Fig.1 William Gow Ferguson Still Life with Dead Birds 1684 Oil paint on canvas 647 x 535 mm T00061

Fig.1
William Gow Ferguson
Still Life with Dead Birds
1684
Oil paint on canvas
647 x 535 mm
T00061

Fig.2 Detail of the hanging bird in Still Life

Fig.2
Detail of the hanging bird in Still Life

Fig.3 Detail of the birds on the tabletop in Still Life

Fig.3
Detail of the birds on the tabletop in Still Life

This painting is in oil paint on canvas measuring 647 x 535 mm (figs.1–3). The plain woven, linen canvas has approximately 14 threads per centimetre each way. It has cusping on all edges.1 Marks left by the original stretcher indicate that it was a simple rectangle with bars about 40 mm (1 ½ in) wide.

Fig.4 Cross-section through brown background at the right edge, photographed at x260 magnification.

Fig.4
Cross-section through brown background at the right edge, photographed at x260 magnification. From the bottom: brown ground; thin, opaque black paint; very thin, opaque dark brown paint; thin, opaque dark red paint; varnish

Fig.5 Cross-section through brown background at the right edge, photographed at x260 magnification in ultraviolet light.

Fig.5
Cross-section through brown background at the right edge, photographed at x260 magnification in ultraviolet light. From the bottom: brown ground; thin, opaque black paint; very thin, opaque dark brown paint; thin, opaque dark red paint; varnish

Fig.6 Infrared reflectograph detail of the birds on the table, showing changes to their position

Fig.6
Infrared reflectograph detail of the birds on the table, showing changes to their position

The ground is a thick, opaque coat of reddish brown paint (figs.4–5). There is no priming. No underdrawing is apparent (fig.6).

 Fig.7 Detail at x12.5 magnification of the beak of the bird hanging over the ledge


Fig.7
Detail at x12.5 magnification of the beak of the bird hanging over the ledge

Fig.8 Detail at x40 magnification on the highlight on the beak of the bird hanging over the ledge

Fig.8
Detail at x40 magnification on the highlight on the beak of the bird hanging over the ledge

Fig.9 Detail at x8 magnification of the leg of the bird at the left

Fig.9
Detail at x8 magnification of the leg of the bird at the left

 Fig.10 Detail at x16 magnification of the red lake highlight on the beak of the bird at the left


Fig.10
Detail at x16 magnification of the red lake highlight on the beak of the bird at the left

Fig.11 Detail at x20 of a highlight on a wing. The paint contains lead white, orpiment, chalk, umber, pipeclay and bone black

Fig.11
Detail at x20 of a highlight on a wing. The paint contains lead white, orpiment, chalk, umber, pipeclay and bone black

Fig.12 Detail of a bird’s tail at x8 magnification showing orpiment in the paint

Fig.12
Detail of a bird’s tail at x8 magnification showing orpiment in the paint

The thin, dense paint was applied in layers in the background and wet-in-wet elsewhere with highlights and glazes added last (figs.7–10). The pigments are finely ground with the exception of orpiment, which was used to great effect for the highlights of the wing and body of the bird suspended at the top of the picture; its large, crystalline particles catch the light and illustrate the reason for the literal name ‘gold pigment’ (figs.11–12).2

September 2004