Reverse on glass painting as a technique of the Classical Modern 1905-1955

An interdisciplinary research project by art historians, conservators and scientists

Logo der Volkswagen Stiftung

Within the scope of the funding program “Research in Museums” the Volkswagen Foundation, Hannover, approved a grant to the Museum Penzberg – Sammlung Campendonk in Penzberg/ Bavaria
Museum Penzberg - Sammlung Campendonk, Penzberg for the research project “Reverse Glass Painting as a Technique of Modern Art 1905 - 1955”. For the more than three years-project (2015 - 2019) Cooperating partners are the Federal Institute for Materials Research and -Testing (BAM) in Berlin and the Doerner Institut of the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich. Scientific analysis of the diverse nature of reverse paintings on glass is a relatively new area of research. In the past this specialization had been met with ignorance, misunderstanding or even disdain as a result of its use in 19th-century mass production of folk art. From an art historical context this form of ‘cold painting’ had been referred to as “glass painting” rather than being recognized as a unique art form, as stained glass is.
The history of reverse glass painting begins with the production and refinement of glass, the substrate for the painting. This transparent material bestows the artwork with luminosity and, due to its optical refraction and reflection, an undeniable radiance. The artistic challenge of this material is the necessity to paint the scene in reverse. The details of the painting must be first applied to the glass, followed by the background. The painted side of the glass panel is not the same as the viewing side, making the observed image the mirror image of the composition on the back of the glass. The applied paints as well as for example any metal leaf form an integral unit with the glass.

Das Projektteam

The research team of an art historian, conservator and chemist examined the reverse glass paintings both as discrete artworks and as an art historically relevant group of works, accompanied by art technology studies by Simone Bretz and materials analysis by the BAM and Doerner Institut. This enabled a deeper understanding of this type of painting from the first half of the 20th-century. The research presented here was also the aim of two dissertations: Diana Oesterle, M.A., Museum Penzberg – Campendonk Collection, addresses the art historical analysis. The doctoral thesis of Simon Steger, MSc, BAM Berlin focuses on materials analysis, utilizing a combination of non-invasive mobile devices to determine the pigments and binders of the paints.
Upon completion of the research project the results were presented on the website and in the Summer of 2020 the Museum Penzberg – Sammlung Campendonk Collection in Penzberg will exhibit reverse paintings on glass created between 1910 and 1960, accompanied by a book publication and a Reverse Glass Painting-Symposium in Berlin in the Fall of 2020.

Research team: