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250 × 190 mm
336 pages
199 illustrations, 143 in colour
01 May 2015

The Work of Art Plein Air Painting and Artistic Identity in Nineteenth-century France Anthea Callen

Plein-air painting became standard practice for French landscape artists early in the nineteenth century, and by the 1850s landscape was the most popular artistic genre. Landscape painting in general, Anthea Callen argues, and the ‘plein air’ oil sketch in particular were the key drivers of change in artistic practice in the nineteenth century – which led ultimately to the Impressionist revolution and beyond. In The Work of Art, Callen explores the emergence of new concepts of ‘the artist’ – modern artistic identity and its relation to the idea of creative ‘work’ – through analyzing painters’ self-portraits, studies of fellow artists, photographs, caricatures and prints.

The work of artists under the microscope includes landscapes by the Barbizon School, Gustave Courbet, Paul Cézanne, Camille Pissarro, Claude Monet, Gustave Caillebotte, Berthe Morisot, Georges Seurat and Vincent van Gogh. Callen examines artists’ methods and modes of self-presentation, paying particular attention to painters’ personal touch, paint matter and mark-making in oil on paper and canvas. Referring to contemporary treatises on landscape painting theory and practice, and to colour-merchants’ novel paints and specialized equipment for landscape painting, she provides new ways of understanding material practice at this historical moment and the cultural meanings it generates. Richly illustrated, The Work of Art offers fresh insights into the development of avant-garde French painting and the predominantly masculine concept of the modern artist.

‘It is a well-known story, but Callen brings to it the illumination of technical art history, combining an authoritative understanding of artists materials and how they were used with the history of their availability and practical application. Her focused investigation of process, or the work of art, is enriched by the latest developments in conservation science, archival research in the history of art materials and close visual examination of paintings, as well as by her own practice as a painter.’ – Burlington Magazine

‘The rise of painting en plein air was a key change in French artistic practice in the 19th century. This study examines how this new approach informed the avant garde, leading to the Impressionist revolution.’ – Apollo Magazine

‘Anthea Callen’s The Work of Art is a welcome return to the material and technical matter of Impressionist paintings . . . Callen skillfully interweaves performative, social, and aesthetic evidence that propelled the identity-construct of male plein-air landscape painters. The author casts her evidential net wide . . .  Particularly compelling is that these tangents converge on the multilayered identity of (male) plein-air painters as manual laborers . . . Callen’s eloquent descriptions of the painting and knifing process mirror the tactile plasticity of the thick pigments on the canvases she describes. Likewise, the author’s lively prose captures the dynamics of hand and tool movements not only as indexical marks of the making process, but also of the changing components of manufactured pigments . . . We can conclude from Callen’s densely demonstrated deconstruction of Impressionist practices and the tactile materiality of the painted canvases that the complex manufacture of Impressionist paintings compels a sense of wonder. Indeed, Callen’s book is a testimony to the Impressionists’ achievement.’ – Nineteenth-Century French Studies

‘Callen’s book is a fascinating exploration of the material practices of French outdoor landscape painters in the nineteenth century. Focusing on hardware, including folding seats, paint boxes, backpacks, palette knives, brushes, and newly available tube paints, Callen argues that this often overlooked dimension of the work of the outdoor landscape painter is crucial for understanding how plein air painting took form. Her discussion includes the class associations of painter’s smocks and trowels, as well as the gender restrictions of what was an almost exclusively masculine practice. The book is organized into four richly illustrated and carefully researched chapters. Readers first encounter the early techniques and procedures of practitioners of plein air landscape sketching, including Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, before moving to the coarse-grained and materialist concerns of Gustav Courbet, Camille Pissarro, and Paul Cézanne. The text concludes with a fascinating discussion of the neo-Impressionist landscapes of Georges Seurat and Paul Signac and their relationship to the traditional craft practices of needlework, embroidery, and weaving. Callen’s presentation and analysis of the hardware available to outdoor landscape painters contributes an important new dimension to the broader understanding of nineteenth-century French painting . . . Highly recommended.’ – Choice

‘Callen utilizes plentiful illustrations of plein-air painters at work, including paintings, photographs, prints, and caricatures. This compilation, along with numerous photographs and advertisements of nineteenth-century artist materials, is a valuable resource for scholars . . . The Work of Art encourages scholars to consider an artist’s process, both technical and physical. She contributes a thorough and informed examination of materials, and raises new questions regarding the correlation of style to labor and work. The publication is an intriguing example of the ways in which close technical study supports and expands arguments in nineteenth-century art history.’ – Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide

‘Callen, probably more than anyone else working on nineteenth-century painting today, is able to combine an artist’s experience of studio practice with an art historian’s rigorous use of documentation. Her work is immensely valuable for its combination of sensitive visual observation and scrupulous attention to details of historical fact . . . This book is a major accomplishment.’ – Richard Shiff, University of Texas at Austin

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Anthea Callen is Professor of Art (Practice-led Research) at the Australian National University School of Art, Canberra, and Professor Emeritus of Visual Culture at the University of Nottingham. She is an internationally renowned specialist on the history of artists’ materials and techniques whose publications include The Art of Impressionism: Painting Technique and the Making of Modernity (2000) and Art, Sex and Eugenics: Corpus Delecti (2008, co-edited with Fae Brauer).