The Medium

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by William A. Newman

from the Last Chance Meal

A Last Chance Journal, 

Volume III, 1

Corcoran School of Art

November 1983


My first encounter with the medium was at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore.   My instructor Joseph Sheppard, taught me a technique that enabled me to execute my painting ideas.  He introduced me to a special painting medium, the Maroger Medium.  Sheppard was an intelligent, talented, and generous teacher, as well as the painter of remarkable skill. Sheppard acquired this technical expertise from Jacques Maroger.   Jacque Meroger had been for many years the technical director of the Laboratory of the Louvre Museum, Paris, as well as President of the Restorers of France before coming to teach at the Maryland Institute. Maroger was very concerned about contemporary painting and aware of the need for a painting medium like that used for oil painting in the past.  He credited the lack of high standards to the loss of technical means.  He deplored the fact that the art schools no longer were teaching drawing and painting.  However it was not the old masters' style or ideas that he hoped to encourage, only their technique.


 The medium is a miraculous formula, enabling an artist who has mastered the technique to paint with a substance that stabilizes the viscosity of the oils. Maroger Medium gives the painter precise control over the movement of the paint, as well as control over the density and accompanying opacity or transparency.  The medium also allows the paint to dry overnight without the addition of any harmful and non-archival driers.  Maroger wanted the contemporary artist return to this more powerful tool for painting.  He realized that the modern mediums of turpentine, linseed oil and damar varnish limit of the possibilities and therefore, the results of contemporary painting.  He wanted the modern artist to have the same advantages as did the old masters.


Maroger Medium is very much like the medium of Van Eyck, who kept the formula a secret for himself and his family.  The secret was so carefully guarded that he took care not to deliver any of his finished paintings until two or three weeks after they have dried, thus preventing the possibility of their composition being detected by anyone was too keen a sense of smell.   Toward the end of his life when he had become rich and celebrated, he sensed the importance of his discovery and seized by sudden guilt he called into his studio Roger Van der Weyden.  Thus, this oral tradition became the tie that bound together those studios using the medium.  Some years after Van Eyck, Antonello da Messino in Venice discovered another medium based on much the same principle.  The technique of Antonello's, with certain modifications, was transmitted without interruption until the beginning of the 19th century after which no further trace of it was to be found.


Rubens, whose medium stemmed from Antonello and the Italians, had been generous in giving his formula directly to his pupils.   However, his students, probably fearing the limitations of their own talent, had sought to assure their superiority by refusing to reveal the formula to anyone.  The secret was so carefully guarded that it was completely lost at the death of the last survival of Ruben's atelier.


It was this secret for which Maroger spent his life searching, ever perfecting upon his findings.  He had been inspired by his teacher, Lowes Angnelia, who had spent 40 years in similar research.  Angnelia, however, made the mistake of looking for a lost method rather than a lost material.  Maroger's genius was in directing his research to the materials -- the vehicle in particular.  He died in 1962.  Joe Sheppard has left the Maryland Institute and is living in Florence, Italy.  However the secret does live on and can be found here, at the Corcoran School of Art.


The formulas for the Maroger Medium, and there are several, are in the book The Secret Formulas & Techniques of the Masters by Jacques Maroger.

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Note: You really need someone to show you how to make it.  It must be done perfectly.  A guideline on how to do it will follow.  

* Most people don't know the correct way, and because of that, their medium suffers horrible archival tendencies.