Art Bathing Talk - Online Only · Every Other Thursday · One work
Art Bathing
Online Only    Every Other Thursday    One work
What’s in a (Paint)brush?
“What is a forest? A marvelous insect. A drawing-board, what do forests do? They never go to bed early. They are waiting for the tailor. What is the high season of the forests? It is the future”
Max Ernst
Max Ernst, Autre-Fôret - Pinceaux 1926, Oil on canvas, 13.7 × 9.6 inch (34,8 × 24,3 cm)
One of the most essential tools of artistic communication is the paintbrush. With the brush the artist transfers an idea or vision to the pictorial plane. It is the executor of a descriptive act. An extension of the painter’s arm that facilitates mixing the colours and enables the development of a distinct brushwork. A tool of expression that expresses the inexpressible.

Technically speaking a paintbrush consist of 3 parts. The handle, which is the interface between the user and the tool, the ferrule, which retains the bristles and attaches them to the handle and the bristles that transfer the paint to the surface, mostly made of animal hair.
It is not known exactly when the paintbrush was invented. All we know is that from the Upper Palaeolithic period onwards our ancestors used their hands, bones, sticks and wood shavings to create cave paintings that were thought to improve or predict the outcome of the hunt. In Ancient Egypt they used split palm leaves to paint their elaborate pantheon of deities. It is an accepted fact that the artists in Ancient Greece and Rome made use of brushes, mostly made of squirrel hair, hog bristle or cat whiskers, to paint naturalistic representations of anatomy, garments and emotions. While in Ancient China the artists used long-haired brushes to write their elaborate characters.
In the fifteenth century AD quills with soft hairs or bristles became the preferred style brushes. It wasn’t until the nineteenth century when the introduction of metal ferrules led to a greater variety of brush shapes. Round brushes (detail), bright (thicker painting), filbert (detail + coverage), fan (spreading), angle (versatile), mop (thin glazes) and rigger brushes (fine lines) enabled artists to achieve certain effects through the specific choice of brush, like the tache, the broad, flat, even stroke of the Impressionists.

No other genre depicted so many paintbrushes as the self-portrait. When in Early Renaissance wealth increased and mirrors became better and wider available the Self as main subject became a beloved genre. Portraying and elevating the role of the artist in society. Showing the artist at work contributed to ennobling art as a wellregarded profession with a larger audience. Propagating the archetypical physiognomy of the visual artist in the studio and emphasizing the perfection of skills.
Painters like Sofonisba Anguissola’s “Self-portrait at the Easel Painting” (1556) to Artemisia Gentileschi’s “Selfportrait as Allegory of Painting” (1638-39) to Diego Velasquez “Las Meninas” (1656), Rembrandt van Rijn’s “Selfportrait with two circles” (1665), Angelika Kauffmann’s “Self-portrait” (1770-75), Edward Manet’s “Self-portrait with Palette” (1878-79), Vincent van Gogh’s “Self-portrait” (1889), Marc Chagall’s “Self-portrait with brushes” (1909) Oskar Kokoschka’s “Self-portrait with brush” (1913) to Lucian Freud’s “Painter working Reflection” (1993) all eternalised themselves with their paintbrushes and painting equipment. Revealing the appearance and personality of a creative genius who was normally hidden behind the canvas.

Detail 1
Detail 2
“Close your eye to the physical eye, so that you see your painting first of all with the eye of the spirit. Then bring out into the light what you saw in the darkness, so that it may react inward upon others”
Caspar David Friedrich
Max Ernst is one of the artists, who poured scorn on this stubborn myth of the artist as creative genius. Instead of painting self-portraits with traditional painting equipment the artist rather painted his aliases Loplop, Schnabelmax and Vogeloberer Hornebom. Imaginary birdlike creatures with whom the artist identified himself and whose origin can be traced back to his childhood.
In an exhibition catalogue of 1951 the artist’s sister Loni Pretzell describes her brother’s first contact with painting. In the year 1894 he observed how his father Philipp Ernst, a teacher of the deaf who was also a painter, painted a watercolour called Loneliness. The work depicted a monk seated in a beech forest reading a book.

While watching his father paint, the young man experienced a frightening quiet atmosphere in the loneliness of the subject and its execution. Beech leaves where fearfully and meticulously executed and each leave seemed to have its own individual life. A couple of days later the young boy accompanied his father to the forest where he underwent a similar experience. In his autobiography which has the subtitle “Warheitsgewebe und Lügengewebe” or “net of truth and net of lies” Ernst writes about this mix of delight and oppression, the feeling that the Romantics called “emotion in the face of nature”. The echo of these youthful experiences can be found in many of Ernst’s paintings of forests and jungles.

Autre-Fôret – Pinceaux” that was painted in 1926 mirrors these childhood memories transforming the painting into a found object extracted from the subconscious. The title is not only a refined word play combining the source – the forest – and end product – the paintbrush - but also turns our view of what a forest could be upside down. A forest consisting of paint brushes opens up a whole new perspective on the traditional depictions of the German forests by Albrecht Altdorfer and Caspar David Friedrich. Evoking an amusing process of metamorphosis right in front of the viewers eyes ingeniously transforming the trees into a forest of paintbrushes.

Autre-Fôret – Pinceaux” originates from the collection of the renowned writer, art critic, dandy and anarchist Félix Fénéon, who assembled one of the finest collections of Post-Impressionism, Fauvism and Surrealism. At the age of 25 he wrote his only published monograph “Les Impressionnistes en 1886”, which is considered today the manifesto of Neo-Impressionism, a term he also coined. It is almost certain that in 1894 Fénéon detonated the bomb that went off outside the fashionable restaurant Foyot which was a popular hotspot for politicians. After the assassination of the French president Marie François Sadi Carnot (1837-94) later that year Fénéon was arrested together with 29 anarchists. He was later released due to a lack of evidence. The scandal costed him his position as clerk in the French War Office. Not long after the scandal he became sub-editor of the Revue blanche (1896-1903). Due to his friendships with many leading artists he wasn’t only able to amass a collection of works by Paul Bonnard, Georges Braque, Max Ernst, Édouard Manet, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani and Georges Seurat but also art from Africa and the South Pacific. Mirroring Fénéons anarchistic spirit the artworks hung evenly matched side by side in his Parisian apartment.

(Text by Drs. Quirine Verlinde)
Warm regards,

Laszlo von Vertes & Team
Bahnhofstrasse 16
8001 Zürich Switzerland