Van Goyen’s Technique:
Jan van Goyen would begin a painting using a support primarily of thin oak wood. To this panel, he would scrub on several layers of a thin animal hide glue.Then with a blade, scrape over the entire surface a thin layer of tinted white lead to act as a ground and to fill the low areas of the panel. The ground was tinted light brown, sometimes reddish, or yellow ocher in color.
Next, Van Goyen would loosely and very rapidly sketch out the scene to be painted with pen and ink without going into the small details of his subject. This walnut ink drawing can be clearly seen in some of the thinly painted areas of his work. For a guide, he would have turned to a detailed drawing. The scene would have been drawn from life outdoors and then kept in the studio as reference material. Drawings by artists of the time were rarely works of art in their own right as they are viewed today.
On his palette he would grind out a color collection of neutral grays, umbers, ocher and earthen greens that looked like they were pulled from the very soil he painted. A varnish oil medium was used as vehicle to grind his powered pigments into paint and then used to help apply thin layers of paint which he could easily blend.
The dark areas of the painting were kept very thin and transparent with generous amounts of the oil medium. The light striking the painting in these sections would be lost and absorbed into the painting ground. The lighter areas of the picture were treated heavier and opaque with a generous amount of white lead mixed into the paint. Light falling on the painting in a light section is reflected back at the viewer.
The effect is a startling realism and three-dimensional quality. The surface of a finished painting resembles a fluid supple mousse, masterfully whipped and modeled with the brush. When looking at a Van Goyen painting one can almost feel the wind in the trees laced with the scent of a bluest smoke lingering above a rustic cottage, or taste the salted air near the seashore he painted.
By the 1650s Van Goyen’s colors became more luminous, but he never moved too far from monochrome tonalities. With about 1,200 paintings recorded, plus etchings and drawings, Van Goyen was both highly prolific and highly influential. Despite his other career as a picture dealer, he constantly had financial difficulties and died insolvent because he kept speculating in land, houses, and tulip bulbs. His daughter married the painter Jan Steen.
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