JAIC 2002, Volume 41, Number 1, Article 3 (pp. 21 to 42)
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Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 2002, Volume 41, Number 1, Article 3 (pp. 21 to 42)




Interviews with William McCloy shed additional light on the technical practices of the period. McCloy shared with Curry a strong interest in the techniques of earlier European painters and in the recipes contained in Max Doerner's book. Like Curry, McCloy also knew about Laurie's writings, but McCloy said that an additional influence on him in the mid-1930s was a less well known book written by Vytlacil and Turnbull (1935). Vytlacil and Turnbull rehashed much of Doerner's material (and were criticized for doing so; see the review by York [1936] in Technical Studies), but they also introduced the American reader to the ideas of Jacques Maroger, whose writings had previously appeared only in French-language journals. Another of the main themes of Vytlacil and Turnbull's book was the use of an egg-oil emulsion of varying proportions that they called “putrido,” a term Doerner does not use but which McCloy used throughout his career.

McCloy documented very thoroughly the materials employed in several of his paintings from the 1930s and 1940s. For instance, a portrait of a man painted in 1936–37, following Doerner's descriptions of the methods of Hals (Slater Museum, Norwich Free Academy), is described in a paper McCloy wrote in 1937: over an oil-primed fabric, underpainting was done with pigments ground in mastic and linseed oil (2:1), and then overpainted with pigments ground in linseed oil and mastic (9:1), with added painting medium of linseed oil, mastic, and turpentine (4:4:1) (McCloy 1937). It is interesting that apart from some developing cupping and a hazy surface (the painting is unvarnished), the picture is still in very good condition. Solvent tests show that the paint is not sensitive to acetone, probably because relatively small amounts of resinous medium were used in the upper paint layers. In other paintings by McCloy from the same period, there is some sensitivity to solvents like acetone, especially in glazes where a resinous medium was likely to have been added in higher proportions.

The only time that McCloy remembered getting into trouble following Doerner's advice was when he used a fair amount of Venice turpentine on a painting, which cracked so badly that he had to scrape it all off the next day. But it is impressive that most of McCloy's paintings from this period are in excellent condition, with little or no traction crackle or mechanical crackle. Some, such as Portrait of Patricia (1940, private collection), done in egg tempera with some oil-resin glazes but generally in a lean manner (the surface has a low gloss), are nearly perfectly preserved. One of the most interesting discoveries of our study has been that an artist like McCloy was able to get stable results using techniques that proved unstable in the hands of other painters. Part of the reason may be that McCloy (unlike Curry) avoided the use of driers. McCloy was also very conscious of the principles of allowing layers to dry properly, layering fat over lean, and not using excess medium. He was a fastidious craftsman, whereas he remembers that Curry was not. McCloy showed us some of Curry's paintbrushes, and, pointing out some slight traces of color in the heel of the bristles, he commented,“John never did clean his brushes properly.”

Interviews with McCloy also reinforce the impression from Curry's writings that the question of varnishing was not given the same importance as other technical aspects of painting (which is frustrating to conservators, who always want to know an artist's intention on this topic). When asked why one of his paintings from the late 1930s was varnished while most of the others were not, McCloy replied, “Quite frankly, I don't remember why I varnished one and not another.”

Copyright 2002 American Institution for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works