Another good lead from the voracious reader of magazines in my household.
This Smithsonian story shows how a relatively simple invention made it possible for the Impressionists to do much more painting outdoors, en plein air.
Perry Hurt writes, “The French Impressionists disdained laborious academic sketches and tastefully muted paintings in favor of stunning colors and textures that conveyed the immediacy of life pulsating around them. Yet the breakthroughs of Monet, Pissarro, Renoir and others would not have been possible if it hadn’t been for an ingenious but little-known American portrait painter, John G. Rand.
“Like many artists, Rand, a Charleston native living in London in 1841, struggled to keep his oil paints from drying out before he could use them. At the time, the best paint storage was a pig’s bladder sealed with string; an artist would prick the bladder with a tack to get at the paint. But there was no way to completely plug the hole afterward. And bladders didn’t travel well, frequently bursting open.
“Rand’s brush with greatness came in the form of a revolutionary invention: the paint tube. Made from tin and sealed with a screw cap, Rand’s collapsible tube gave paint a long shelf life, didn’t leak and could be repeatedly opened and closed.
“The eminently portable paint tube was slow to be accepted by many French artists (it added considerably to the price of paint), but when it caught on it was exactly what the Impressionists needed to abet their escape from the confines of the studio, to take their inspiration directly from the world around them and commit it to canvas, particularly the effect of natural light.
“For the first time in history, it was practical to produce a finished oil painting on-site, whether in a garden, a café or in the countryside.” More.
Dear artist friends, I can picture what it would have been like for you traveling by train after an outing to some scenic spot before this invention. “Oh, Madame, I am so terribly sorry. I’m afraid my cobalt pig’s bladder burst!”
Photo: Chrysler Museum of Art
The tin tube, below, was more resilient than its predecessor (the pig bladder), enabling painters to leave their studios.