The turn of the nineteenth century brought about a new bibliographical trend: the painting manual for the amateur artist. As many as 150 manuals and treatises on the art of painting were published in Britain during the first three decades of the nineteenth century – more than three times the amount published between 1770 and 1800. This was testament to a growing, insatiable appetite for instruction in the art of drawing. Most of these manuals were published in London, and many, like George Brookshaw’s A New Treatise on Flower Painting, or, Every Lady her own Drawing Master (1816), were concerned with watercolour and aimed specifically at women.
As objects, these drawing manuals were closely linked to the societal pressure for young women to become accomplished in the ‘polite’ arts – that is, competent at a variety of activities, including music, needlework and drawing. Floral publications were particularly appropriate, as odourless watercolour and ornamental flowers were associated with the female temperament. Pungent oil paints and candid anatomical drawings, on the other hand, were considered distinctly unladylike.
Most of these publications, including Brookshaw’s, contained a section on colour, providing instructions on how to mix, harmonise, and apply various tints, shades and hues. In his introduction Brookshaw gives the ten pigments necessary for flower painting, from which “every tint” can then be mixed. They are Vermillion, Lake, King’s Yellow, Gamboge, Yellow Oker, Prussion Blue, Raw Terra de Siena, Burnt Terra de Siena, Burnt Umber, and Sap Green.
Brookshaw took these pigments, contained in small hard ‘cakes’ of dried watercolour, and applied them in various mixtures and dilutions to create his colour charts. These horizontal rectangles of painted colour acted as a visual reference for his readers, to be matched by eye to the outcome of their own mixtures:
“Dip one of your pencils into the blue, and work it on the pallet; then make a stroke upon a clean piece of white paper, which compare with No. 4, of the blues; if you find it of the same tint, you have got the proper colour; but if not so dark, you must rub more colour off your cake, till you find it exactly as dark.”
Brookshaw’s tone is clear and instructive, and distinctly pedagogical. However, the advent of the amateur drawing manual was also a sign of the increasingly commercial nature of painting in the early nineteenth century. Painting manuals became useful containers of consumerism, acting as thinly-veiled catalogues for the art supplies on sale from the author – brushes, easels, paper and paints. The renowned London art emporium owner Rudolf Ackermann was particularly adept at this, commissioning artists to write manuals in which his own products were shamelessly plugged.