Old Masters such as Rembrandt and Van Eyck, as well as more contemporary artists, like Reynolds and Turner, are thought to have used natural resins with their oil paints and mediums. This tradition has been continued at Schmincke with their range of Mussini resin-oil colours, which contain a unique combination of drying oils and dammar resin. Dr Wolfgang Müller, head of the laboratory at Schmincke, tells us about their special qualities.
Evie: The Mussini range take their name from artist Cesare Mussini. Why is he important in Schmincke’s story?
Dr Wolfgang Müller: Cesare Mussini became an art professor in Florence in 1834 and, as part of his creative work, developed the basic formulas of the resin oil paints he used in his paintings. These formulas were acquired by the founders of Schmincke in 1875 and were produced as the first type of paint when the company was founded in 1881, and made available to other artists of that time. Therefore, the history of Professor Cesare Mussini and Schmincke are closely connected.
Evie: Mussini oil colours are unique because of their resin-oil binder. What does the binder contain and what differences might an artist notice when using them for the first time, if the artist is used to conventional oil paints?
Dr Wolfgang Müller: The binder of Mussini paints contains combinations of five different natural oils and a quantity of dammar resin adjusted to the amount of oil, depending on the colour shade. This produces special optical properties and balanced drying behaviour. For white and lighter shades, the proportion of safflower and walnut oil is greater than the proportion of linseed oil, for coloured shades the linseed oil proportion is greater. An artist using Mussini for the first time will be thrilled by the brilliance of the colours due to the very high pigment content, the excellent optical properties, especially with glazes, and will observe a more tension-free surface during drying. It´s unique!
Evie: Is the drying time different to regular linseed oil-based paints?
Dr Wolfgang Müller: The drying times are quite similar to the drying times of other oil paints, but as the drying times are determined by the type and quantity of pigments, they vary within the Mussini range. Generally, the drying time is between 1 to 10 days with a layer of 30µm (standard brushstroke thickness). In order to give the artist an indication of the drying times, a symbol has now been introduced in the latest colour chart for the drying properties of the individual colour shade, which defines three drying categories. This makes it easier to plan the composition of the picture.
Evie: Why is balanced drying important in oil painting?
Dr Wolfgang Müller: The balanced drying of Mussini through oxygen absorption and solvent release ensures a tension-free build-up and better drying in the depth of the painting layer. This is important for a stable, elastic, and resilient painting layer to avoid possible cracks and to obtain even surfaces.
Evie: Each pigment has its own unique formulation. When you start working with a new pigment, how long does it take to achieve the optimum formulation?
Dr Wolfgang Müller: Development of new shades usually takes approximately 3 years. The tests on the colours take a lot of time.
Evie: After milling, Mussini oil colours are left to rest before being dispensed into tubes. Why is this an important part of the production?
Dr Wolfgang Müller: Each production of the individual Mussini shades is different in itself because, although the same raw materials are always used, they are naturally subject to fluctuations over time. It is precisely these fluctuations that could possibly cause the fixed recipe to contain, for example, slightly more oil in relation to the pigments. The resting period of three months serves to exclude the possibility of more oil than necessary being filled into the tubes.
Evie: Can you mix Mussini with other brands of oil colours?
Dr Wolfgang Müller: Mussini resin-oil colours can be mixed with all other oil paints. Although, the higher the proportion of usage of other standard oil paints, the lower the special properties of Mussini with regard to appearance and drying.
Evie: Can you use alkyd resins, as well as linseed oil-based mediums, with Mussini colours?
Evie: Is it best to dilute Mussini oil colours with artist white spirit or turpentine?
Dr Wolfgang Müller: Due to the solubility of the individual solvents and the proportion of dammar resin in Mussini, it can best be diluted with turpentine or turpentine substitute.
Evie: 64 colours in the range are single pigment colours. Why are single pigment colours so useful in an artist palette?
Dr Wolfgang Müller: Colours with one pigment are important to obtain very pure and brilliant colour mixtures. Each pigment has undertones in addition to its main colour. In a mixture, these also mix, of course, and the more individual pigments there are in the mixture, the more grey there is, which then reduces the brilliance of the mixtures. The 48 transparent shades included in the assortment also produce pure brilliant colour blends when painting in the classical painting style and are very important shades in the assortment like the special shades Caesar Purple, Byzantine Blue or Atrament Black.
Evie: Many colours in the Mussini range are modern versions of historical pigments which are no longer used because they are fugitive or toxic – Brown Pink, Vermillion Hue, and Sepia Brown, to name a few. Why do you think it’s important that modern artists have access to these historical colours?
Dr Wolfgang Müller: Especially in art, learning from history is important and how can one understand great masters if the materials used in the past are no longer available? Therefore, we make them available in the highest possible quality to make them accessible to artists. Furthermore, these colours are also part of our environment and reality and are an important part of the colour wheel that our range represents. These are qualities that modern artists do not want to do without.
Schmincke Mussini Oil Colours are available in 35ml and 150ml tubes, you can find the full range here.