Albrecht Dürer: Tuft of Cowslips or Primula (1526)

albrecht_dc3bcrer_-_tuft_of_cowslips_-_google_art_project
Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), Tuft of Cowslips or Primula (1526), gouache on vellum, w16.8 x h19.3 cm (overall), National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, The Armand Hammer Collection, Image source: Wikimedia Commons in public domain.

Who Is Albrecht Durer?

Albrecht Dürer (1471 – 1528) was a German painter, printmaker, and theorist of the German Renaissance. Born in Nuremberg, Dürer established his reputation across Europe for high-quality woodcut prints while still in his twenties. Durer communicated with the major Italian artists of his time, including Raphael, Giovanni Bellini and Leonardo da Vinci, and he is credited with bringing the Renaissance to Northern Europe.

Tuft of Cowslips or Primula (1526)

In studying this image, I am impressed with the rich color and fine detail. Unfortunately, I do not understand what gouache actually is, so today’s post will take a brief detour to answer that question.

Gouache has been used in art

for over 600 years, and the earliest modern

examples are nature paintings by the 16th century

German artist Albrecht Dürer.

12Screenshot_2018-11-25 Albrecht_Dürer_-_Tuft_of_Cowslips_-_Google_Art_Project jpg (JPEG Image, 3574 × 4145 pixels)
Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), Tuft of Cowslips or Primula (1526), gouache on vellum, w16.8 x h19.3 cm (overall), National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, The Armand Hammer Collection, Image source: Wikimedia Commons in public domain.(detail).

What Is Gouache?

Gouache is one type of water-soluble paint consisting of natural pigment, water, a binding agent (usually gum arabic or dextrin), and sometimes additional inert material. Gouache is designed to be used with opaque methods of painting. The term ‘gouache’, also refers to paintings using this opaque method. (3).

Brief History of Gouache

Gouache first appears in decorative and pictorial embellishments to medieval illuminated manuscripts. However, medieval Persians employed opaque painting techniques in Persian miniatures as early as the 9th century, and the practice spread to Europe by the 14th century.

“Guazzo”, Italian for “mud”, is originally a term applied to the early 16th century practice of applying oil paint over a tempera base,[5] which could give a matted effect. In the 18th century in France, the term gouache was applied to opaque watermedia. Through history, artists have typically made gouache by mixing water colours, based on gum arabic, with an opaque white pigment. In the nineteenth century, manufacturers s began to produce water colour in tubes, and a “Chinese white” tube was added to boxes for mixing.

20Screenshot_2018-11-25 Albrecht_Dürer_-_Tuft_of_Cowslips_-_Google_Art_Project jpg (JPEG Image, 3574 × 4145 pixels)
Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), Tuft of Cowslips or Primula (1526), gouache on vellum, w16.8 x h19.3 cm (overall), National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, The Armand Hammer Collection, Image source: Wikimedia Commons in public domain.(detail).

Gouache Is Also Called Bodycolor

Google Arts and Culture explains:

Gouache, also called bodycolour, is simply water-based paint rendered opaque by the addition of white paint or pigment (e.g. Chinese white) or a white substance, such as chalk or even marble dust. It is an evolved form of tempera paint, descended from distemper.

According to Tate, bodycolor has been “used by artists from the late fifteenth century. Lead white was used until the introduction of zinc oxide, known as Chinese white, in the nineteenth century.”  Today the term ‘gouache’  “is often used loosely to describe any drawing made in body colour” which is “any type of opaque water-soluble pigment.”

The core meaning in all cases is that

gouache or bodycolor

is an opaque watercolor paint.

Bruce MacEvoy (2015)

14Screenshot_2018-11-25 Albrecht_Dürer_-_Tuft_of_Cowslips_-_Google_Art_Project jpg (JPEG Image, 3574 × 4145 pixels)
Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), Tuft of Cowslips or Primula (1526), gouache on vellum, w16.8 x h19.3 cm (overall), National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, The Armand Hammer Collection, Image source: Wikimedia Commons in public domain.(detail).

Compare and Contrast

Gouache is similar to watercolor in three ways:

  1. Gouache can be re-wetted,
  2. Gouache dries to a matte finish.
  3. Gouache can become infused with its paper support.

Gouache differs from watercolor in nine ways:

  1. Gouache particles are typically larger,
  2. Gouache ratio of pigment to binder is much higher,
  3. Gouache has additional inert white filler such as chalk for greater opacity.
  4. Gouache paints are not applied in glazes or tints
  5. Gouache is heavier, thicker, and more opaque.
  6. Gouache creates flawless, flat color areas (5)
  7. Gouache has  greater reflective qualities.[2]
  8. Gouache does not allow paper to show through.
  9. Gouache is “resistant to water induced variations” in paint appearance such as “blossoming or blooming” (5) MacEvoy (2015)

Gouache is similar to acrylic or oil paints in three main ways:

  1. Gouache is normally used in an opaque painting style.
  2. Gouache can form a superficial layer.(Does that mean it can be layered?)
  3. Gouache colors must be lightened by adding white pigment

Goache is different from oil paints

  1.  Gouache paints are not applied in glazes or tints. (5)
aScreenshot_2018-11-27 albrecht_dc3bcrer_-_tuft_of_cowslips_-_google_art_project-e1543181425420 jpg (JPEG Image, 3433 × 3913[...]
Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), Tuft of Cowslips or Primula (1526), gouache on vellum, w16.8 x h19.3 cm (overall), National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, The Armand Hammer Collection, Image source: Wikimedia Commons in public domain.

Practical Advantages and Disadvantages

Many manufacturers of watercolor paints also produce gouache, and the two can easily be used together.(3)  According to Tate , gouache “is often used to create highlights in watercolours.” 

However, gouache generally dries to a different value than it appears when wet (lighter tones generally dry darker and darker tones tend to dry lighter), which can make matching colors over multiple painting sessions difficult.

On the other hand, the quick coverage and total hiding power mean that gouache lends itself to more direct painting techniques than watercolor.[3]En plein air” painters can take advantage of these properties.

Click for Enlarged Detail:

Details

Sources

  1. Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Albrecht Dürer – Tuft of Cowslips – Google Art Project.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Albrecht_D%C3%BCrer_-_Tuft_of_Cowslips_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg&oldid=130034716 (accessed November 25, 2018).
  2. Google Arts and Culture, “Gouache”, https://artsandculture.google.com/entity/m0j12g (accessed 23 Nov 2018).
  3. Wikipedia contributors, “Gouache,Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Gouache&oldid=867891774 (accessed November 25, 2018).
  4. Gouache from the Tate , https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/g/gouache (accessed 25 Nov 2018).
  5. Bruce MacEvoy, “Gouache and Bodycolor”, 2015, http://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/pigmt7.html (accessed 24, Nov 2018).
  6. Wikipedia contributors, “Albrecht Dürer,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Albrecht_D%C3%BCrer&oldid=872137749 (accessed December 8, 2018).

Thanks for visiting! 🙂

The End

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