In the first of these two articles looking at paintings using glue as the binder in the artist’s paint, I showed examples from the Renaissance, and from William Blake’s revival of the medium around 1800. During much of the nineteenth century, ‘glue tempera’ fell into disuse, with oils, watercolour and pastels proving far more popular until a group of young French artists started experimenting with different media.
Among the first of these is Pierre Bonnard’s extraordinary and exquisite three-panelled Japoniste screen of The Stork and Four Frogs in about 1889, as the Nabis were forming. Using more modern pigments, Bonnard has achieved very high chroma, comparable to anything in oils, and quite unlike traditional glue tempera.
Next to experiment with glue tempera were the Nabis. Félix Vallotton provides us with a glimpse into the private life of the muse Misia Natanson in his Misia at Her Dressing Table (1898), using the more muted colours typical of Nabi style.
Paul Ranson used it in his Japoniste canvas panel of Digitales in 1899, which refers back to Bonnard’s screen in format.
Although not one of the Nabis, Odilon Redon’s turn came in his painting of Buddha from 1904.
Édouard Vuillard used glue tempera in a significant number of his paintings both during his Nabi period and later, for example in this view Under the Trees of the Red House from about 1905.
He also painted landscapes with its muted chroma, including Houses in Brittany in 1909.
Vuillard painted of my favourite works in glue tempera, At The Pavillons in Cricqueboeuf. In Front of the House, in 1911. This too is a vertical panel reminiscent of a Japanese screen.
Appropriately, Paul Sérusier painted a portrait of his wife Marguérite, who was an accomplished decorative artist, using glue tempera for Madame Sérusier with a Parasol in 1912.
Vuillard’s La Salle Clarac, painted in 1922, is one of four works showing the interior of the Musée du Louvre, commissioned for a private collection in Switzerland. Painted from an unusual angle at about waist height, it looks up at a case of pottery and sculpture, and the held gaze of the visitors.
Vuillard continued to use glue distemper in his late realist paintings, such as Morning Concert, Place Vintimille from 1937-38. This trio of friends were presumably playing for the artist in his apartment.
With the passing of the last of the Nabis, use of glue tempera died out too, and it’s very seldom seen in contemporary paintings.