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Grattage (literally "scratching", "scraping") is a technique in surrealist painting which consists of "scratching" fresh paint with a sharp blade.[1][2]

In this technique, one typically attempts to scratch and remove the chromatic pigment spread on a prepared support (the canvas or other material)[3] in order to move the surface and make it dynamic.[4] Incorporate the technique of grattage in the painting in order to create a strong sense of texture or pattern on the surface of the picture plane.[5]

This technique was used by Max Ernst,[6][7] Joan Miró,[8] and later by informal artists.

Technique and materials[edit]

In this pictorial technique, in addition to the use of brushes and spatulas, the artist experiments with common tools and everyday objects, such as sponges, steel brushes, stilettos, scalpels, tips, razor blades, and small blocks of metal.

In grattage various common tools scrape wet paint to simulate natural patterns or to create new ones.[9] The scratches created bring out the colors of the underlying pictorial layers and create chromatic contrasts. In the grattages, the scraping of the surface layers of paint over an assortment of objects serves to stimulate the mind to engage itself in the automatic process of “discovering” images lying hidden within its innermost recesses.[10]


Max Ernst rediscovered the frottage technique (based on the rubbing principle); in 1927 he transposed this drawing technique - generally applied to paper - to oil painting, thus creating the grattage process.[11] Grattage allowed Max Ernst to free the creative forces full of suggestions and evocations, less theoretical and more unconscious and spontaneous.[12]

This technique was refined by the artist Hans Hartung;[13] through this process he reaches the sublimation of his typical pictorial gestures, creating a new sign alphabet relying on pointed tools, suitably modified brushes, and rollers.[14]

In figurative monochrome neo-grattage[15] Mat Vey further develops the technique in so-called Engraved Paintings.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Grattage – Art Term". Tate. Retrieved 23 May 2020.
  2. ^ M. A. Caws, Mary Ann Caws, Surrealism, Phaidon Press, 2004
  3. ^ Carlo Pirovano, La Pittura in Italia: Il Novecento, Volumi 1–2, Electa, 1992
  4. ^ Marina Pugliese, Tecnica mista. Com'è fatta l'arte del '900, Bruno Mondadori, 2012
  5. ^ Jean Robertson, Craig McDaniel, Painting as a Language: Material, Technique, Form, Content, Harcourt College Publishers, 2000
  6. ^ M. E. Warlick, Max Ernst and Alchemy: A Magician in Search of Myth, University of Texas Press, 2013
  7. ^ Peter Stockwell, The Language of Surrealism, Macmillan International Higher Education, 2016
  8. ^ Giulio Carlo Argan, Studi sul surrealismo, Volume 1, Officina, 1977
  9. ^ Marie MacDonnell Roberts, The artist's design: probing the hidden order, Fradema Press, 1993
  10. ^ Haim Finkelstein, The Screen in Surrealist Art and Thought, Routledge, 2017
  11. ^ Max Ernst, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2005
  12. ^ Uwe M. METKEN, Max Ernst, Karin von Maur, Sigrid Metken, Uwe M. Schneede, Tate Gallery, Sarah Wilson, Max Ernst: A Retrospective, Prestel, 1991
  13. ^ Hans Hartung, Domenico D'Oora, Maurizio Medaglia, Vittorio Raschetti, Hans Hartung, Silvia, 2006
  14. ^ Hans Hartung, Michel Enrici, Fondation Maeght, Hans Hartung: le geste et la méthode, Fondation Marguerite et Aimé Maeght, 2008
  15. ^ Neo-Grattage Archived 2022-10-06 at the Wayback Machine Mat Vey (Matvey Slavin) - Artist's website. Retrieved October 7, 2022
  16. ^ Maerk magtens spil - Matvey Slavin Engraved Paintings. Article by Inge Schjødt. Retrieved October 7, 2022