On Sunday, July 28, Sacramento native and art history lecturer at Seattle’s Frye Art Museum, Rebecca Albiani, addressed a large crowd of art enthusiasts and artists about the trois crayons technique, a technique using red, black and white chalk on toned paper, as seen in the Crocker Art Museum’s current exhibit, “The Epic and the Intimate: French Drawings From the John C. Reilly Collection.”
Rika Nelson, manager of public programs, thanked members and supporters for attending; reminded them of upcoming events; talked about the new brochure, “Art Interactive,” that includes events for August and September; then introduced Albiani.
Albiani’s enthusiasm for this exhibit and this technique, in particular, was evident as soon as she addressed the crowd. She provided some background on the origins of chalk, then a fast forward through the history of drawing.
She moved through silverpoint, which permits no erasing and requires specially prepared paper and was practiced by Rogier van der Weyden and Leonardo da Vinci. The latter artist’s “Bust of a Warrior,” Albiani said, “pushed silverpoint to its limit [in order] to achieve light and dark contrasts” that were not usually achieved through this medium.
While she spoke, images of the pieces being discussed were projected on the theater’s large screen.
Artists, she explained, moved away from silverpoint. Michelangelo’s “Study for a Nude” shows his use of hatching and crosshatching using pen and ink and allows the paper to provide the highlights. He also began to model three-dimensionally and used black chalk, heightened with white chalk in some drawings.
Hans Holbein the Younger’s “Studies of the Hands of Erasmus of Rotterdam,” circa 1523, used silverpoint, black crayon and red chalk. Albiani showed how the hands were drawn with different materials, including two hands in red chalk and one in black.
Through the history of art, and in the different art centers, artists like Giorgio Vasari moved away from the silverpoint technique with its limitations toward other materials. Vasari also wrote “Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects,” which is a must-have book for any art historian. Albiani read from the book while slides illustrated the uses she described.
Attendees heard about and viewed drawings from the Tuscan and Venetian schools, and learned that da Vinci was the first artist to use the three-chalk technique. At first glance, his work, like several in the second-floor exhibit, appears to be monochromatic. Upon closer examination, however, the mixing of the chalk becomes visible.
Drawings by Federico Barocci, Jean Clouet and Hendrik Goltzius were viewed. While these artists painted and drew portraits, their styles and approaches were considerably different. About Barocci, Albiani said that he’s “the most famous artist no one’s ever heard of.”
Clouet was a royal portraitist, and his style of portraiture remained in favor for more than 100 years, according to Albiani. Clouet’s son added white chalk to the black and red that the elder Clouet had used.
Goltzius sketched the costumes in black and was more interested, it seems from the portraits, in the sitter’s psyche, a far cry from the work of Clouet.
While discussing the work of Peter Paul Rubens, Albiani also discussed the range of colors available in red chalk, a natural product. Rubens used the spectrum of reds in order to “suggest the full range of color found in [his] paintings,” Albiani said.
Indeed, the reds ranged from burgundy to bright red to more of a brown.
No art history lecture could be complete without a discussion of Rembrandt. In “The Sacrifice of Isaac,” Albiani explained that he first “slashed in with red chalk” and later “worked in dark areas with a gray wash.” The slashing technique, she explained, was appropriate to capture the drama.
Several pieces that were discussed, like Charles de la Fosse’s “Sleeping Rinaldo,” are included in the Crocker exhibit. This piece, like several others, uses indigo blue paper as a middle ground. An image of the unframed piece showed the paper’s color.
Jean Antoine Watteau’s drawings were also discussed. Because he drew constantly, Albiani explained that it was difficult to really date some of his works. In “Seated Couple,” for example, “Different colors of red chalk show a disjunction. The male and female [figures] could have been drawn days, weeks or even years apart,” Albiani said.
Although Watteau did not live to his 37th birthday, the son of a roofer became the premier draftsman, whose work still influences artists. In “Seated Woman,” viewers, Albiani said, “don’t ask what she’s sitting on or where the rest of her body is.”
The lecture concluded with a discussion of the works of Fragonard, Degas and Renoir; then Albiani responded to audience questions about how the chalk adhered to the ground and the range of colors available. One member asked about a stick in a drawing of Watteau by Boucher.
“That’s a porte crayon,” Albiani said, “a chalk holder with red chalk on one end and black on the other.”
Audience members greeted Albiani after the event and still had time to view the exhibit, which is scheduled to run through Sept. 29. Additional events are scheduled to complement this exhibit, including “Tour, Taste, Talk: French Connection” on Saturday, Sept. 7 at 2 p.m.
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