Each of BONSARD’s portraits is unique and rare, as he only produces
between 10 and 12 portraits per year. Whether they are in small or large formats, he is committed to perpetuating a tradition of beauty and excellence using the very same tools, materials and techniques as the XVIIth century masters had used in their studios.
BONSARD uses a palette of just 10 colors. Only the subtle blending and the transparency of the eight coats of paint will be called upon to satisfy his high standard of requirement. To ensure that the colors will stay true and bright for a long, long time, he makes them himself. He steadily grinds the pigments down in walnut oil on a slab of volcanic rock into a mixture, which he gradually transforms into a thick, rich and shiny paste that he sparingly entrusts to a new tube. Sometimes even very rare or precious pigments, such as lapis lazuli, are used in his work.
Priming the medium
BONSARD believes that the background on which he paints is of vital importance. He starts by applying a base of glue - made from hare skin and the bladders of caviar-producing sturgeons – all over the canvas. Its purpose is to fill in the gaps between the threads of the weave, but also to protect the canvas so that it does not absorb any of the oil from the next layer. Then, he applies a coat of red primer (red ocher) to the canvas, whose role is to capture the light in the painting, a technique commonly employed by Rembrandt, Honthorst, Le Nain, Velazquez, Champaigne and Chardin.
Cooking the oil
So that these paintings are still as vivid in five hundred years’ time, BONSARD prepares his oils in same way as the XVIIth century artists. The longevity of the finished painting relies entirely on the quality of oil used in grinding the pigments. He prefers to use only walnut oil – as did Rubens and Vermeer – since it improves with airing better than linseed oil, and hardly ever turns yellow. The walnuts come from the Charente region, from a local producer who extracts the oil for him by cold pressing. The cooking of the oils will depend on the type of pigments needed.
Making the brushes
BONSARD only uses round brushes that he makes himself to obtain the right degree of softness. It is from browsing the countryside that he finds his raw materials: all he needs are a few farm pigs, squirrel tails, swan, chicken or pigeon feathers to create his brushes. For the top layers he chooses the softest brushes, to allow the final touches to blend in together or to erase any stroke marks left by the silk brushes.
Manufacturing binders and varnish
Just as the Van Eyck brothers did in the XVth century, to ensure the transparency and brilliance of his varnish, BONSARD has his resin delivered from the island of Chios in Greece. To this resin, taken from a 3m-high mastic bush, BONSARD adds Canadian balsam to make the varnish suppler. Spirit of turpentine extracted only from maritime pines that grow in a forest near Bordeaux is used for diluting the varnish. He rectifies it if necessary in a small still.