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Old 03-08-2018, 11:52 AM
Fingers Fingers is offline
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How Did the Old Flemish Masters paint Florals In Such Elaborate Detail

It puzzles me exactly how the old masters did floral painting in such ultra-fine detail?
For example, when you look closely at high definition photos of Jan Van Huysum's paintings, note that his paintings are enormously expansive and complicated, yet each aspect: i.e., leaf, flower, etc is exquisite and a masterpiece in its own right. I read that even under a microscope, even ultra-fine detail, such as microscopic hairs on flower stems, super-fine veins in leves, etc is absolutely symmetrical and perfect?
His paintings sold for a fortune at the time and no doubt are priceless today.
But how did he and his peers achieve such level of perfection?
When you think that painting from still life, the subject soon wilts, droops, loses shape very quickly and are seasonal, how did these guys get such detail of each floral, petal, etc and maintain that standard accurately throughout their paintings?
There were no cameras, computers with photo-imaging software and so on, in the 1400's... not to mention a paucity of colour pigments, mediums and other art materials that we take for granted today?
They were certainly gifted and talented for sure, but I wonder if there was more to it than that- could they have been savants?
Fingers
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Old 03-08-2018, 03:59 PM
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DAK723 DAK723 is online now
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Re: How Did the Old Flemish Masters paint Florals In Such Elaborate Detail

You don't need a computer, camera, photo imaging software or anything more modern than a pencil, piece of charcoal, or pen and ink to record what a leaf, flower or any other still life subject looks like. Don't know anything specific about Van Huysum, but chances are he did detailed studies, renderings, drawings of all the subjects that he might use in a still life long before he put any paint on canvas or board. Nothing magical. No need to be a savant. Just a lot of observation and study of his subject matter. That's my guess.

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Old 03-08-2018, 07:22 PM
wdaniels wdaniels is offline
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Re: How Did the Old Flemish Masters paint Florals In Such Elaborate Detail

"Van Huysum is reputed to have been fiercely secretive about his techniques, forbidding anyone, including his own brothers, to enter his studio for fear that they would learn how he purified and applied his colors. He had few pupils, one of whom, Margareta Haverman (1690/1700–after 1723), he apparently took on only in response to great pressure from his uncle. It is widely reported that Haverman’s work soon inspired such jealousy in her teacher that she had to leave his studio.

Unlike most Dutch still-life painters, Van Huysum produced a large number of drawings, mostly compositional studies for entire flower paintings but also some detailed depictions of individual blooms. His keenness for studying flowers from life led him to spend a portion of each summer in Haarlem, then as now a horticultural center. He probably also executed at least some elements of his easel paintings from life, rather than from drawings. This method of working may explain why some of his paintings bear two different dates." From this site: https://www.nga.gov/collection/artist-info.1409.html
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Old 03-09-2018, 03:21 AM
Fingers Fingers is offline
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Re: How Did the Old Flemish Masters paint Florals In Such Elaborate Detail

Thank you gentlemen - it makes much more sense when you think about it... They certainly produced some astonishing works of art.
Such a pity a lot of their specific painting techniques didn't survive.
One can understand the reason for guarded secrecy.
Even today, with all the modern analytical equipment available, it still cannot be determined with any great certainty.
Nevertheless, guess we are fortunate to be able to admire their artwork as a legacy...
Cheers,
Fingers
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Old 03-09-2018, 09:54 AM
wdaniels wdaniels is offline
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Re: How Did the Old Flemish Masters paint Florals In Such Elaborate Detail

Leaving aside techniques and methods, many of which can now only be guessed at, I think a big factor is that they were willing and able to spend months or sometimes years working on a single painting. In these days of "speed painting" and "a painting a day", not many are willing to do that.

Last edited by wdaniels : 03-09-2018 at 09:57 AM.
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Old 03-09-2018, 10:40 AM
Fingers Fingers is offline
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Re: How Did the Old Flemish Masters paint Florals In Such Elaborate Detail

Couldn't agree more Wayne.
Folks were nowhere near as time-pressed as we are today in our comparative fast-paced world. The pace of life of those days seemed much slower. By memory, I recall reading that it took some of these artists years to complete just one painting and that Da Vinci carried the Mona Lisa around with him for over 10 years working on it and still didn't consider it finished, even after applying 40 or so glazes and experimenting - (albeit he was busy with many other projects as well).
The modern-day commercial artist would be hard pressed to make a living at that rate of production, hence the "painting a day method" ...
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Old 03-09-2018, 11:59 AM
JCannon JCannon is offline
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Re: How Did the Old Flemish Masters paint Florals In Such Elaborate Detail

I agree that to produce that kind of work requires a different kind of mindset. You've got to be willing to spend eight hours on an inch of panel and to do the same thing the next day and the day after that. Too much coffee can make it hard to achieve the necessary degree of focus.

I would also argue that the great secret is GLAZING. So many art instructors preach the Gospel According to John Singer Sargent, and they are intolerant of heresy. Sargent was brilliant, but his way was not the way to make something similar to (say) a van Aelst still life.

The only way to attain extreme detail -- what I call "count every eyelash on the Virgin" detail -- is with paint that is very thin yet strong and well-pigmented.

There is another point I'd like to discuss: The question of whether the effort is justified.

The sad fact is, many viewers simply do not appreciate the skill and effort required to do what Fingers proposes to do. Over the past hundred years, we've been taught to discuss art purely in terms of subject matter -- that is, in terms of intellectual content, of ideas. Thus, a van Aelst rose and a child's crude drawing of a rose are considered equivalent, since only subject matter counts.

For an artist, of course, art is not what but how. Subject matter is the least important part of the operation. If you're working in the style of the Flemish masters, what matters to you is the quality of execution, not the subject matter.

Fingers, if you manage to pull off the trick, you'll impress other artists, because they will understand the effort and talent that went into the painting. You can expect me to bow very deeply and humbly. But will non-artists be able to appreciate what you've done?
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Old 03-09-2018, 02:08 PM
wdaniels wdaniels is offline
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Re: How Did the Old Flemish Masters paint Florals In Such Elaborate Detail

I agree with all of JCannon's points. Many today seem to think that the direct, opaque, straight from the tube method is the only way to paint. I've heard some say that "the only reason that glazing was used in the past is that it was the only way to get a strong color." And "with today's colors, you can get the exact same effect without glazing." I've even heard that "the whole glazing thing is a myth" and that light penetrating the glaze layers doesn't really happen. I will agree that the use of glazes by old masters may have been somewhat overstated by some, but to say it's a myth is simply incorrect.

I also agree that people in general don't appreciate the time and effort it takes to paint with the indirect method. Since the general public, and even some artists and gallery owners aren't even aware it exists, how could they? When people see Bob Ross paint something in a half hour, they think that's they way it works.
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Old 03-10-2018, 07:51 AM
Fingers Fingers is offline
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Re: How Did the Old Flemish Masters paint Florals In Such Elaborate Detail

Understand exactly what you are saying, Gentlemen. Must have a touch of OCD because spending hours and hours on a small segment of a painting is quite normal for me, attempting to get it just right. I relate to another poster on this site (hope he doesn't mind mentioning his name), Alan P form OC, who specialises in detail in his work and read in one of his posts that he can spend numerous painting sessions working on a postage stamp size seeking perfection.
Fortunately, painting is a retirement hobby for me and not a commercial venture. I imagine it must be a form of meditation because I can get lost in the process and wonder where the time went?
Agree that too many coffees (and too many glasses of red), doesn't help extended focus.
An admirer of Van Aelst also, but the exquisite detail in Jan Van Huysum's paintings impresses me immensely.
Enriched by your thoughts,
Thanks so much, Fingers.
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Old 03-10-2018, 10:37 AM
JCannon JCannon is offline
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Re: How Did the Old Flemish Masters paint Florals In Such Elaborate Detail

I found a description of the technique of Jan van Huysum. Frankly, I didn't expect to see this, since my understanding was that he was extremely secretive.

"Jan Van Huysum painted on Mahogany panels primed with lead white oil priming, contrary to the older habit of using gypsum or chalk. Perhaps the use of oil priming on linen led to his use of it on panel. An analysis of one of his panels showed the first layer of ground to be lean lead. But the second was lead with "negligible amounts of aluminum, silicon, calcium, and iron.

"Early in his career he used a dark ground, but later switched to a lighter ground, as we find with many artists. Coincidentally, his backgrounds also changed. Early on he painted dark interior walls behind his still lifes of flowers and fruit, often lit be a band of sunlight. But later he set his works outdoors or on a window sill beyond which one could see a bright, sun-filled garden with statuary, urns, and people.

"Van Huysum executed a preliminary drawing and value study in washes of reddish brown paint (a mixture of lead white and red madder lake). He used sketchy, broad washes to determine the composition rather than to delineate specific objects.

"The painting was executed in 1 to 3 layers of paint (usually 1 to 2), usually painted opaquely and directly over the compositional washes. He then glazed with red and yellow lakes. On one occasion he layered blue in 3 layers. Van Huysum used a number of new pigments of finer grain which allowed for his highly detailed style. One of these was Prussian Blue, which has a much finer particle size than Ultramarine. The details of his work are at times so intricate (such as a bird's feather in a nest) that it is believed he may have painted them with a single hair!

"Van Huysum painted wet-in-wet, with a linseed oil binder for his colors -- no sign of other medium was identified. He worked systematically from the back of the scene to the front, following the underpainting. Because he combined flowers and fruit which had different growing seasons, he often took many months to paint a work while waiting for a particular flower to blossom, or fruit to become ripe. He therefore had to determine the composition in his mind, since he did not have all of the elements together at one time.

"Though some of his yellow lake glazes have faded, his works have remained in remarkably good condition."

I confess, this is a rather different procedure than I would have presumed. He didn't glaze as much a I would have thought! Also, I have always felt that detailed work is far easier on a very absorbent ground. However, I am not surprised that he found Prussian Blue so useful for intricate work.
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Old 03-10-2018, 11:21 PM
Fingers Fingers is offline
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Re: How Did the Old Flemish Masters paint Florals In Such Elaborate Detail

Many thanks JCannon, the extract plus the website you found with all that great information is gold...
In appreciation,
Fingers.
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Old 03-13-2018, 07:29 AM
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Re: How Did the Old Flemish Masters paint Florals In Such Elaborate Detail

He worked on many pieces at a time. Dont assume he just laboriously painted one picture at a time. He also used students to do a lot of the foundation work. Most of the artists from that period worked like this. Including Vermeer.
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Old 03-13-2018, 11:53 AM
Fingers Fingers is offline
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Re: How Did the Old Flemish Masters paint Florals In Such Elaborate Detail

That may be true for many of the artists of that time Raffles, but from what I've read, that theory doesn't seem to apply to Jan Van Huysum. He was ultra-secretive and paranoid about not revealing his techniques only having one apprentice for a while and when under his guidance and she began producing paintings which he thought could possibly approach same quality as his - she was dismissed.
No-one else was ever permitted inside his studio by all accounts, not even his close family. He produced lots of paintings which were in great demand and each sold for a fortune. He was the best of the best in that field and no doubt didn't want anyone else to learn his methods and become a challenge.
Even under a microscope, the exquisite ultra-fine detail in his work is absolutely perfect. At times it is assumed he must have painted with a single-haired brush, but guess we'll never know for he kept everything secret to the end and his specific techniques died with him.
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