James Rielly

Older Man


Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1829 x 1522 x 23 mm
Purchased 1998

Technique and condition

The painting was executed on a single piece of medium weight cotton duck canvas, which is attached to its original expandable stretcher with wire staples at the rear. The cotton canvas was prepared with an animal glue size by the artist, which covers all four tacking margins as well as the stretched face of the canvas and then an 'imprimatura' layer of light green oil paint over the stretched face. This layer is sufficiently thick to hide most of the canvas weave texture, thereby providing a flat surface on which to paint.

The range of colours used for the upper paint layers was extremely limited, consisting mainly of white, pink and black (all of which appear opaque). These layers were all executed in oil paint and were applied exclusively by brush. A fairly broad brush would have been used for the white background horizontal strokes, which was applied in a single and relatively thick layer. However, a smaller one would have been used for the figure, where multiple layers were sometimes used, often blended together in a wet-in-wet technique or the result of a splattering of colour, for example over the white of the dress. In addition, all areas of black appear to have a thin layer of white over them (such as in the hair and shoes). A number of techniques would have been employed to produce the variety of textures that are visible in painting's surface. For example, the paste-like consistency and areas of sharp raised brushstrokes and impasto are characteristic of oil paint used straight from the tube. However, the cratered surface (formed from broken air bubbles) of much of the white paint indicates that it was thinned to a far more fluid consistency and then stirred or shaken rather vigorously prior to application and was probably an intended drying effect. The formation of air bubbles also indicates that the oil paint may have been modified slightly to a material that would lather readily on shaking, such as some form of emulsion. In areas where there are burst air bubbles, a top layer of white seems to have been applied over a deeper colour, so this deeper colour is visible when the bubble has burst varied. The thickness of the paint layers also varies, although most areas have an appreciable thickness. The highest area of impasto is found in the centre of the sitter's right eye. The painting is not varnished but the overall gloss of the paint is high.

The work is currently in an excellent condition, apart from a couple of minor cracks in the paint surface. It should remain in this condition for a considerable length of time.

Tom Learner
May 1998