To celebrate Easter, we have brought together a special selection of egg tempera paintings curated by Andrew Lansley, available to purchase on Buy Art | Buy Now. The curation includes works by, Andrew Scott George, Sarah Harding, Robin Lee-Hall PPRP, Ruth Stage NEAC and Lansley himself.
The medium of egg tempera is almost as ancient as the tradition of Easter itself – give or take a few centuries. Its use dates as far back as the fourth century AD, with the earliest identified painting of its kind being a mummy portrait. But it is the Renaissance period with which it is most widely associated and Old Masters such as Botticelli, Raphael and Verrocchio. During this time, it was the principal approach of painters, until roughly 1500 when it was superseded by oil painting.
The paint is made quite simply by mixing pure pigment with egg yolk and distilled water. However, the application process is a little more painstaking – as is implied by the etymology of the word tempera which comes from the verb temper, meaning “to bring to a desired consistency.” The blend is built up over many layers until it finally creates a thick, incandescent finish. While this method can be time-consuming, many artists emphasise the merits of the luminous quality it gives their paintings.
Despite being a historic craft, egg tempera is still embraced by a small but passionate group of contemporary painters today. Andrew Lansley has assembled some of his favourites in this unique collection of landscapes and still lifes. We met the featured artists to find out more about what initially attracted them to egg tempera, how they use the medium in their practice and the inspiration and influences behind their work.
Andrew Lansley is an award-winning artist and a member of the Bath Society of Artists. In 2019, Lansley was appointed Artist in Residence in Antarctica with the Friends of The Scott Polar Research Institute and recently returned from a trip to Antarctica.
Lansley first discovered tempera in the paintings of Samuel Palmer. Around the same time, he saw David Tindall demonstrating the process on a TV programme. He recalls the revelatory moment when he saw the artist crack the egg and knew that this was how he wanted to paint. This later led him to the work of the great American tempera painter Andrew Wyeth.
Lansley is attracted to the innate authenticity of working with raw pigments that he believes is lacking in commercial oil or acrylic. "The colours come direct from the earth they depict. There is nothing interfering with the colour. The egg yolk that goes on, binds and becomes invisible and does not blacken with age."
Andrew Scott George
As a student at Edinburgh College of Art in the 70s, Andrew Scott George predominantly painted with oils, until experimentation led him to egg tempera, which “enabled me to render, through paint, the clarity and luminosity that I was looking for,” the artist reflects.
George works “loosely” to begin with, in the early stages of painting, applying marks with large brushes, dripping and splattering paint and even using his fingertips. Once the composition is resolved, he might wash large parts of the painting back down to the gesso board (the standard underpainting surface for egg tempera). Then begins the long slow build up and weaving of small strokes of colour.
Although George no longer lives in Scotland, it remains a regular source of inspiration and somewhere he visits often. As a result, these paintings represent a push-and-pull between memory and reality. “There is the Scotland of my imagination and the real Scotland I visit one or two times a year,” says George. “‘Glen Isla’ is not a painting from a singular viewpoint but my memories of a walk up the steep sides of the glen,” he explains.
Ruth Stage NEAC
Ruth Stage learned to make her own gesso at Newcastle University, by mixing gesso glue size and chalk whiting. Later, at the Royal Academy, she received lessons in egg tempera and took to it immediately.
As a landscape artist, Stage says she enjoys the brightness and “transparency” that egg tempera brings to her paintings. “Despite being hard-wearing, there is a fragility in the medium,” Stage points out. “I often scratch back into the paint to reveal what went before.”
Stage's method is seemingly scattershot at first, but over time the layers reveal a methodical approach, as described by Andrew Lansley: "she has this wonderful way where she just blobs it on and it looks almost careless and then you step back you think, 'Oh my God, that's really magic' and I can't see that being impersonated by anyone at all."
Sarah Harding studied at The Slade School of Fine Art under Professor Lawrence Gowing from 1976-1980, and has been painting and exhibiting across the UK, and more recently in the US, ever since.
Her first encounter with egg tempera was in the early works of Lucian Freud. Though Harding continues to be inspired by the work of American artist Andrew Wyeth and romantic British painters, particularly Samuel Palmer and Eliot Hodgkins. “I like the almost meditative approach needed for working with the medium and the unique luminous effect and colours that you can create by building up the many layers of semi-transparent paint,” explains Harding.
The artist takes inspiration from daily encounters with the natural world around her cottage and garden in Shropshire Hills. “The snowdrops in this painting come from my garden and my aim was to capture their luminous quality when lit from behind and the joy they bring at the beginning of the year.”
Robin Lee-Hall PPRP
Robin Lee-Hall is an award-winning artist working predominantly in egg tempera. Her themes range from figures, faces and interiors to “slightly ‘off-set still life paintings based around traditional British confectionery, toys and cakes,” as seen here in ‘Robin and a Happy Faces Biscuit’.
Lee-Hall admits that egg tempera “requires skill and patience, but rewards by conveying a unique sense of depth and intensity.” She describes her method of working as entirely “traditional”; creating her own paint by mixing pure pigment, egg yolk and a small amount of distilled water. The paint is then laid down on prepared Gesso panels; “the whiteness of the plaster glinting through the fine matrix of cross-hatched coloured layers like light through stained glass."