Priming Layers

Priming the canvas

The canvas was commercially prepared with a pale greyish-pink priming layer. In the nineteenth century it was usual for artists to buy canvas pre-primed by a supplier or ‘colourman’. The process of priming usually involved the application of an animal glue or ‘size’ layer to the canvas. This was followed by one or more layers of chalk and lead white pigment bound in oil. A double layer of priming has been applied to the canvas used by Monet for Argenteuil Basin with a Single Sailboat. This helped to achieve a smooth surface to paint on. Usually priming layers are plain white in colour but sometimes red, yellow or black pigment is added to give the priming a tint.

The colour, porosity and texture of the priming layer have an influence on the appearance of a finished painting. Throughout the 1870s, Monet often used canvases with tinted primers. In this painting, much of the priming has been left exposed by Monet and therefore its colour has a particular influence on the tone of the painting. This painting has a pinkish-grey priming layer which has the effect of making colours appear brighter and more luminescent than if they were applied over a plain white primer. This in turn meant that less white needed to be added to achieve a bright tone. This allowed Monet to use pure colours, straight from the tube.