Mad About Maroger

Q. I enjoy using Maroger medium in my oil painting but would like to get away from using anything lead-based. Can you suggest a medium (or a medium recipe) that comes close to simulating Maroger?

A. In the late 1940s, a French restorer named Jacques Maroger described an oil painting medium known as “Rubens’ jelly.” The substance was reputed to be one of the secrets behind Rubens’ spectacular painting technique and that of other Old Masters as well.

Maroger medium, as it came to be known, was really just a variation on a medium that was well-described in 19th-century artists’ instruction manuals: meguilp. This medium, also known as megilp, macgelph and perhaps a half-dozen other similar names, was a mixture of cooked linseed oil, dissolved lead acetate or lead carbonate, and mastic varnish. It became quite popular as an addition to oil paints, due to the pleasing textural effects it allowed and for its smooth and fluid application. Among conservators, however, it’s known to be a problem: It can darken, oxidize badly and cause cracking. This is in addition to the potential health risks posed by its lead content—although the risks are quite minor if you practice good hygiene in the studio.

One recommendation for a substitute medium would be to try one of the alkyd mediums made by Gamblin or Winsor & Newton, although these don’t have quite the low viscosity and handling characteristics of the original Maroger. Gamblin is also now offering something called “Neo Megilp,” which is described as a “soft, silky gel” that gives body to oil paint and decreases its viscosity. It doesn’t contain lead, so this might also be worth a try.

Loraine Crouch is associate editor for The Artist’s Magazine.

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