Technique and condition
Guston's preferred practice of tacking
up a canvas on the wall, I never paint on an easel
, is confirmed in this painting by the old staple marks on the canvas edges, now folded round the back of the stretcher, and the dripped paint marks along the bottom tacking edge. Ruled pencil marks are also evident in places on the tacking edges, indicating the rectangle the artist worked within very precisely.
The three main layers of oil paint varied in density and viscosity. For the first layer he took a thinned down opaque grey mixture and applied it largely unmodulated to the drawn out rectangle, as a sort of undercoat. The design began to emerge with the second painting. Painted predominantly in black and two shades of pinky red, the paint was applied thickly but fluidly with broad brushes. For this final layer he extended his range of colours to include an orange, green, blue and white which he applied vigorously using a variety of broad and narrow brushes often intermixing the colours as he worked wet in wet across the whole canvas. Although rich in medium, the crisp brushstrokes have retained their original definition, suggesting that the medium contains a quick drying additive.
When examined microscopically, all the colours appear to be of the same type of paint, the only anomaly being 'microballoons' which are present most noticeably in the white lines, where they are visible as minute pimples. Other areas with large admixtures of white, for example the dark grey brushstrokes around the hat and the greenish tones at the centre top, also contain them. Whether they are a constituent of the white paint or of a proprietary impasto medium is not known. Their function seems either to give bulk or texture to the paint.
When the painting was touch dry, it was stretched onto it's existing wooden stretcher using wire staples to attach it.
The general condition of the painting is good with the exception of a few minor damages. Most noticeable are some long, matt lines and patches. Embedded in the flattened surface of these areas are brown paper fibres, probably from a facing used from stretching. On acquisition minor painting losses were restored. The canvas was stretcher lined and a new frame similar in design to other Philip Guston's of the same period was fitted before display. The painting is not varnished.