A new Old Master

“A lot of people say I should’ve lived in the 17th century,” Peter Layne Arguimbau says.

And indeed the Greenwich painter lives very well with the past, residing with his family and yellow Labrador Retriever on a two-acre lakeside site that contains an expanded caretaker’s cottage and five chestnut barns that date from the 1850s. (His home is a subdivision of a former farm and grist mill that dates from the 1790s.)

There Arguimbau (AR gim bo) paints pictures that evoke 18th-century seascapes and the 19th century’s Hudson River School of landscape painting. But the reason people think Arguimbau should’ve lived in the 17th century is his devotion to Old Masters painting techniques.

Arguimbau grinds up to 10 powder pigments, mixing each with an oily resinous medium that creates “very fluid, very transparent” paints that dry quickly. (Modern tube paints, which lack resin, don’t dry as quickly, producing a matte finish, he adds.)

With his own palette, Arguimbau begins the underpainting, building up layer after layer of earth colors, developing a form of light and shade. These colors, he says, “are not very bright but rather have an organic feel and a very calm quality.” He then layers on a glaze of heightened prismatic colors, working for days at a time on one canvas.

“I like to work intensely, but sometimes the paintings don’t resolve themselves for a while.” When they do, the results are richly textured and luminous.

The son of a portrait painter, Vincent, Arguimbau grew up on both sides of the Atlantic, in Darien’s Scotts Cove and Seville, Spain. He began grinding paints for his father at age 8, producing a “fresher color than tube paints. You’re also able to control the quality and thickness of the paints — what’s lost in painting today.”

After graduating from Loomis Chaffee, a prep school in Windsor, Conn., Arguimbau attended Vassar College but went on to study for 14 years with Frank Mason at The Art Students League of New York in Manhattan. Mason in turn had been a student of Jacques Maroger, a painter who was technical director of the Musée du Louvre’s laboratory and author of “The Secret Formulas and Techniques of the Old Masters.” (Arguimbau first met Mason — a colleague of his father — as a child.)

Ultimately, Maroger’s Old Masters techniques proved faulty, with paintings in his style darkening over time. This sent Arguimbau on an odyssey to refine his technique, including a decade experimenting with restorer Pierro Mannoni on the techniques used in medieval manuscripts. Arguimbau also studied Hellenistic (post-classical) art in Athens, Olympia and Delphi and the Baroque in Florence, Rome and Naples. He copied works in museums throughout Europe and the United States — all in service of an art that evokes the past, particularly in his maritime paintings.

“I seem to paint everything with water,” Arguimbau says. “I do a lot of animal paintings and people see the same quality in them.”

In Greenwich Harbor, he maintains a 1935 antique wood catboat, MollyRose, whose 10-by-12-foot cockpit becomes his studio in the summer. There he works to capture the wind and the water before he adds the sailboats. The effects are thrilling and nostalgic. A billowing schooner leans into the wind on a white-capped sea. A sailboat prepares to dip beneath a misty, moonlit Brooklyn Bridge. The sun sets in a sherbet sky, reflecting a pillar of fire on the waves lapping the shore.

Recently, Arguimbau opened Mariner Gallery in Newport, R.I., with his son, Andre. His seascapes reflect the advice that teacher Mason gave him —  “Paint life. Paint everything around you. Don’t be a flower painter and hate it.”

Peter Layne Arguimbau’s Greenwich gallery is open by appointment. For more, call 203-274-6176 or visit arguimbau.net.

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