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)




The investigative trail that began with The Line Storm led to an enormous amount of information, not only about the techniques of specific painters at different points in their careers but also about the spirit of this period, when American art was a crossroads for so many different ideas. By the 1940s, the spirit of inquiry that was epitomized by Marsh and Curry would lead to much better sources of information for artists and would also contribute to the growth of modern conservation in the United States. For instance, the pivotal first few years of the 1940s saw not only the publications of Maroger but more reliable and authoritative publications such as Ralph Mayer's The Artist's Handbook of Materials and Techniques (1940), Frederic Taubes's The Technique of Oil Painting (1941), and Rutherford Gettens and George Stout's Painting Materials: A Short Encyclopaedia (1942). It should be noted that the scholarly periodical Technical Studies in the Field of the Fine Arts was published between 1932 and 1942, during much of the period under discussion, but both Technical Studies and Gettens and Stout's Painting Materials: A Short Encyclopaedia apparently went unnoticed by the artists we have studied. The more popular books written by painters such as Doerner, Mayer, and Taubes, as well as technical columns that began to appear in art magazines during the 1940s by Mayer and Taubes, seem to have had a much greater influence on practicing artists than did the more academic publications.

This was also a critical time for manufacturers of artist's materials, who tried to respond to painters' demands for products that were historically accurate and scientifically sound. Like the authors of treatises and the artists themselves, the manufacturers did not always get it right, and their successes and failures had an effect on a wide range of painters. F. Weber Company of Philadelphia is particularly striking in this regard. We have previously discussed Weber's innovations in matte varnishes, synthetic media, and tempera paints. Weber also manufactured innovative supports, including its very ambitious “Renaissance Panels,” which were handmade, numbered, and inscribed to artists like Curry who ordered them, and which claimed to be “the finest, best and most permanent and reliable artists panel” (see illustration in Katlan 1992, 440). William McCloy told us that Weber's products had a special cachet at that time and were considered better than any other brand. In spite of this, some of Weber's experiments appear to have gone terribly wrong. Among the worst conservation problems that we have ever seen are paintings from the 1930s and early 1940s by the American painter Marsden Hartley (1877–1943), in which the artist's paint has adhered very poorly to the weak, easily soluble grounds on labeled Weber academy boards.

While the focus of this study has been on artists in America, parallel developments were of course taking place in Europe. For example, the Americanborn painter Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859–1937), who had been working in France since 1891, is known to have carried out experiments with various emulsions in the 1920s and 1930s (Rankin 2000; see also Mathews 1969, 236–37). Doerner's ideas about tempera and the “mixed technique” were especially influential in German-speaking countries, and Maroger claimed that his methods were used by French and British painters including Raoul Dufy, Augustus John, and Roger Fry (Maroger 1942; Marsh 1942a).

The ramifications of these ideas lead forward in time as well, and to the work of abstract artists in addition to figurative painters like Curry and Marsh. Jackson Pollock (1912–1956), who had studied with Thomas Hart Benton, used tubes of ready-made tempera paint among the many other materials that he experimented with in the 1940s (Coddington 1999). And as late as the mid-1960s, Mark Rothko (1903–1969) was making emulsions by mixing egg and damar with oil paint (Mancusi-Ungaro 1990). This late usage might seem surprising at first, but in a sense it is not surprising that when Rothko was pushing painting in new directions, he reached back for some of the technical innovations that were current when he was coming of age as a painter during the 1930s and 1940s, in the era of Curry, Marsh, Doerner, and Maroger.


The authors would like to dedicate this article to Kathleen Curry and William McCloy, who did not live to see its publication but without whose help and interest our research would not have been possible.

We would also like to thank Edward Shein of American Art Search; George Mazeika, formerly of the William Benton Museum, University of Connecticut; the patient staff members at the Archives of American Art branch at the Boston Public Library; Elizabeth Joffrion at the Archives of American Art in Washington, D. C.; Patricia Junker, formerly of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and now at the Amon Carter Museum; Rita Albertson and Maura Brennan at the Worcester Art Museum; John Driscoll of Babcock Galleries; and Quentin Rankin at the National Museum of American Art. We would also like to thank Jeannie Ingram and Susan Frankenbach of the Slater Museum, Norwich Free Academy, Norwich, Connecticut, which received a bequest of many of William McCloy's paintings after his death.

Copyright 2002 American Institution for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works