Monday, November 12, 2018

A Gouache Landscape by Moran

American painter Thomas Moran (1837-1926) used gouache for many of his landscape paintings.

Thomas Moran, Summit of the Sierras, 1872–1875, 360 x 250mm, about 14" tall.
Gouache over graphite on cream laid paper, Chicago Art Institute
Typically he worked over a tan or cream colored paper. Because he covered most of the surface with darker or lighter washes, it's not always easy to see the paper through the paint.

Up close you can see a few of the pencil guidelines showing through the delicate washes. 

Thomas Moran, Summit of the Sierras (detail)
Moran loved the convenience of watercolor and gouache for his field sketches. His primary intent wasn't to exhibit or sell them, but rather to use them for reference in his studio work. But as the 19th century progressed, watercolors became a popular medium for collectors too.

A pamphlet on watercolor painting from 1867 said that "for luminous qualities, for purity of tint and tone, for delicate gradation especially in skies and distance, their favorite style of painting has decided advantages over oil."
Book: Thomas Moran: Watercolors of the American West
Wikipedia: Thomas Moran


Trey said...

Thanks for another great article Mr. Gurney. I am new to the world of painting so I am trying to get up to speed. You mentioned "his primary intent wasn't to exhibit or sell them, but rather to use them for reference in his studio work." Why is it that gouache is not respected among galleries and for exhibits? I recently purchased your book "Color and Light" and was surprised to mainly only see your oil paintings referenced. You do amazing work in gouache and was wondering why you did not include any. I appreciate all you do to educate us all.

Peter Drubetskoy said...

Trey, I can offer my perspective on gouache. I love the medium but it comes with a few severe limitations.
1) Like with watercolor, you will almost always work on paper-based support and relatively small size.
2) The finished work will have a matte look (I guess maybe some people can varnish gouache, but I haven't seen that) - it will lack both the oomph of the shiny oil painting and the delicate wet washes of pure watercolor
3) Working with gouache is a pain - one has always be aware that the values would change dramatically when dry. They move to the middle in the sense that darks become lighter and brights become darker. Color shifts also occur. This makes it pretty hard to get exactly what you want.
All of the above makes gouache not too suitable to gallery oriented fine art. In the early 20th century gouache was a medium of choice for commercial and magazine illustrators and indeed the handicaps above are less critical in those fields. But then acrylic came along and was even better suited for the job.
That said, gouache is still a lovely medium that sports the advantage of being water based and very portable in the field while giving you oil-like opacity. I use it a lot for small sketches, sometimes combining with watercolor, or ink, or crayons.

Timothy Bollenbaugh said...


See Mr. Gurney's post:

Rich said...

"His primary intent wasn't to exhibit or sell them".

Maybe it got more spontaneous that way, more "unintentially" freely handled out - less miserly applicated.

Trey said...

Thank you all for your replies. My main point was that I have read elsewhere that gouache is not a very respected medium in that galleries and most art shows do not accept them. I have seen many paintings in gouache (like those from Mr. Gurney's article "gouache masters" that Timothy mentions above) that in my opinion are better than most paintings in oil or watercolor so I am trying to figure out why it is not as a respected medium as some of the others.

James Gurney said...

Trey / Timothy, thanks for mentioning my post about earlier gouache masters. Menzel in particular chose gouache as his favorite painting medium in his later life. I personally love both oil and gouache for different reasons. Whether gouache is "respected" or not doesn't concern me -- respected by what authorities? Most everything I hear about gouache is positive, and it's definitely undergoing a revival.

That said, I would mostly agree with Peter's list of limitations. It is hard to handle at first, but very forgiving once you get accustomed to it. I would add that gouache is a more fragile surface so it has to be handled with care. When framed with glass, it's perfectly OK to frame and hang. The advantages of gouache that I appreciate is that it works well in sketchbooks, you can sketch with it almost anywhere including indoors, it combines well with watercolor and colored pencils, and it's superb for fine detail.

Unknown said...

Nice post. It is really interesting. Thanks for sharing.
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