A STUDY OF FRENCH PAINTING CANVASES
Katrina VANDERLIP CARBONNEL
4 PART Ill
4.1 HISTORICAL ANALYSIS OF FABRIC TYPES
4.1.1 THE 17TH CENTURY
TWO GENERAL CHARACTERISTS observed among the 17th century canvases are, one, they are mostly hemp and, two, they are relatively heavier than canvases from later centuries. Figure 2 shows that 80% of the 17th century samples are hemp. Figure 7 indicates that the 17th century canvases range from 220 grams to 571 grams per square meter and that they tend to be heavier than the average. Two examples of 17th century hemp canvases are Poussin's “Le Temps soustrait la Verité aux Attaques de l'Envie et de la Discorde” of 1641 or 1642 (328 grams per square meter and 20/20 threads per centimeter) and LeBrun's “Portrait de Louis Tertelin” painted between 1735 and 1750 (428/8 grams per square meter and 11.2/8.4 threads per centimeter). An example of the weight of that period's canvases is Tournier's “Crucifixion” (571.2 grams per square meter and 9/10 threads per centimeter), which is the heaviest canvas found among the painting canvases in this study.
4.1.2 THE 18TH CENTURY
LINEN CANVASES had been the exception in the 17th century, as is shown by the striped blue and white mattress cloth (550 grams per square meter and 28/22.5 threads per centimeter) Champaigne chose for “Le Cene” which by its nature (striped) was clearly not intended for its present use. This fabric too is heavy, weighing more than any other linen canvases (see Fig. 8). In the 18th century as in the 17th century, with only a few exceptions, artists chose very similar canvas types and 85.7% of the 18th century canvases studied are hemp (see Fig. 3). Desportes, Fragonard, C. Halle, N. Halle, and Oudry used hemp canvases, with the exception of Noel Halle's, all weighing from 180 to 280 grams per square meter and all with similar thread counts. Desportes chose the same type of canvases for “Chasse au Renard” of 1719 (13.6/12 threads per cm), for “Gibier, fruits et choux-fleurs” of 1733 (13/13 threads per cm), for “Nature morte à l'Aiguière” of 1734 (12.5/9.5 threads per cm), and for two other paintings with thread counts of 13.3/12.6 and 12/11 threads per cm respectively; Fragonard used a hemp canvas for “L'Inspiration” (15/12 threads per cm) and “La Liseuse” (12/19 threads per cm). Claude Guy Halle selected a hemp canvas for “La Peche” (13.2/12.5 threads per cm) and “Le Saut du Chien” (12.5/11.2 threads per cm); Noel Halle used a hemp cloth for “Dispute de Minerve et Neptune” of 1758 (weighing 430 g per square meter and with 14/11 threads per cm); and Oudry used a hemp fabric for “Instrument de Musique” of 1734 (13/12 threads per cm), “Chasse au Loup” (13.3/13.2 threads per cm), and “Nature Morte, Chien et Gibier Mort” of 1762 (12.6/11.6 threads per cm).
The exceptions to the general type of hemp canvases used in the 18th century can be exemplified by the canvas painting supports chosen by Boucher. Boucher, working in the middle of the 18th century, apparently painted on what was available to him at the time: as Champaigne had done in the 17th century, he used a tightly woven herringbone (24/20 threads per cm) striped blue and white mattress ticking for his “Renaud et Aramide” which he presented at the Academy in 1734; he selected a more loosely woven canvas (17/14 threads per cm) with a hemp warp and a linen weft for “L'Aurore,” and he chose an all hemp canvas for his “Venus chez Vulcain” in 1757 (12.8/10 threads per cm).
4.1.3 THE END OF THE 18TH CENTURY AND THE BEGINNING OF THE 19TH CENTURY
THE TRANSITION from the predominant use of hemp canvase by artists to the virtual disappearance of its use in favor of linen canvases was effected in the late 18th century-early 19th century. Figure 2 shows the gradual switch from hemp to linen during the first quarter of the 19th century, when artists often painted alternatively on hemp and linen supports. Ingres, Hubert Robert, Jean François Hue, Delacroix, Regnault and Troyon represent this transition period well with the variety of their fabric supports. There are three half-linen half-hemp cloths, that is to say fabrics with hemp warp and linen weft. They date from the second half of the 18th century to the 19th century: Boucher's “L'Aurore” (17/14 threads per cm), Vallain's “La Liberté” (14/10 threads per cm), and Boisselier's “Courageuse defense de Louis” of 1827 (14.5/10.5 threads per cm). They too are indications of the gradual change from hemp to linen painting canvases. Of the ten samples taken from pictures by Ingres, four are hemp and six are linen. The Ingres samples cover a wide range of fabric types. The coarsest is the linen canvas used for the “Jupiter et Thetis” (10/6 threads per cm). The finest is the linen canvas used in 1842 for the “Portrait de Cherubini.” In a single year, 1895, Ingres painted the “Portrait de Madame Rivière” in Paris on a hemp cloth (15/15 threads per cm) and the “Portrait de Desmare” on a linen cloth (16/10 threads per cm). While he changes erratically from hemp to linen canvases, the fabrics he uses—whether hemp or linen—consistently tend to become more tightly woven over the course of his career. Ingres' late works are on closely woven linen. Among the three paintings by Hubert Robert analyzed, two were hemp canvases and one a linen canvas. The two J. F. Hue paintings are on a hemp canvas and a striped linen mattress cloth. The six Delacroix samples are evenly divided, showing clearly the switching back and forth from hemp to linen during the transition period. The three hemp canvases are coarser than the three linen ones, however; the most tightly woven hemp sample “Portrait de Riesener” (20/20 threads per cm). In 1830 Delacroix painted “Turc Assis sur un Divan” on a twill weave linen canvas (30/29 threads per cm); three years earlier for a sketch of “Mort de Sardanapale,” he had chosen a poorer quality, loosely woven hemp cloth. Jean Baptiste Regnault painted “Descente de Croix” on a hemp canvas (14/11.5 threads per cm) and his “Education d'Achille” on a patterned satin weave linen cloth (22/19 threads per cm), while Troyon used a very fine linen canvas in 1855 for “Le Retour du Marche” (38/34 threads per cm) and a coarse hemp cloth for “Les Bucherons” (13/12 threads per cm).
4.1.4 THE 19TH CENTURY
AFTER THE TRANSITION period from hemp to linen canvases, 19th century artists painted regularly on machine woven linen, often preprimed (preprimed being used in the sense that the priming was applied to the canvas before it was stretched on its stretcher). Increased industrialization in the 19th century encouraged similarities in canvas types. Corot, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Cezanne, Degas, Manet, Pissarro, Renoir, Carrière, Daubigny, Sisley, and Fantin-Latour all painted on fine linen that is machine woven. There are eleven Corot samples which are all fine linen; the finest is “Jeune Fille à la Mandoline” (31/30 threads per cm) and the coarsest is “Souvenir de Marissel” of 1864 (23.3/16 threads per cm). All of the Corot samples are preprimed.
There are twenty-one linen canvas samples from paintings by Monet. Most are preprimed off-white. The coarsest is “La Gare de Saint-Lazare” painted in 1877 (20/14.5 threads per cm) and the finest is “Madame Monet en Plein Air.” “Le Pont du Chemin de Fer à Argenteuil (23/19 threads per cm) and “Les Coquelicots” (23/20 threads per cm), both painted in 1873, are on nearly identical supports. On the average none of the canvases is either extremely fine and regular nor is any canvas particularly coarse. His canvases become slightly more loosely woven through his early career, from “Nature Morte au Faisan” of 1862 (31/29 threads per cm) to “La Gare de Saint-Lazare” and “La Seine à Argenteuil” of 1877 (25/22 threads per cm).
The three Toulouse-Lautrec canvas samples are preprimed off-white; one is gauze-like linen (14/14 threads per cm), another, “Madame Dieuhl” of 1891, is linen with an average thread count (18/16 threads per cm), and the last one is a tightly woven linen (28/28 threads per cm).
There are six Cezanne samples. One, “Une Moderne Olympia” of 1868, is a gauze-linen (13/12 threads per cm) similar to the one mentioned for Toulouse-Lautrec. One the whole, Cezanne's canvases are not finely woven; they range from the coarsest “Une Moderne Olympia” (13/12 threads per cm) to the finest “Nature Morte à la Soupière” of 1883 (21.5/20 threads per cm). Two of his canvases have nearly identical surface appearances, although the first “Pommes Vertes” (12.6/12.6 threads per cm) is dated 1873 and the other “Pommes et Oranges” (14/11 threads per cm) 1895. Both are preprimed off-white. The priming is worked into the intersticies of the fabric and is visible in the form of small pearls on the back.
All of the six Van Gogh samples are preprimed off-white, and while none are not very tightly woven, none are alike. One, “Le père Tanguy” (12.5/12 threads per cm), resembles the two matching Cezanne samples mentioned above with the off-white priming visible from the reverse. These canvases are all machine woven.
Degas used different weight linen canvases for two paintings created only a year apart: “Portrait de Jeantaud, Linet et Laine” of 1871 (12/11 threads per cm) and “Repetition de Ballet” of 1872 (28/28 threads per cm).
In 1864, Corot, Manet, Pissarro, and Renoir all used fine linen canvases: Corot for “Souvenir de Morte Fontaine” (213/3 g per square meter, 26.6/20.3 threads per cm) and “Souvenir de Marissel” (271.1 g per square meter, 23.3/16 threads per cm), Manet for “Les Fleurs de Pionies” (192 g per square meter, 30/27 threads per cm), Pissarro for “Le Bac à la Varenne St Hilaire” (260 g per square meter, 19/16 threads per cm) and Renoir for “Portrait de Sisley” (32/32 threads per cm).
Most of the Renoir's canvases samples are preprimed off-white or light gray and all are fine linen with the exception of “Jeune Femme rajustant son corsage” painted in 1901 (340 g per square meter, 19/19 threads per cm), which is a bit coarser than the others. In 1876, Renoir used very similar if not the same type of canvas for “Portrait de Madame Daudet” (33/31 threads per cm), “La Balancoire” (32/30 threads per cm) and “Board de Seine à Champrosay” (34/30 threads per cm). “Le Moulin de la Galette” also painted in the same year is on slightly coarser linen (26/25 threads per cm). There is a general tendency for his canvases to become a little less tightly woven over the course of his career.
Pissarro's canvases, on the other hand, appear to become finer: from “Le Bac à la Varenne St Hilaire” of 1864 and “Route de Louvenciennes” of 1870 (488 g per square meter, 15.3/14.6 threads per cm) to 1877 “Les Toits Rouges” (30/25.5 threads per cm).
Of the eleven Sisley samples, ten are linen and one is hemp, “Regate à Henley” (14/13 threads per cm). The finest linen canvas is “Paysage au Petit Printemps” 1886 (36/30 threads per cm). The coarsest is “Les Regates à Moulsey prés de Londres” of 1874 (14.7/14.5 threads per cm).
The Fantin-Latour canvas samples are varied. There is one woven with double threads for both warp and weft, the 1870 “L'Atelier des Batignolles” with gray priming, two with white priming covered with a dark wash, the first “Petite Nature Morte, Peches, Raisins” coarse (15.3/14.3 threads per cm), the second “Tranche de Melon” finer (28.3/27 threads per cm), and finally there is one sample “Fleurs” with light gray priming on fine linen (30/28 threads per cm).
Carriére, Daubigny and Morisot are also among the artists that painted of fine linen, usually with white priming.
The 19th century samples listed above all show the same general characteristic of being machine-woven linen. No further specific traits can be assigned to different shorter periods of time: canvas samples from the 1840's to the 1860's are similar to the canvases from the 1870's to the 1890's. However, certain tendencies can be noted for specific artists.
Towards the very end of the 19th century, cotton fibers start to be employed in making painting canvases. Cotton is first timidly introduced by being woven with linen in order to make a cloth that still retains some of linen's advantages of strength and durability. Then, at the beginning of the 20th century when the price difference between linen and cotton become considerable, all-cotton painting canvases appear. Among the canvases painted towards the end of the 19th century and on into the 20th century, five examples are a combination of cotton and linen. As none of these samples still have their selvage edge, it cannot be said whether the warps are cotton or linen. They are: Vivin's “Reims, la Cathedrale” (preprimed, 13/12.5 threads per cm), Redon's “Hommage à Gauguin” (18.8/15.6 threads per cm), H. Rousseau's “Hommage à la Republique” (preprimed, 14.3/13.3 threads per cm), Peyronnet's “L'Annonce du Garde Champetre” (preprimed, 15/13 threads per cm), and Survage's “Vendeuse de Poisson” (22.5/22 threads per cm).