Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The History of Palette Painting

There is nothing better than palette painting for thick texture. Popular with artists since the 1800s, painting with palette knives reached new heights in the 20th century when many artists eschewed brushes altogether. From the early endeavors of European masters to the contemporary artists of today, the use of the palette knife has led to new and bold art forms.
The art of palette painting
Because of the broader strokes possible with palette knives, many paintings created with the blades appear unintelligible up close. They often can only be fully viewed from farther away. When paint is laid on the canvas with a palette knife, it makes large strokes that have a highly visible texture. This impasto technique allows for swift completion of the whole canvas. Strong and vibrant colors are particularly effective when coated on a canvas with a palette knife. Palette knives are often the preferred tool of painters using the wet-on-wet technique. 

Early painters who used palette knives
Many famous painters have used palette knives in lieu of paintbrushes. Rembrandt used palette knives in many of his compositions to smooth out rocks and trees. The broad strokes of the palette knife became a typical feature in his works later in his career. 

Saturn Devouring His Son (detail)
Goya used many tools besides brushes, but his favorite works were those he painted with a palette knife. His series of 14 paintings, The Black Paintings, were all completed using this method. Like Rembrandt, Goya used palette knives extensively in his later career.

The popularization of the palette knife
Goya was followed by Gustave Courbet. He also relied heavily on palettes instead of brushes. Courbet was particularly fond of using palette knives to smooth the paint thickly onto his landscapes. By using a palette knife, Courbet was able to complete his paintings much faster than if he had used a brush. Courbet's influence extended to his student, the naturalist painter Camille Pissarro, who also used a palette knife to bring dynamism to his landscapes.

Paul Cézanne was another famous painter that experimented with the palette knife. Unlike those that came before him, he focused on replacing his brush with a knife early in his career. Influenced by Courbet's works, he produced a series of portraits painted with a palette knife in the 1860s. By the 1870s, he had largely abandoned the palette knife for the more traditional brush.

Modernism and the palette knife
If there is any single modern artist that is associated with the palette knife, it is Marc Chagall. Chagall's riotous and colorful creations caused the technique to surge in popularity. The modernist painter composed his fantastical pieces using bold colors and rich textures.

Henri Matisse also dabbled extensively in palette art. His earliest experiment was the small-scale oil painting, “The Little Pianist”. By 1926, Matisse has fallen under the sway of Courbet's  lush style, and he painted half of his masterpiece, “Odalisque With a Tambourine”, with a palette knife.

Post-Chagall artists have also contributed immensely to palette knife art. Contemporary artists who have used palette knives in their work include American painter Howard Behrens, Welsh artist Kyffin Williams and Canadian painter Jean-Paul Riopelle. Other rising stars include Indian artist Kalpana Shah, Jamil Naqsh and Belarusian painter Dmitry Kustonovich.

With its ability to augment bold colors and create layered textures, the palette knife has provided a vital gateway to improved techniques in art. From Rembrandt to Chagall, palette painting has had an enormous impact on art as a whole.

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