Delightfully Yellowing with Age

"Self Portrait" - William Page
“Self Portrait” – William Page, 1860/61, National Portrait Gallery

The notion of aesthetics is a vast and stimulating subject.  Although rarely considered a serious branch of philosophy, it is indeed, as it considers principles of beauty and taste.

I’ve been reading a great book by two conservators about the techniques used by painters during the period between 1860 and 1945 (see note below).  In the book a chapter features an artist working until around 1885, named William Page, otherwise known as the “The American Titian”.  Why this was a nickname for him has to do with his apparent desire to discover the secrets of Titian, an “old master” of the Venetian School who painted during the early 1500s.

This got me thinking.  William Page’s pursuit in painting was to acquire the “masterful” look of Titian by employing a method called “toning”.   Toning is a common practice in painting, but it seems the use of it here by Page was to re-create the “classic look” of Titian in order for his work to appeal to an aesthetic taste that has developed over time.  In other words, the yellow aging of Titian paintings naturally toned themselves over a period of several years, therefore, the way we see them today is how we may perceive, or require, the so called “classic look” of high quality paintings.

Some short years later, modern painters would insist on direct application of pure color without toning whatsoever, letting the individual notes of color ring independently true.   Ironically, Titian was considered one of the best colorists of his day, and yet we currently admire his paintings as they now strike full chords of tonal harmony.  It is interesting, when looking at art, to consider these aspects as they sometimes carry into our thoughts, even after exiting the gallery or, setting down the book.

Note:  American Painters on Technique, by Lance Mayer and Gay Meyers, 2013 Getty Publications (Click the link to go to the Getty Store and learn more about the book.)



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