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Patricia Bennett does not currently use black oil and Maroger Medium in her work. Pieces completed before 2009 do contain these materials.

Black Oil and Maroger Medium

Where is the collapsable paint tube?

Not in these paintings!

Maroger Painters.

Ann Schuler


Jacques Maroger



Will Wilson



Ann Schuler conte drawing, for sale in Maryland, $450 or so



Jacob Collins



David Leffel



Paint color comes as rocks from the ground or powders from a laboratory. Those rocks must be pulverized, then mixed with oil (thus "oil" paint) in order to make oil paint. The pulverizing was solved first, and painters simply mixed their powder pigments every day to make paint. Oil paint "dries", meaning that it sucks oxygen out of the air and then is no longer movable, so artists knew that in order to store it, they needed air-tight containers. The first container was the pig's bladder, and the final one was the aluminum tube (with a screw-on cap of course).

As I recently found out, this tube immediately made it possible for manufacturers to make and sell paint on a large scale: no more tediously grinding each color every morning in an unheated studio. It really helped the Impressionists and Van Gogh and all those who wanted to paint in nature.

The Schuler School of Fine Arts, ironically, rejects the paint tube. Their argument is that the paint is of the highest quality if it is hand-mixed. Firstly, the artist knows what's in the paint. Manufacturers are not soley making paint in order to help artists: they want to make money, and money is made from using cheap ingredients. The artist is the one who really cares. Secondly, the Schuler School uses a preheated/preblackened linseed oil (cooked in the kitchen near the dinner chicken) with the drying agent of lead thrown in. Popularly called black oil, this is not sold in stores. And thirdly, they use something really special: the "lost medium of the masters" - really nice fresh.

As soon as you look at paintings made with these materials you know that they're something special. The Maroger medium gives the paint an even luxurious sheen. And over time, according to Ann Schuler, the carefully made black oil prevents darkening of the painting.

Contemporary well-known artists who use the Maroger medium include: David A. Leffel, Will Wilson, Jorge Alberto, Matt Zoll, Anthony Waichulis, Scott Royston, Russell W. Gordon, and Jacob Collins.

Note: Some of those artists purchase their Maroger through a third party, unassociated with the Schuler School. Therefore, they may be using a flawed version.

What is this "black oil"?

The black oil is linseed oil heated with litharge lead up to 220 degrees Celcius. (The process of making black oil is dangerous, so do not try it without an expert nearby.)

The advantage of the black oil (this literally is black) is that the lead accelerates the drying time of the paint, and the linseed oil is pre-darkened. Linseed oil naturally darkens over time, thereby darkening the entire painting. The pre-darkened oil "allows accurate paint colors, lasting far into the future."

And what is Maroger medium?

Maroger medium is named for Jacques Maroger, chief conservateur at the Louvre before WWII. He devoted his life to rediscovering the medium of the Dutch masters (Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrandt...). And this was his ultimate solution.

This medium is mastic varnish mixed with black oil. Mastic varnish is mastic crystals dissolved in turpentine. It is a thick yellow liquid. The mastic crystals are special tree sap, found on an island in Greece. They have been used for centuries.

Controversy!!!

I spoke the summer of 2007 to the Mellon endowed Chief of Conservation at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, Mr. Ross Merrill
. He, who is well-known for hiring Dr. E. Rene de la Rie, a key developer of commercially available synthetic varnishes through partnership
with Gamblin, informed me that "Maroger was selling snake oil". He said that the old masters did not use the Maroger Medium.
Furthermore, that the mastic in the medium makes paintings yellow.

Mr. Michael Skalka, Conservation Administrator of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC and Chair of the American Society of Testing and Materials,
agrees with Mr. Merrill. However, Mr. Skalka has not personally tested the Maroger Medium
and does not know what medium the old masters did use.

Later I spoke to the product developer for Utrecht Art Supply: he was not in favor of the Maroger Medium and recommended the use of Gamblin alkyds instead.

In April 2008, I spoke to the Head of Conservation at the Tate, Dr. Leslie Carlyle. She is neutral on the subject and wishes for me to send her the recipe so she can try it out.

Drama!!!

During his lifetime, Maroger was dismissed by powerful voices in America. The loudest voice was that of Ralph Mayer, the very well-respected writer of The Artist's Handbook, who had a column in American Artist Magazine about artist's materials. There was personal acrimony.
Ann Schuler said that Maroger challenged Ralph Mayer to copy a Rubens with him, then compare to see which one was better. Ralph Mayer declined to respond.

Note: Maroger's public relations problems were due to the ever-changing nature of his formulations,
and some of his followers' disasterous attempts at following them (most notably Frank Redalius). Maroger's early formulation involved damar, gum arabic, water, and linseed oil whipped into a white emulsion.

News Flash...The Maroger a Master's Medium?

I spoke January 2008 to a teacher at the well-respected Art Students League in New York. This person owns paintings by Reginald Marsh, who is one of the first prominent adopters of the MM in the United States. (She also met Jacques Maroger when he came to America from Paris) These paintings were completed with MM in the nineteen fifties, and "look fine" Over six decades of aging with no ill effects.. The teacher cautions: "the Maroger Medium is a masters medium. Reginald Marsh was a direct painter, he did not fiddle with his paintings. Rubens also was a direct painter." She believes that multiple layering of the varnish will cause problems because the varnish does not dry. The medium is for artists who know how to use it, and that is sparingly.

April 11, 2008, I photographed Ann Schuler's painting of her daughter, completed with the Medium almost fifty years ago.
The painting is free of cracks, and the white cat is still white.
So, for all you painters, there is controversy on this subject, and you must judge for yourself. The most beautiful paintings I have ever seen, in terms of surface and sheen, were completed with the Maroger Medium.

I will be publishing the formula that I was taught by the Schuler School and that method of making the Maroger Medium on this page in February 2008 through April 2008.

There is a lot of passionate interest on this subject from serious artists, and I feel that if the method is available, people can check it and make interesting innovations with it that will benefit everyone. Jacques Maroger wanted this information to be available.


The Formula for Maroger Medium, as taught by the Schuler School:

Disclaimer

1.This recipe is only for use by "trained professionals".
1b. It should be noted that Maroger himself was a trained chemist,
2.Anyone who uses this recipe is responsible for their own safety, use, and product.
3. This is on-line for information purposes only, and any usage is the sole responsibility of the user.

There are two parts, the mastic varnish, and the black oil.
Mastic varnish is mastic crystals dissolved into turpentine.

Mastic Crystals!

The source of mastic.

How to make mastic varnish:
First fill a glass jar partway with the mastic crystals (these are edible and used in Greek sweets), then equal part-way with turpentine. Seal the lid with duct tape, and place the jar in the sun until the crystals dissolve.
If the crystals take too long to dissolve, put the jar in warm water.
Careful, too much heat will destroy the varnish.
Next, filter the varnish through pantyhose to remove debris such as little sticks and bits of odd things.
Finally, pour the yellow varnish into a clean glass bottle.
Note: the varnish will not last, so do not make more that you can use in six months.
And do not let the varnish get overheated.


How to make black oil:
This is dangerous to make for two reasons: hot oil and lead
I recommend that no one do this alone, especially the first time.
If you burn yourself, it is your responsibility.
Absolutely, do not cook the oil around children or pets.
Absolutely, do not cook the oil around water.
If any drops of water touch the hot oil, the oil will splash and burn you.
Have a lid ready to put on top of the pot in case of fire.
If you must leave the cooking oil for any reason, turn the heat OFF.
Ann Schuler forgot about her oil once, it caught on fire, and almost burned down the Maryland Institute.

Lead is poisonous, so do not use the pot for food.
Make sure to have excellent ventillation: the heated oil will release toxins into the air (including lead).


Materials required for cooking black oil:

Five pounds of litharge.


adjustable burner, enamel pot with handle(s), thermometer (at least 80-250 degrees C range)
measuring cup (oz), wooden stirring stick, small kitchen scale (weigh up to five ounces or so), empty glass bottle(s)
with lids, apparatus for hanging the thermometer above the pot so that the tip of thermometer is submerged but does not touch the bottom
litharge lead, and cold-pressed linseed oil (as pure as possible), and a funnel.
Litharge lead, also called lead oxide, may be hard to find.
Do not substitute lead carbonate: extreme danger of burning.

The oil should not reach higher than 2/3 of your enamel pot height.
Black oil is lead oxide heated in linseed oil for a while at a medium temperature.
When the linseed oil/litharge mixture is heated, it darkens. Within minutes the color changes from yellow to deep brown.
Common questions at this point are: why would I want to darken my oil. And, won't that make my painting dark.
The Schuler's say that the oil will darken eventually. Accelerating the process gives one total control.
And, no, the black oil mixed with pigment, even lead white, does not yield darkened colors.

The Zoll Studio uses the ratio of 1 oz lead to 15 oz linseed oil.
The more lead, the faster the drying time. Below 1/5 is unusable.

Measure out the linseed oil (15 ounces) and dump it into the enamel pot.
Measure out 1 ounce of lead and dump it carefully into the pot. Lead is poisonous.
Stir with stirring stick.
Place on burner, stirring constantly, focusing on preventing lead from sticking to the pot bottom,
heat at least 20 minutes until the temperature reaches 220 deg C.
By now, the oil is black.
Saponification occurs above 180 degrees celcius, so the lead is now bonding with the alpha-linolenic acid of the linseed oil.
Reduce the heat. And let the temperature gently fall to 180 deg C.
Then, increase the heat and let the temperature rise to 220 deg C.
Repeat this until the bubbles on the surface of the oil are small and shiny.
The more oil, the longer it will take. Expect three to four hours.
Let the oil cool to 80 degrees, then use the funnel to put it into glass bottles.
Allow the oil to sit until a sediment forms on the bottom of the bottles.
The sediment is obvious.
If, after a few days, there is no sediment, repeat the bounces a couple of times.

Now you are ready to make your Maroger Medium.

The Medium is simply 1 part MV to 1 part BO, mixed in a glass jar.
It should form a lovely amber jelly. This will last a week or two, at most,
if kept away from air, heat, and humidity. Of course there is also a recipe
with wax, and a recipe for making large amounts.
If you tube the MM, it'll last forever.

Enjoy!
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