There are three primary colors, red, blue, and yellow, and three secondary colors, orange, purple, and green, which are created by mixing one primary color with another. For example: if you mix a dash of yellow with a dash of red you will produce orange. For our youngest members of society, this in itself is magic. As we turn our colors from one shade to another, we can become more creative with the names. Dark blue, resembling the night sky, can have the moniker of “midnight blue”, while a more vibrant blend of blue and green may be referred to as “turquoise”.
But it was just recently; upon a re-voyage to the Caribbean Sea that I decided the names of the blues did not satisfy my request for identification of the water’s color. There seemed to be nothing on the “proverbial” palette that would announce such grandeur, such beauty, for as one would venture from wave to wave, the sun upon the surface changed the blues like a chameleon dashing from leaf to leaf.
And so, my tongue was tied to the usual color selections however, I know better than to hold such radiance hostage within the framework of the color-wheel.
Today’s blog introduces the esteemed thinker: George Field (1777- 1854), the British chemist, who helped alter British painting both aesthetically and practically. It was during the industrial revolution that an increased knowledge of chemistry allowed early nineteenth-century painters to benefit from the most dramatic increase in the number of new natural and synthetic pigments and refined color processing developments. Field, buttressed his theories with reliable information about light-fast, durable pigments, all based on his own scientific experiments and manufacturing processes.
In 1835, he published Chromatography, although already recognized by professional painters as London’s most important color-maker and supplier.
I now bring you a piece of his writing from FIELD’S CHROMATOGRAPHY; OR, TREATISE ON COLOURS AND PIGMENTS AS USED BY ARTISTS. From the essay, The relations of harmony and colour, here is something to ponder.
“Assured as we must be of the importance of colouring as a branch of art, colours in all their bearings become interesting to the artist, and on their use and arrangement his reputation as a colourist must depend.
Colour, remarks Ruskin, is wholly relative; each hue throughout a work is altered by every touch added in other places. Thus, to place white beside a colour is to heighten its tone; to set black beside a colour is to weaken its tone; while to put grey beside a colour, is to render it more brilliant. If a dark colour be placed near a different, but lighter colour, the tone of the first is heightened, while that of the second is lowered. An important consequence of this principle is, that the first effect may neutralize the second, or even destroy it altogether. …
We learn from these relations of colours, why dapplings of two or more produce effects in painting so much more clear and brilliant than uniform tints obtained by compounding the same colours: and why hatchings, or a touch of their contrasts, thrown as it were by accident upon local tints, have the same effect. We see, too, why colours mixed deteriorate each other, which they do more—in many cases—by imperfectly neutralizing or subduing each other chromatically, than by any chemical action. Finally, we are impressed with the necessity, not only of using colours pure, but of using pure colours; although pure colouring and brilliancy differ as much from crudeness and harshness, as tone and harmony from murkiness and monotony.
The powers of colours in contrasting each other agree with their correlative powers of light and shade, and are to be distinguished from their powers individually on the eye, which are those of light alone. Thus, although orange and blue are equal powers with respect to each other, as regards the eye they are totally different and opposed. Orange is a luminous colour, and has a powerfully irritating effect, while blue is a shadowy colour, possessing a soothing quality—and it is the same, in various degrees, with other colours …”
Second image: Portrait by David Lucas, after Richard Rothwell mezzotint, 1845 (1839)