Eye Candy for Today: Rembrandt’s Omval

Rembrandt etching, The Omval Rembrandt etching, The Omval (details)
 

The Omval, Rembrandt van Rijn, etching and drypoint, roughly 7 x 9 inches (19×23 cm); this printing is in the collection of the Metropolitan museum of Art, which has both a zoomable and downloadable version of the image.

Rembrandt was, in my opinion, the greatest master of etching and drypoint in history. Though many of his etchings were of a religious nature, here he has fun with a naturalistic riverfront scene.

The Omval is the name for a well-known spot along the Amstel River. A glorious tree dominates the scene; behind it we see sailboats and what appears to be a passenger ferry on the water. Across the river, we see elements of a town and a mill.

A man stands on the shore, facing away from us and toward the ferry, perhaps in conversation with someone on it.

What we don’t see at first are a pair of lovers that Rembrandt has nestled in the shadows of the great tree (images above, second from top).

The woman is facing to the left, her hand rests on her dress. The man sits behind her, to the left. It appears as though he has his arm raised above the woman’s head, his sleeve obscuring his own face.

Rembrandt has left much to the imagination, both visually and in possible implied narrative. We’re left to wonder if there is a relation between the lovers and the man on the shore, or perhaps someone on the ferry. We can also imagine they’re doing their very best to keep quiet.

The Omval, MetMuseum

A few paintings from the forest of Fontainebleau

Painting of the Forest of Fontainebleau,
Paintings of the Forest of Fontainebleau, Alphonse Asselbergs, Christian Zacho, Francois Auguste Ortmans, Claude Monet, George Charles Aid, Gustave Courbet, Gustave Dore, Peter Burnit, Theodore Rousseau, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot

Wikimedia Commons, with its wonderful, clunky mishmash of art images — superb high quality high resolution images from the best sources next to low resolution low quality and off color images from questionable sources — has some equally eccentric systems of categorization, which results in the delightful ability to browse through a category like “Paintings of forests“, and highly specific subcategories like “Paintings of forêt de Fontainebleau” (the forest of Fountainebleau).

The forest of Fontainebleau is an area of still relatively wild forest and rock formations about 35 miles (60 km) southeast of Paris. It attracted the first wave of painters known to paint en plein air in significant numbers.

Initially it was Corot, and then other painters who were similarly interested in painting directly from nature, and who would collectively come to be known as the Barbizon School, named for the nearby town that was their base. Later they were joined by the early French Impressionists, who were highly influenced by the Barbizon painters.

The images above were all selected from the single Wikimedia Commons page for paintings from the forest of Fountainebleau — on which you will find more examples, as well as links to higher resolution images, and even links to subcategories of that category.

(Images above: Abbot Handerson Thayer, Alphonse Asselbergs, Christian Zacho, François Auguste Ortmans, Claude Monet, George Charles Aid, Gustave Courbet, Gustave Doré, Peter Burnit, Théodore Rousseau, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot)

French (Box) Easels, Field Easels and Other Plein Air Painting Systems

French (Box) Easels, Field Easels and Other Plein Air Painting Systems

This post is an adjunct to my extensive article on pochade boxes. In it, I will showcase some alternative outdoor painting systems and portable easels.

While plein air painting goes back further among individuals, it was with the invention of tin paint tubes and the portable “Box Easel” in the 19th century that painting en plein air, or “in the plain air” became the practice of significant numbers of artists.

Together, the new, easy to carry tubes and easels made it much more practical than it had been to carry what was essentially a compact artist’s studio into the field.

Today, amid the renaissance of plein air painting that has taken place over the last 20 years or so, modern pochade boxes have become the outdoor painting platform of choice for many plein air painters, but box easels and other types of painting systems have their adherents.

I’ll attempt to list some of the major types and variations.

 

French Box Easels

Jullian French Box EaselThese are modern versions of the 19th century box easels, now often referred to as French easels or sketchbox easels. They consist of a tilting panel or canvas holder hinged to a painting box.

For transport, the easel folds down to become the top of the painting box, which also usually has a drawer insert that acts as a palette holder in use. The entire arrangement is supported by wooden legs that are adjustable in length with wingnuts and fold against the sides and bottom of the box for carrying.

Jullian, a long standing French manufacturer, likes to take credit for the invention of the box easel in the mid 19th century by its founder, Roger Jullian. It could be true, but I think it remains unproven.

French box easels come in full and half sizes. There are a number of brands and configurations — as well as custom variations from some manufacturers — most ranging in price from $80.00 to $200.00 or so (USD). Painter Michael Hodgkins gives a nice introduction and overview of how they are set up in the this video.

Advocates of pochade boxes and other portable easels and painting systems are often critical of French easels as bulky, awkward to set up, and prone to breaking. However, they handle many thing well — like supporting relatively large paintings and carrying lots of supplies. They can also double as a studio easel.

Jullian makes several variations (along with field easels). You can get them through Dick Blick, Jerry’s Artarama and other suppliers.

Blick also carries this Bamboo model, and Richeson sells a “half” French easel.

Jerry’s Artarama carries French easels and half easels by Jullian, Mabef, Monet, Creative Mark and several names that appear to be in-house branding, some of which feature built-in wheels.

Mabef makes the Mabef French Sketch Box Easel, and Sketch Box Backpacker Easel, which is essentially a half French easel.

Cheap Joe’s has a house-branded model, as well as a field easel.

Amazon has an Art Alternatives Sonoma Sketchbox Easel.

Artist’s Loft is sold by Michaels craft stores.

Jullian also makes a variation called the Rexy Watercolor Easel, that is configured to allow form a more horizontal painting surface, and comes with a removable paint box.

EaselAir is a metal variation on the French box easel; they have a video demo on YouTube.

Anderson makes an unusual Swivel Easel, a variation on the French box easel that is used in a seated position.

 

Gloucester Easels (Anderson Easels)

Take It Easel Gloucester Easel (Anderson Easel)The Anderson Easel was used in northern Europe in the early 19th century, but unlike the box easel, it did not have a built-in provision for holding supplies. It experienced a revival in the U.S. in the service of American painter Emile Gruppe and his Gloucester School of Art, where it became known as the Gloucester Easel.

It consists of a wooden tripod with adjustable legs — much sturdier than those of a field easel — that are held together with crossbars when in use. The height of the canvas holder is adjusted by setting its pegs into holes set into the legs at intervals. While not as simple to set up as a pochade box or field easel, it seems easier to deploy than a box easel.

The wide tripod stance gives Gloucester Easels exceptional stability, and they are well suited to holding very large canvases and working in windy conditions. They provide room for a large shelf area inside the legs when set up, with plenty of space for a palette and supplies at that level. When you see painters working at a large scale on location, they are often using one of these.

Take It Easel is the leading manufacturer of this kind of easel. Stapleton Kearns has an article about them on his blog. Bill Guffey sets one up and breaks it down in this YouTube video.

The Beauport Easel is a variation on the Gloucester easel. Jerry’s Artarama has a YouTube video in which they test the easel’s resistance to wind with both small and large canvases.

 

Lightweight Field Easels

Lightweight field easelProbably the simplest and cheapest outdoor painting easels; they are also the least sturdy option for holding panels or canvasses for outdoor painting.

Field easels consist of lightweight tripods of either wood or metal, with extendable legs and an attached panel holder. They usually offer no shelf for a palette without an add-on of some kind.

In most wooden versions, the panel or canvas holder is a separate hinged arm, adjustable in length, set into the top of the tripod. This can be adjusted from vertical to horizontal positions, the latter allowing the easel to be used for watercolor.

In some versions — usually the most inexpensive of the metal ones — the panel holder can be a simple brace across the front legs that holds the bottom of the canvas or panel, along with an extendable arm that adjusts to hold the top. These can only be adjusted in angle by setting the back leg lower than the others, but the configuration allows for holding larger canvasses or panels.

Field easels collapse down to a size a little longer than the length of one leg section, usually about 24″ (60 cm) or so, and many come with a carrying case.

Wooden field Easels come from a variety of manufacturers — too numerous to list here — most ranging range in price from $16.00 to $130.00 USD.

Field Easels also come in metal versions in a similar price range.

These metal Creative Mark Napoli metal field easels are more expensive than some, but look like a quality version of the concept.

Dakota Art Pastels makes one with a dedicated design for pastel painters.

[Addendum: Dedicated plein air painter Marc Dalessio has been kind enough to comment on this post and point out: “For tripod easels, the metal ones are vastly superior to the wood ones. The wood ones are really terrible and should be avoided.” See this post’s comments.]

 

Tripod Based Palette and Panel Holders

That’s just my loose term for several variations in portable painting systems. The most prominent of these are known primarily by their brand names, rather than being identified with a classification of portable easel. They are usually in the $200.00 to $400.00 range in price.

These systems are hybrid arrangements, usually consisting of a collapsable photographic tripod — like those used with pochade boxes — combined with a rocking panel holder like those in high-end field easels or an extended vertical arm with a panel holder that can also be adjusted in angle.

They often incorporate a tri-panel folding palette that attaches to the front legs. (Larger variations of these folding palettes, when used with French easels, are sometimes called “French Mistresses”. I don’t make this stuff up, folks.)

Unlike pochade boxes — on which the palette and panel holder are part of the same unit and therefore close together — the separation of palette and panel holder allows for the palette to be as low as below the waist, and the panel or canvas to be at eye height if desired. The fold-out palette generally offers more mixing room than other outdoor painting options.

Coulter Easel, plein air easelThe Coulter Easel was designed by painter James Coulter and is manufactured by Art Box and Panel. A wooden panel holder and fold-out palette are mounted to a metal tripod.

 

Soltek plein air easelThe Soltek Easel has a paintbox and built-in tripod legs a bit like a metal version of a box easel, combined with a panel holder that extends up on a vertical arm that can be adjusted in angle, including flat for watercolor. As of this writing, their website is still partly unfinished. There is a (low-res) promo video on YouTube.

 

Daytripper plein air easelThe Daytripper Easel comes with a metal fold-out palette. Painter Patrick Saunders demos one on YouTube. They also make a smaller “Fly on the Wall” version that can be used with or without a tripod (for painting in your lap or on a table).

 

En Plein Air Pro, plein air watercolor easelEn Plein Air Pro offers several variations, including dedicated watercolor easels (video demo on YouTube).

 

Sun Eden plein air easelSun Eden makes several versions, with adaptations for oil/acrylic, watercolor and pastel, for which they provide a comparison chart.

 

Sienna Canvas/Panel Holder, plein air easelSienna makes a variation they call a “Canvas/Panel Holder“, in which the wooden fold-out palette incorporates a tempered glass palette surface (more info here).

 

Guerrilla Painter Flex Easel and Campaign Box plein air sytemGuerrilla Painter makes a separate Flex Easel to which you can mount their Campaign Box, a trifold palette and storage box combination.

 

For comparison, see my posts on pochade boxes, DIY Pochade Boxes, DIY cigar box pochade boxes and James Gurney’s How to Make a Sketch Easel.

Back from Tech Hell

Bosch
You may have noticed several delays and glitches in the display of Lines and Colors in the last couple of weeks (or longer), as I’ve struggled with a number of technical issues behind the scenes.

Hopefully, they are now resolved.

There is a new design in place; it’s a bit rough and incomplete at the moment, but I’ll be refining it as I go on.

Meanwhile, I can get back to writing posts (sigh).

(Image above: Hell, from The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch.)