The art we experience often depends as much upon the materials available to artists as it depends on the artists themselves. This exhibition looks at a variety of literature surrounding artists’ materials and instruction, and charts the ways in which the increasing commercialization of their production may have affected the practice of artists, especially following the industrial revolution.
In ages past, merchants would supply raw materials; artists, to a large degree, controlled the fabrication of usable tools from those materials on a relatively small scale. Gradually, however, the production of artists’ working materials became the purview of the merchant and trade class. As companies developed new products, they also began to expand their audience beyond professional artists to also include a growing middle class of hobbyists with disposable income and increased free time.
From trade catalogs to instruction manuals, these books give us clues about the materials and techniques artists were using at a given time. This allows today’s scholars and conservators alike to better understand the physical attributes of the artworks they study and preserve.