Thursday, December 4, 2008

Exploring Grandfather's Paintbox - IV

Chapter IV


Grandfather was the eldest of six brothers and sisters. The only one of the six who was still alive as I grew to an age where I could remember was my great-uncle, Henry Thomas Henwood, the second youngest of the group. He too had made a career in the Bank, and he too was an artist. Having no living descendants himself, he took an interest in his great-nephews and nieces and in me particularly because I was already showing a liking for and some talent in art. When I was fourteen years old he gave me £5, that is, five pounds sterling, to buy myself a set of oil paints. “You should buy poppy oil” he cautioned me, “not linseed. That will yellow.” Five pounds was still a good sum of money in those days: it enabled me to buy a wooden box from Winsor & Newton, and fill it with a range of artist’s colours. A quality wooden palette, brushes, a clip-on double-dipper; all came out of that generous gift. That equipment today would cost several hundred dollars. Doesn’t that show the inflation we have undergone in the last fifty years! You can’t get a plate of fish and chips for five pounds today, (which, by the way, used to cost me one shilling and threepence (or fifteen cents) when I was a boy). But I digress again.

Uncle Henry invited me down to Devon to stay with him for a couple of weeks during the summer holidays that same year. By then he was a very old man, and in poor health. It was difficult for him to rouse himself, and he hardly stirred from his room. Consequently I spent many happy days rambling over the moors on the west edge of Dartmoor, which began at his doorstep. But he did show me a painting he was still working on, and demonstrated some techniques to help me along.

There is just one painting of his that has come down to me – an unfinished landscape of a meadow with cows in front of a ruined abbey. His painting style and brushwork was quite different from that of my grandfather. His cows are very good.

(But I see you are busy. I shouldn’t keep you so long. Let’s get back to the subject at hand.)

It should be remembered that the original intention of this piece was to make an inventory and catalogue of all the items in grandfather’s painting kit. I hope to be forgiven for doing this regardless of the near inevitability of boring the reader at this point.

There was a small selection of brushes in the central tray of the box. Here is what I found: (DSCN2853), (DSCN2240).

W&N Series 51 #0 Round, sable poor condition, but just usable
Rowney Series 101 #1 Round, sable no bristles remain
unknown unknown ca. #2 Long Flat, bristle poor cond. might be restored
Rowney Series 110 ca.#2 Short Flat, bristle excellent condition
W&N Series A #4 Round, bristle fair condition
W&N Series A #10 Round, bristle very good condition

I conclude that the excellent #2 Short Flat was a replacement for an earlier worn out brush, since it shows signs of light use and carries only one smear of paint on the handle – white.. When I examine my grandfather’s landscapes, it seems to me that this type and size of brush would probably have been used a lot for the trees and hills of the middle ground. I suppose the hairs on the #1 Sable had just disintegrated over time.
I was rather surprised to see the big, #10 Round. I suppose it was used mostly for underpainting the skies – the paint residues on the ferrule and handle are mostly blue and white. Residues on the #2 Long Flat show greens, browns, red and orange, indicating use on trees, grasses and buildings. The #4 Round shows traces of Venetian Red, Yellow Ochre, Raw Umber, and some greens

I am thinking about taking the two best of these brushes back into use.

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