Art: Sliding Portraits

In the great wave of romanticism in the 19th and early 20th centuries, some painters became so absorbed in expression that they lost sight of the limitations of their materials. Ralph Albert Blakelock, the American romantic landscapist (1847-1919), delighted in the rich gloss of bitumen, a poor-drying, brown pigment, which he used so excessively that the paint ultimately slipped on the canvas (e.g., in one of his landscapes owned by the Brooklyn Museum, paint ran down and over the frame). Edgar Degas, the French impressionist, striving for certain effects, sometimes reduced his paint to what he called essence...

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