MAKES A TINTED VENUS
Otto Dobbertin Discovers the Art of Coloring Plaster of Paris.
English Breakfast Tea Plays a Hitherto Unsuspected Part in Sculpture.
Otto Dobbertin, the sculptor, and William Keith, the artist, have studios just vis-a-vis to one another on Pine street. This is a great convenience to the disciples of the brush and chisel and an advantage to art, for in moments of inspiration Keith can rush across the hallway and confide to a sympathetic heart, "Dobbertin, I have discovered a new way of painting a picture." Dobbertin, being in the business himself, can enter feelingly into his friend's exultation.
Up to the present the sculptor has sawed wood, or rather chiseled marble, and said nothing about discoveries on his own account. It is harder to juggle with plaster of paris and dull gray clay than it is with oil paint and water colors, and sculptors know that the roseate tints of early dawn and the red glows of sunset are not for them. The atmosphere of discovery is infectious, however. Dobbertin began to wonder whether he could not make a tinted Venus, or at least a figure that would have a glow warm enough to make him listen without envy when Keith talked about art that rivals the tints of a Turkish mat.
Yesterday Dobbertin found it. He had been working for some days on the portrait bust of Miss Binckley, a young artist whose fluffy yellow hair is admired wherever she goes. In a flash of inspiration he had conceived a method for mellowing the cold, white plaster till it became rich and warm in tint like a meerschaum pipe that had been smoked to a turn by an expert.
Dobbertin had said nothing to Keith — he worked on his inspiration for two days. Yesterday he found that it exceeded his most sanguine expectations. "Eureka!" he cried, rushing across the passage to communicate his discovery to Keith, but the artist was softly snoozing in an afternoon siesta.
The thoughtful Dobbertin withdrew, bottling up his enthusiasm in his own breast till the artist should awake. When asked about his discovery later in the day, he said: "Oh, it is simple, quite simple when you have found now to do it. So. You first have the bust in plaster of paris, it is cold and colorless, but to give it a soft, warm tint you dip it in tea, strong black tea. After the dip the bust is no more white, it is very beautiful and mellow in tone.
The tea? Yes it is what you call English breakfast tea and it must be strong till it is black. The next thing is to take water colors, mix them in tea, very thin and lay them lightly on the bust. When the colors dry the work can be polished with wax and turpentine and it is completed.
"You see that bust," and the sculptor pointed to a plaster of paris bust of one of San Francisco's leading citizens that stood neglected on a shelf of the studio, "that is as cold and dead as clay, but you see that," and this time he indicated the charming bust of the pretty young artist that occupied the place of honor in the sculptor's workshop, "that bust has the soft, warm look of life. It is a new process, I know, but I believe that in English breakfast tea lies the future of colored statuary."
|John Gibson, Tinted Venus, 1850s|
William Keith (1838-1911), Pine St. studio destroyed in 1906 earthquake
Otto Dobbertin (1862-1931), studio at 424 Pine St.]
Many thanks to William Myers, Mary Davy and Sally Young for their ongoing research collaboration.