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The Bruegel Project.

The Bruegel Project.


Overview

In September 2022 Members of West Kirby Art Group decided that it would be a great learning experience to reproduce as accurately as possible a version of the missing ‘Spring’ painting from Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s ‘Seasons’ series of paintings. Our aim from the start has been to copy as closely as possible his working methods and materials. The project is collaborative, engaging WKAG members, West Kirby Arts Centre, the Williamson Museum and Art Gallery and the Albertina Museum (Vienna). Pieter Bruegel the Elder's series of paintings depicting the seasons, known as ‘The Seasons’ or ‘The Months,’ includes five surviving works: ‘The Hunters in the Snow’ (Winter), ‘ The Gloomy Day’ (February/March), ‘The Hay Harvest’ (Summer), ‘The Harvesters’ (August/September), and ‘The Return of the Herd’ (Autumn). However, it is believed that there was originally a sixth painting in the series depicting the season of Spring, which has been lost to history.

So what did the missing picture look like?
This note speculating about the missing picture is on the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York’s website:
‘It is generally agreed that the missing picture represented the months of March/April. It may have resembled, at least in subject, Bruegel's drawing of ’Spring’ (Albertina, Vienna), which is inscribed by the artist "De Lenten Meert April Meij."’ ( Met New York)

The Panel. Bruegel used oak panels made up of separate planks of oak glued together to make the other paintings in the ‘Seasons’ series. They were initially sized to be around 117cm x 164cm. So we bought 6 oak planks measuring 21cm x 164cm from PB Hardwoods in Liverpool. The wood was sourced from Poland, and it was kiln dried. The panels were joined together using 6 wooden biscuit joints for each length. Pellets of the animal skin glue were soaked in water and then heated to around 55 C ‘coffee cup’ temperature and then applied to the joints and edges of each plank and clamped. After a few days the finished panel was then sanded to a smooth finish. The Ground. The next stage involved making the ‘ground’ to paint on. We copied the same surface that Breugel used which was a mixture of animal glue and chalk. Again the animal glue was heated and then mixed with the chalk. This warm mixture was then painted onto the panel. There are three coats which were each allowed a week to dry. The surface was then sanded to a smooth finish. The Drawing. We then started the first ‘drawing’ stage where we transferred Bruegel’s ink study onto our panel by projection and tracing it with graphite pencil. We have sealed this drawing, by painting over it, with a mixture of refined linseed oil and titanium white, following Breugel’s working methods. This layer is partially transparent so that we can see the graphite drawing through this layer. What you are now seeing is the first imprimatura painted/drawing stage using Burnt Sienna over the top of the sealed graphite drawing. There is still much to do to complete the painting! It’s proposed to exhibit the finished painting at the Williamson Museum and Art Gallery in 2024.

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