Madeline von Foerster
An Overview of the Major Steps in Mischtechnik
The Mische (German for “Mixed”) Technique dates back to Flemish painter Jan van Eyck (c1395-1441). Although a debate by restorers and historians over whether it was Van Eyck, or Robert Campin who first used a Mischtechnik has been on and off over the last 60 years. Artists prior to this time mostly painted with Egg Tempera, essentially pigment mixed with an egg binder. Oil was also used before Van Eyck's time and his genius is in intorducing a division of labor in the building of a picture. An artistic alchemy, it is a method of combining a water-based substance (usually egg emulsion and pigment) and a resin-oil based media in one painting; thus a painting done in Egg Tempera and Oil. In Van Eyck's technique the artist used multiple layers of transparent oil color glazes, underpainting and then alternating with white egg tempera applied for highlights. The introduction of oil combined with the tempera facilitated the rendering of very fine detail and realism, which became main characteristics of the Northern Renaissance. The artists of northern Europe quickly learned that the usage of oils enhanced the color of their pigments and gave them flexibility for creating larger works. The Mixed Technique became a mainstay for Dürer, Hans Holbein the Younger and other northern Masters. Most of Van Eyck's major works were painted in the 1430s. It was several decades later before his tempera and oil technique was adopted by Italian artists, notably by the Venetian master Giovanni Bellini . Italian artists soon were experimenting with their own recipes. Artists began adding litharge (white lead) to their glazes, which promotes oxidation and thus faster drying. Soon the introduction of the plant resins, damar and mastic, allowed artists to simplify and speed up the process of completing a painting and to increase the binding of oil color and tempera and gain complete control over the opacity and transparency of oil colors.
By the mid 16th Century, all artists had stopped using straight Egg Tempera in favor of some technique incorporating oils, including the italians' Tempera Grassa. Variations of the Mixed Technique remained the fundamental method of oil painting used by most artists until the mid 1800s, when paint in tubes became available and the Modernists abandoned traditional approaches in favor of Direct Painting or Alla Priima. Direct painting often leaves paintings looking flat and dead. Only contemporary painters today who have been able to find and study with a truly accomplished teacher of the Mischtechnik discover how to create an extraordinary illusion of depth and a brilliant luminosity in their paintings. The painting is infused with an 'inner light', a mirror to the human spirit. Through the effect of light refracting through several or many different layers of color the artist can achieve imagery that can run the spectrum from a mystical precisionism to a vibrant abstract painting; from a classical realism to an expressive and raw emotional work; even to express the ineffable. Today it is considered a precious knowledge by any artist fortunate enough to have learned it.
Madeline is a great success by any measure. A master student and accomplished artist in her own right, here she demonstrates the essential steps in building up a picture in Mischtechnik.
~ Philip Rubinov Jacobson
THE RED THREAD, c. 2010, Oil and egg tempera on panel, 48 x 62 in / 122 x 158 cm, Private Collection
Madeline von Foerster
"Madeline von Foerster is a very gifted and highly original artist, who brings new imagery and a novel approach to conservation -- which we need." - Edward O. Wilson
To create her unusual paintings, Madeline von Foerster uses a five century-old mixed technique of oil and egg tempera, developed by the Flemish Renaissance Masters. Although linked stylistically to the past, her paintings are passionately relevant to the present, as such timely themes as deforestation, endangered species, and war find expression in her work.
Von Foerster's artworks are in collections around the world and have been featured in numerous publications, including a recent cover feature for Orion Magazine. She was named as one of the "Top Contemporary Surrealists" by Art and Antiques magazine. Born in San Francisco, von Foerster studied art in California, Germany and Austria, and currently resides in New York City.
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This page is meant to answer some questions about the mixed oil and egg tempera technique I use for my paintings. The Mische, or Mixed, technique was invented by the Flemish Masters of the 15th century. The tempera allowed them to paint exquisite detail, while the oil layers permitted sumptuous blending and realism. In concert the two media offer unparalleled luminosity, as light travels through the oil glazes and reflects off the highly opaque tempera beneath.
My descriptions are merely an overview and not a how-to. The technique involves many steps which I have ommitted for the sake of brevity. If you are interested in learning this method, I highly encourage you to study at one of the seminars offered by my teacher, Professor Philip Rubinov-Jacobson.
~ Madeline von Foerster
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