to pay at the end of a meal in the restaurants of Paris, rather than parting with cash, he would draw a quick sketch on a napkin or placemat.

Pablo Picasso, Dachsund, Pen on paper napkin

Damien Hirst, known for being commercially canny and seeing the value of his art as part of the works themselves, has said, "I think art's the greatest currency in the world. Gold, diamonds, art -- I think they are equal ... I think it's a great thing to invest in."

The timelessness of art is part of what makes it so valuable as currency or gift – its value, rather than being intrinsic to its material, is locked within it as an unique expression of ideas. The great bequests to museums and galleries, helping to build superlative national collections of art, are evidence of the infinite cultural value of art and its continuing role in acquisition and exchange.

I find that giving, on a personal level, always contains the conundrum: is it possible to put one’s own tastes aside and chose a gift purely on supposing the recipients tastes? Perhaps things are never this simple, and in fact, it is the coincidence of tastes, of shared likes, that we celebrate through gift giving, an unspoken nod towards complicity and mutual understanding of the world.

E.C.W., Robin - Original 1921 watercolour painting

When we chose to give art this Christmas we give a little of ourselves. So - no pressure, choose away, chose wisely, chose generously, and find joy in giving this Christmas. That reminds me, I had better get on with it myself…

Copyright © 2016 Somerset & Wood Fine Art Ltd. All rights reserved. 

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Why do good artists copy, great artists steal?

We were lucky enough to acquire recently two captivating paintings from around 1840 which are copies after old masters. One is inscribed on the reverse, Madonna del Granduca, and is unmistakably after Raphael’s masterpiece depicting Mother and Child. It got us thinking about the notion of copying, and the layers of meaning that start to unpeel when an artwork has a specific precedent.  

Goodrich - Madonna del Granduca      Goodrich - Girl with Palm

                Madonna del Granduca                                                 Girl with Palm

Raphael - Madonna del Granduca 
Raphael, Madonna del Granduca, 1505, Palazzo Pitti, Florence  

Goodrich - Madonna del Granduca

Goodrich, Madonna del Granduca, 1840, Somerset & Wood Fine Art 

Of course, the very foundations of the old master workshops in Renaissance Italy were built on copying. Students would start training young, some even before they were ten years of age – Michelangelo, for example, entered the shop of Domenico Ghirlandaio aged thirteen. Pupils would often lodge at their master’s household, and they would initially perform tasks such as preparing panels and grinding pigments.

And they would learn to draw by copying – from a variety of sources including works by their masters, drawings in special collections held in the workshop, and also celebrated works on display in their own cities. Michelangelo copied paintings by the older Florentine master Giotto in the Santa Croce church in Florence. Only then would they progress to painting, executing the less important parts of a composition such as the landscape background.

Michelangelo, Two Male Figures after Giotto

Michelangelo, Two Figures after Giotto, 1490-2, Louvre, Paris

Giotto

Giotto di Bondone, Basilica of Santa Croce, Florence

Raphael was later famously copied by Rubens. In 1630 Rubens recreated Raphael’s portrait of the 16th-century courtier Baldessare Castiglione, in part a form of rivalry with the earlier master. Rubens changed several details, such as painting the sitters hands in full.

Raphael
Raphael, Baldassare Castiglione, 1514–1515, Louvre, Paris
Rubens
Peter Paul Rubens, Baldassare Castiglione, 1630, Courtauld Art Gallery, London
Copying as emulation was, therefore, a noble objective - the closer the result, the finer the workshop assistant. But by the twentieth century the notion of copying in art – whether painting, drawing, literature or poetry – came to be fraught with anxiety. The increasing ease of replication, through mass printing, led to conceptual questions regarding authorship and value, as put forth in Walter Benjamin’s 1936 Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. By the late 1960s Roland Barthes was proclaiming the Death of the Author, and Harold Bloom’s 1973 Anxiety of Influence suggested the gloomy prospect of ‘originality’ being ever-increasingly unattainable.

The commercial danger that copies pose in today’s global market was explored in a show staged at the Dulwich Picture Gallery earlier this year. Made in China saw a Chinese oil painting fake hang on the hallowed gallery walls alongside the works of the masters. Visitors were challenged to scrutinise the paintings and spot the imposter. A show such as this, whilst praising the skill of the copyist, nevertheless sets apart the "empty" technical copy from the genius of the original - and highlights the notion of copying as deceit. The replica was revealed to be Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s Young Woman:

Dulwich Picture Gallery Made in China


And so we return to our painting after Raphael, and copying not as forgery but homage. In painting the Madonna alone, the artist has given her new life and a singular poise. The painting has a striking poignancy – not only for the absence of the Child, but also in its focus on the Mother's expression of melancholy. Stripped of her halo, she is transformed into a tender vision of earthly womanhood.        

And we return to Picasso’s words: Good artists copy, great artists steal. These words, whilst being irreverent, are supremely hopeful too. Taking from others needn’t be a death but the starting point for something new. 

 

Copyright © 2016 Somerset & Wood Fine Art Ltd. All rights reserved.  

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On falling for Autumn…

Some people love autumn. They say it’s their favourite month. I, for one, do not. For me it connotes back to school, end of blissful summer, the darkening of days and lowering of already mediocre British temperatures. But what autumn does phenomenally well is colour.

Artists have for centuries been attracted to depicting the seasons, not least because they symbolise change – in fact, the ever-changing. They provide a filter through which nature can continually be viewed anew, and provide opportunity for reflection on themes such as transience, birth and decay.

A striking early representation of autumn is Guiseppe Arcimboldo’s Autumn, 1573 in the Louvre. The abundance of produce assembled into this surreal portrait brings to mind autumn as a time of nature’s harvest, when the fruits of spring’s labours are reaped.

Arcimboldo - Autumn

Guiseppe Arcimboldo, Autumn, 1573, Louvre, Paris

The anthropomorphism of Arcimboldo is continued in later Pre-Raphaelite representations of the seasons. Edward Burne-Jones created four gouaches on panel of the seasons in 1869, the female form used to breathe human life – and with it, a human understanding –  into the natural world.

Burne-Jones, Autumn

Edward Burne-Jones, Autumn, 1869

Burne-Jones derived inspiration from William Morris’s poem The Lapse of the Year, as too did Walter Crane in his later Masque of the Four Seasons, c.1903-9, where allegorical female performers dramatise the abstract notion of time’s cyclical passing.

Walter Crane, Masque of the Four Seasons

Walter Crane, Masque of the Four Seasons, c.1903-9

The depiction of autumn in all its glory, of burnt reds, oranges, browns and golds, found glorious expression in the work of the Impressionists. For artists such as Claude Monet, painting the landscape through the changing seasons was central to capturing the fleeting moment. A work such as Autumn Effect at Argenteuil, 1873, in the Courtauld Gallery, London, does just that – the dazzling array of oranges and browns in the trees and reflected on the water make this scene as much about nature and time as it is the Parisian suburbs.

Monet - Autumn Effect at Argenteuil

Claude Monet, Autumn Effect at Argenteuil, 1873, Courtauld Gallery, London

Gustav Klimt’s sumptuous depiction of fallen autumn leaves takes visual representation of the seasons further towards the decorative – the pure pleasure in colour – the small and numerous leaves as conducive a subject for Klimt’s fondness of pattern as the Impressionists’ pointillist style. That something can look so glorious and alive whilst in the process of decay is uniquely uplifting.

Klimt, Autumn

Gustav Klimt, The Birch Wood, 1903

We have the pleasure at Somerset & Wood of continually looking at new and interesting artworks, and we have some beautiful evocations of autumn’s glory among our own collections.

English artist Frank Fidler uses the soft and shimmering qualities of pastel to great effect in representing the autumn landscape much like the Impressionists, whilst his compositions, which focus on shape and an awareness of the picture plane, show evidence of his earlier abstraction.

Frank Fidler, Autumn Fields

Frank Fidler, Autumn Field - Somerset & Wood Fine Art

Frank Fidler, Harvest Fields

Frank Fidler, Harvest Fields - Somerset & Wood Fine Art

PJ Haughton’s watercolours depict the British landscape throughout the changing seasons, and there is something reassuringly familiar about many of his views. He is particularly skilful at capturing autumn's low sun and the atmospheric fading light of late afternoon.

PJ Haughton, Autumn Fields - Original mid-20th-century watercolour painting

P.J. Haughton, Autumn Fields - Somerset & Wood Fine Art

PJ Haughton, Hay Barn - Original mid-20th-century watercolour painting

PJ Haughton, Hay Barn - Somerset & Wood Fine Art

In contrast, Peter John Stuckey captures the vibrancy of fall in New England, USA. In this drawing at Bolton Lodge, Vermont, crackling with Stuckey’s characteristic staccato pen work, the forest is almost literally ablaze with colour.

Peter John Stuckey, Bolton Lodge, Vermont, USA

Peter Stuckey, Bolton Lodge, Vermont, USA, 1978 - Somerset & Wood Fine Art

These wonderful artworks make me think that perhaps autumn is not so bad after all. For me, it is best viewed on my wall; the amber leaves, the crisp country walk, the harvested pumpkin - are lived best of all in the imagination. This is what art offers us: a vision of nostalgia and possibility.

Copyright © 2016 Somerset & Wood Fine Art Ltd. All rights reserved. 

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Art Lives On this Remembrance Sunday

As we turn our thoughts to remembrance this Sunday, at Somerset & Wood we do so in the context of art. “War art” is a notion powerful not only for the gravity, solemnity – and often horror – of what it depicts, but in the seeming incongruity of the bringing together of two antithetical notions, of war and art. Art lives on as a medium of engaging with history and of remembrance. And for artists who served as official war artists, the subjects of their work needn't be war or the military for the influence of this important role to be seen. 

War needs you poster

From the First World War onwards in Britain, artists’ talents have been utilised for recording the events of war. The Imperial War Museum was established by an Act of Parliament in 1917 with the purpose of collecting all kinds of material documenting the war, including art. The government was also commissioning and purchasing art as a record of war. During the Second World War the War Artists Advisory Committee was set up, establishing a more structured approach to official picture collecting. It is notable that, even today, despite global photojournalism, artists are still commissioned by the Imperial War Museum to respond to conflicts in which Britain is involved.

Whilst commissioned war art serves an official state purpose, it is, importantly through the lens of art that the human aspect of war is recorded and remembered. By re-presenting the events of war through art, rather than war being trivialised or art militarised, human creativity is used to achieve Hamlet’s insight “to hold as t’were the mirror up to nature”. In doing so, truths about the human suffering and devastation at the heart of military conflict are communicated and memorialised in a way in which regular record keeping could not achieve.

There are two artists whose collections we have recently acquired who were appointed as war artists in their day.

Henry Samuel Merritt (1884-1963)

Henry Samuel Merritt was commissioned during the Second World War to make sketches of ruins of London after bombing raids, several of which were subsequently acquired by the Inner Temple and Imperial War Museum. These watercolours below at the Imperial War Museum show St Nicholas Cole Abbey: Queen Victoria Street, EC4 and The Library, Inner Temple, London.

St Nicholas Cole Abbey : Queen Victoria Street, EC4

© IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 1509)

The Library, Inner Temple, London

© IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 2217)

Merritt had an ability to record scenes from unconventional and striking viewpoints, so that whilst being painterly in technique, his watercolours have a sense of the photographic about their composition. It as if the bomb damage Merritt witnessed and recorded in London meant a revisioning of a familiar landscape, and encouraged new ways of approaching and communicating traditional landscape views. His preference for peaceful rural and Cornish seaside scenes was perhaps in reaction to the destruction he had experienced as a war artist in the city.

H.S. Merritt, Loch Linnhe - Somerset & Wood Fine Art

H.S. Merritt, Cows in Field - Original early 20th-century watercolour painting

 H.S. Merritt, Cows in Field - Somerset & Wood Fine Art

Cyril Henry Barraud (1877-1965)

Cyril Henry Barraud (1877-1965) was an official war artist in Canada, having emigrated from England in 1913. He enlisted in the Winnipeg Grenadiers in 1915. After being wounded in 1917 he was posted to the Canadian War Office, where he was appointed as an official war artist. His work can be found in the Canadian War Museum.

Like Henry Samuel Merritt, Barraud had a clear understanding of design and composition. Returning to England from Canada in the 1920s, he worked as an artist, etcher and commercial illustrator, specialising in landscape scenes in Suffolk, Essex, Kent, the Thames estuary and Rye. In contrast to the landscapes of Merrit however, Barraud often populated his views with figures or animals. Towering figures dominate the scene in this striking oil painting of "The Stretcher-Bearer Party", c.1918  at the Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, Canada:

Cyril Henry Barraud - The Stretcher-Bearer Party

He was able to communicate the spirit of a place through the interaction between its people and the environment.

In our collection of watercolours featuring London’s iconic parks and gardens Barraud shows their status as places of sociality and recreation. Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park are the backdrop for mothers with prams, couples meeting and older men resting and conversing on park benches. In these paintings Barraud really captures the spirit of these urban yet leafy spaces in the early 20th-century. They seem a far cry from the work of a war artist, and yet are perhaps all the more powerful and poignant as a counterpoint to this artist's earlier work and as a joyous record of post-war peace.

CH Barraud, Kensington Gardens - Original early 20th-century watercolour

CH Barraud, Kensington Gardens, Trees - Original early 20th-century watercolour

CH Barraud, Kensington Gardens, Under the Trees - Somerset & Wood Fine Art

Copyright © 2016 Somerset & Wood Fine Art Ltd. All rights reserved. 

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