by Lance Mayer and Gay Myers. J. Paul Getty Museum, July 2013. 276 p. ill. ISBN 9781606061350 (cl.), $50.00.

Reviewed January 2014
Amy Ballmer, Reference Librarian, Mina Rees Library, Graduate Center, City University of New York, aballmer@gc.cuny.edu

The accompanying volume to American Painters on Technique: The Colonial Period to 1860, this book provides students, scholars, and appreciators of American art with a new manner in which to think about paintings and the art making process. Far from being a dryly scientific relay of information about support types and material composition, this engaging study, written by two practicing conservators, is supplemented with quotes from other conservation specialists and art historians as well as excerpts from artists’ letters, notebooks, manuscript recipe books, and trade publications. Contemporary conservation and restoration needs that resulted from the artists’ materials are discussed, as is the lifespan of certain methods and materials, especially as it relates to experimentation with materials and techniques.

The book is loosely divided into two sections. The first section covers 1860-1910, a period during which European materials and methods were used more frequently by American artists either because they were learned on trips abroad from European artists or were inferred by artists attempting to replicate color and tone viewed in works by the Old Masters. The second section of the book focuses on the years 1910-1945, detailing the rise of commercially available materials and the resulting split of artists who used manufactured materials and those who continued to make their own painting supplies or even returned to older materials and methods.

Each section contains one chapter that provides an in-depth overview of the era organized by material or technique (examples include grounds, paint application, unusual media, varnishing, the tempera revival). There are also several chapters that focus on the materials and techniques of a single artist such as George Inness, James McNeill Whistler, John Singer Sargent, and William Page. These engaging chapters are prime examples of how a technical, process, and materials based art historical approach can elucidate new information about well-known artists. American Painters on Technique 1860-1945 is illustrated with color and black and white reproductions. The endnotes and bibliography are thorough and contain many primary source references. The index terms are precise and include entries such as “Zorn, Anders, palette of,” and “Impressionists: grounds used by,” and this reviewer’s favorite, “technique: not caring about.” This book is appropriate for public and research libraries and is highly recommended.

Copyright © 2013 ARLIS/NA

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