In October 2012 I started with a page called Open-source painting on Facebook.( 1) My intention was to share my research into classical painting techniques and materials. For years I had taught students of AKV /StJoost the essentials of the techniques of painting in short courses from six, sometimes even five, lessons ( 18 or 15 hours in total for a study-period of four years!). To offer them and everyone else interested a broader perspective of possibilities I decided to share my own experiments with trying out techniques I had theoretical knowledge of. I did this by posting step-by-step photographs and short texts. In doing this I intended to expand the technical abilities of my followers and to help them with ‘reading’ the classical works that inspired them by showing the different steps of their production.
One side effect was that while visiting museums and looking at paintings my attention kept shifting between their content and their physical qualities
In 2013 I visited the Schlossmuseum in Weimar. On the first floor one painting caught my attention , there was something peculiar happening in it. The picture called “Pariser Barrikade’ was painted by Friedrich Wilhelm Martersteig in 1848. It shows a scene from the Februari-revolt which he had witnessed as a student in Paris. On the barricade men dressed in smocks stand out against a clear evening or morning sky. The lefthand side of the painting looks fine but on the right heavy parts are overpainted, parts that catch the eye immediately because the paint has become transparent and its adhearance seems faulty. Because of this I made some photographs of details for my archive.
Clearly visible is the change in size of the two figures at the end of the barricade, halved rather rigorously to suggest a deeper perspective and to make their size somewhat more realistic in relation to the high buildings behind them.
The middle-class couple on the right, with the son putting a coin in a box, presents another problem. The ‘husband’ looks rather clumsy and seems to be added later after the picture dried. I think that in the uncorrected version the woman and her son visited the site of the barricade unaccompanied by a male. In the composition her pale face seems to almost touch the deeply tanned face of a man next to her. This ‘revolutionary’ reminds me of the man with the sabre on the picture by Delacroix from 1830. Behind her and partly visible one can see a figure with a red cap and next to him a surly looking older gentleman eyeing her closely. This grouping with the reserved woman modestly casting her eyes down and the three male faces seems to me more achieved than the state the picture is in now. It may have been possible that the red cap attracted to much attention, but Martersteig could easily have changed the colour. The added husband painted as if he is pulling the woman out of the picture is an anatomical failure. One only has to look at the way their holding arms is suggested.
After his studies at the Art Academies of Dresden and Düsseldorf Martersteig stayed in Paris from 1838 to 1848. He enlisted as a student with Paul Delaroche and also assisted Ary Scheffer with the production of a few large canvases. With his own works he took part in a couple of Salons. Beginning of 1848 King Louis Philippe offered Martersteig the opportunity to participate in decoration work for the Palais of Versailles, but because of the outbreak of the February-revolt this never happened.
His picture ‘Pariser Barrikaden’ is one of the few documents in paint of the February-revolt created by German artists. After returning to Weimar Martersteig had high hopes of returning to Paris. While waiting for the conditions to change for the better he finished ( or changed?) works he had started in France. In the end he never went back. (2)
The women with the three types of men around her made me think of a picture of Christ before Pilate painted by a follower of Jheronimus Bosch from the collection of Museum Boymans van Beuningen. (detail) ( 3).
What can one make of the suspicious glances aimed at the woman? Does she represent something the men and even the ‘husband’ dislike? I will do some more research and follow up on it later on.
The appearance of corrected parts and even hidden figures by the paint becoming more transparant, (especially paints mixed with leadwhite), is a well known phenomenon. The find made during a collaborative research project conducted by the National Galleries of Scotland and the Courtauld Institute of Art in London looks to be pretty spectacular. The painting in question, a portrait of Sir John Maitland, painted by Adriaan Vanson was seemingly painted over a portrait of a woman. The researchers claim it bears striking similarities to other depictions of Mary Queen of Scots made during her lifetime. The monarch was forced to abdicate the Scottish throne in 1567 after being accused of murdering her husband. Imprisoned by her cousin Elizabeth I she was executed in 1587. The painting hiding her image was created two years after Mary’s death, with historians speculating that the artist may have abandoned the portrait and then covered it up due to her execution. Keeping it twenty years in case of future use and then wait another two years after her death to cover it up?
This might be the start of other exciting stories. In a new text I will write about ‘lost women’.
2. Martersteig; Pariser Lehrjahre/ Ein Lexicon zur Ausbildung deutscher Maler in de französischen Hauptstadt” Bd. I: 1793-1843. Herausgegeben von France Nehrlich und Benedicte Savoy