THE great portrait painter of Germany, Franz von Lenbach, made it a practise to have his subjects photographed. He considered these photographs a convenience, as they gave him a record of the exact form upon which he could build his wonderful treatment.
The true value of the plain negative should be to the photographer what it was to this artist. That is, it should procure for him a likeness. Having secured this in his usual way, he may raise it to portraiture by the chemical treatment of the plate.
We therefore relinquish screens having pattern or scenic painting. These are to be replaced by the artist's inventions worked on the plate.
Proper State of the Negative.
The Background Screen.
The most easily worked background is the one having a tone half-way between the extremes of black and white. There is an advantage in having it flat, but soft gradations of tone are no great obstacle.
A useful screen is one painted a modified white, and flat. It is effective with flesh tones, is sympathetic and tenderly supports white or light-colored gowns.
The sombre black screen is well placed behind men and it helps the portraits of women wearing black or dark gowns. It is not necessary to confine ourselves to the use of painted backgrounds, as any even-toned texture such as raw linen, silk, velure, or burlap will yield rich results. Burlaps may be recommended when one has in mind landscape characteristics as a support to the figure.
This texture yields a quality of depth and atmosphere that is very pleasing.
An excellent screen may be made in the following way: After linen has been placed on a stretcher, it is gone over with one coat of glue, applied very thin. When this has dried, it is painted over with lampblack, a little burnt sienna and as much flake white as is wanted, and these are mixed with caseine, a sort of glue.
The Half-Tone Background.
White Background Screen.
Black Background Screen.
How to paint a Screen for Background Use.
This medium is better than distemper painting, as it easily produces evenness of tint.
The tone of this caseine painting may be altered at any time by spraying the surface with water and painting into it the tone desired.
The common window shade having an oil ground is well adapted to the medium.
When placing the model before the background, we should not be hampered by the feeling that there is not sufficient material behind him to allow for the accidents that come during these operations. It would be well, therefore, to have the background of large dimensions, giving much space above the head of the sitter, and ample room on the sides. It should also be brought forward on the floor quite far to the foreground. The usual floor line is eliminated by shaping the material curvewise forward from the wall to the floor.