Van Goyen's Technique
Jan van Goyen would begin a painting using a support primarily of thin oak wood.
To this panel, he would scrub on several layers of a thin animal hide glue.
Then with a blade, scrape over the entire surface a thin layer of tinted white lead to act
as a ground and to fill the low areas of the panel. The ground was tinted light brown,
sometimes reddish, or yellow ocher in color.
Next, Van Goyen would loosely and very rapidly sketch out the scene to be painted with pen
and ink without going into the small details of his subject. This walnut ink drawing can
be clearly seen in some of the thinly painted areas of his work. For a guide, he would
have turned to a detailed drawing. The scene would have been drawn from life outdoors and
then kept in the studio as reference material. Drawings by artists of the time were rarely
works of art in their own right as they are viewed today.
On his palette he would grind out a color collection of neutral grays, umbers, ocher and
earthen greens that looked like they were pulled from the very soil he painted. A varnish
oil medium was used as vehicle to grind his powered pigments into paint and then used to
help apply thin layers of paint which he could easily blend.
The dark areas of the painting were kept very thin and transparent with generous amounts
of the oil medium. The light striking the painting in these sections would be lost and
absorbed into the painting ground. The lighter areas of the picture were treated heavier
and opaque with a generous amount of white lead mixed into the paint. Light falling on the
painting in a light section is reflected back at the viewer.
The effect is a startling realism and three-dimensional quality. The surface of a finished
painting resembles a fluid supple mousse, masterfully whipped and modeled with the brush.
When looking at a Van Goyen painting one can almost feel the wind in the trees laced with
the scent of a bluest smoke lingering above a rustic cottage, or taste the salted air near
the seashore he painted.