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« Guy | Main | Praised / Damned »

June 16, 2009

Courbet, Seen Darkly

Donald PIttenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Maybe I was just seeing things. Or maybe not.

No doubt many of you have seen reproductions such as the one below of Gustave Courbet's The Artist's Studio.

Courbet%20-%20The%20Artist%27s%20Studio.jpg

When I visited Paris' Musée d'Orsay a few weeks ago I didn't see all that much of it. That's because it was so darkened -- seemingly darker than the reproductions I'm familiar with including the one above -- that it surprised me.

According to this blog (scroll down), the painting was refurbished and reinstalled last fall; their photo of the reinstallation is below.

Courbet%27s%20studio%20reinstallation.jpg

Yes, this recent photo suggests that the painting isn't as dark as it seemed when I saw it eight months later.

But for what it's worth, other nearby Courbets struck me as being pretty dark, too. Ditto a Rousseau.

So am I wrong? Was the lighting for the painting bad? Is my eyesight failing? Or was the painting always a rather dark affair? Perhaps it originally was brighter and, as often happens, its varnish yellowed it. If so, then why didn't the museum strip off the varnish to restore the original colors? Or were there technical reasons they couldn't?

I'm clueless, so I hope a few mavens and recent Orsay visitors will hop into Comments and help me out on the facts and assuage the disappointment I felt that day even if the conclusion is that I have lousy vision.

Later,

Donald

posted by Donald at June 16, 2009




Comments

"So am I wrong? Was the lighting for the painting bad? Is my eyesight failing? Or was the painting always a rather dark affair? Perhaps it originally was brighter and, as often happens, its varnish yellowed it. If so, then why didn't the museum strip off the varnish to restore the original colors? Or were there technical reasons they couldn't?"

Yes.

Posted by: Know It All on June 16, 2009 1:20 PM



Know It All --

Tee.

And I'll toss in "Hee" for good measure.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on June 16, 2009 2:18 PM



The varnish on old pictures darkens with age, so that may be one reason. Another is that the lighting levels in museums are quite low--the belief that light hitting the canvas will cause the paint to disintegrate.

Posted by: L on June 16, 2009 2:37 PM



Donald, it could be a question of colour darkening because of faulse techniques. The 19th century is when people were eager to make all kinds experiments in the name of sience etc. So with artists and colours!
Beeing a painter I've done some of these mistakes myself. For ex. if you make an oil underpainting with a mixture including high percent of umbra so it will often bleed through the light overpainting. The painting could darken just in a couple of months.

In the 19th cent. they seem to have had all kinds of
questeniable (spelling?) colours and chemicals, the most famous beeing what was called 'Mummy', supposedly ground of late pharaos :)

But there must be some litterature about it. Sadly mine are in finnish or swedish.

Ps. I've greatly enjoyed your posts on arts and painting. We have our differences o.c. but not so often. Thanks!

HannuHoo

Posted by: HannuHoo on June 17, 2009 7:26 AM






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