I hope you are having a good time in France, meanwhile I am sat at home, virtually in France, studying cave painting via the internet, some of the links at the end to the Palaeolithic caves are truly awesome.
I first researched the cave paintings at Chauvet some of which are 35,000 years old. The oldest paintings are really charcoal drawings and from the size of the paintings they would have used whole arm and body movements to create them.
Figure 1 Chauvet bison Charcoal on a cave wall 200 x 100cm compares favourably with Picasso’s bull series.
The subject of almost all cave art is of animals and highly figurative representations, sometimes in narrative format which is impressive considering that they were drawn and painted from memory. When they first began to be discovered they were considered to be primitive art compared to the highly finished art works of the mid nineteenth century, but later Picasso in the mid twentieth century remarked ““None of us [modern artists] is capable of painting like this.” (Hansen Kindle Location 211)
“The figures depicted in cave art are generally found deep in the recesses of caves, where they are not easily accessible or even visible. In such cases the creation of the image was perhaps more important than the subsequent viewing of that image by people other than its creator.[ 34] The highly inaccessible scene in the Shaft of the Dead Man (fig. 4) at Lascaux is a perfect example of this and helped disprove the early idea of parietal art being “art for art’s sake”. “(Hansen Kindle Location 240-245)
The subject of almost all cave art is of animals, and that the subject of almost all art since Palaeolithic times to the late Renaissance was religious It almost makes sense that that the cave paintings were ritualistic and that primitive musical instruments were discovered in the same caves as the paintings adds to the common birth of both art and music and the sense of ritualism.
The pigments used in cave art were ground minerals dissolves in water to form tempera paint a technique that remained constant, until the discovery of oil paints in the early renaissance, the only variation being in the locally available minerals. The pigments would be applied by blowing through a pipe or hollow reed onto the face of the cave wall, the pigments being mineral adheres well to the dry cave wall and thus survives to this day, almost as if these early artists considered the archival quality of their materials.
Lascaux is of course the Sistine Chapel of Cave painting and it is hard to imagine the impact of these large animals lit by flickering torchlight and lamplight in the dark caves on the contemporary population I m going for them being Romantic and highly so.
Another interesting facet of cave art is how the animals seem to fit the available contours of the cave wall and how this was echoed by Leonardo’s quote centuries later about the benefits of staring at a cave wall. Gombrich comments on the uncanny powers of visualisation of the cave artists “their alleged grasp of the visible world unspoiled by the intervention of logic and the ravages of analytical reasoning.” (Gombrich p.92)
I saw Banksy’s celebration of Basquiat in the concrete caves near the Barbican at the weekend, Banksy uses aerosols rather than mouth blown paints. Another startling fact I learned by carrying out this research was that the first thing man ever built was a scaffold so that he could paint the ceiling of his cave.
Figure 2 Banksy homage to Basquiat Spray paint on concrete cave wall 400 x 200 cm, Just look how far we came Ma.
Enjoy the rest of your time in France and I will see you at the weekend.
My love as always
Gombrich E. H. Art and illusion; 1987. London; Phaidon Press
Hansen, Erik. Lascaux: An insight into the early art of man (Art History 201). WBP. Kindle Edition.