José Cuní began his research on encaustics during his studies at the Escuela de Bellas Artes in Madrid, while working as an assistant of Ramón Stolz Viciano (1903-1958), professor of Painting Techniques and Wall Painting. Stolz was himself an excellent painter and muralist, and also a researcher who studied in depth the techniques of fresco and encaustic paint. Cuní came to know the possibilities and limits of fresco, in virtual disuse since the 19th century, while working with Stolz in the execution of large murals done in fresco. He also collaborated with his master in researching wax painting, Stolz’s passion.
Training in encaustics
In Naples he met the Italian chemist Selim Augusti and learned of his chemical studies on the mural paintings of Pompeii, as well as the insurmountable technical problems encountered when attempting to reconstruct the paint formulation. Cuní approached the problem from a different angle. He thought that if it any trace still survived of the Greco-Roman painting technique, the practitioner would be found among the traditional stucco workers in the Naples area.
He visited their workshops and learned the craft and use of their materials: limestone and siliceous aggregates, lime, waxes, soaps, and pigments, the same materials identified by Augusti in the Pompeiian wall paintings. In the Archaeological Museum of Naples, Cuní copied the Roman paintings in order to study their execution features, and to compare the original paintings against the results of the experimental studies carried out in his workshop.
In 1962, Cuní developed the formulation of the water-soluble encaustic based on beeswax and soap, confirming its outstanding quality and capacity to reproduce the execution features that characterize Roman wall paintings. Throughout that year he was fixing the proportions and materials necessary for formulation, laying the basis for the subsequent evolution of his own water-soluble encaustic paints.