Friday, February 18, 2011

How Bunker Went About His Landscape Painting

Dennis Miller Bunker, The Brook at Medfield, 1889
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston

When I get out to paint nature, my brain gets an attack of ADHD. The colors, the changing light, how to distinguish the shapes and varieties of foliage overwhelm my ability to interpret what I'm seeing onto canvas. Any method which will break these whirling dervish thoughts down into simple-to-follow steps is welcome.

RH Ives Gammell in his biography, Dennis Miller Bunker, gives some insight into how Bunker went about painting his lovely landscapes:

"He was certainly in full possession of a very sound method of landscape painting when he arrived at Medfield in the early summer of the following year (1889). His way seems to have been to

  1. lay in first the larger masses of color on his canvas, a procedure he was able to carry out with great rapidity and accuracy.

  2. In so doing he established once and for all the general tonality of his picture, pitching it in a key which allowed for sufficient luminosity while avoiding the chalky and insubstantial look which so often mars the work of plein air painters. Bunker's unerring judgment in this matter of key is one of the main factors in the success of his landscapes.

  3. Once the larger masses were properly established and the canvas covered, he would proceed to work into these areas with broad touches of color. As the pictures progressed these touches naturally became smaller until, in the more finished canvases, the workmanship bore some resemblance to the pointilliste technique of the Frenchmen. But Bunker's feeling for paint quality and fine surface of pigment did not desert him.

Although he necessarily sacrificed some of this surface quality in his unrelenting pursuit of visual truth, several of his landscapes have a beauty of workmanship very unusual in pictures executed out of doors with a similar pictorial purpose."


  1. Thank you Linda for this post, in it we all seem to struggle at the start of every painting and need a refreshing guidance of what others did to relieve these blocks of progression.

  2. I tried pretty hard to follow this method today, and it helped to focus my thoughts and concentrate on just a few things. I think that it's my best plein air effort to date.

  3. In the hunt for information on Dennis Miller Bunker, I stumbled on your fine fine blog. Thank you for sharing your love for painting in this manner. I paint as well,

  4. You are very welcome, Mark. I've enjoyed learning about these fine painters, and am glad to share what I read and think about. I also enjoyed looking at your website. Very nice work!

  5. Charles W Hawthorne put together a similar method of making paintings. His emphasis was establishing/putting down the larger simple masses of paint in their color relationship to each other... thereby creating a kind of 'guide' to move onto the next step in the process..... this is simplified for purposes here and am certain Mr. Bunker had something very close to this process. egp

    1. It is interesting that both artists studied under William Merritt Chase - a Munich School grad.