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The role of Neutral, Near Neutral or "Dirty","Muddy" colours in classical paintings                                                                                         Back to articles list   


"Paintings are to teach man to see the glory of human visual existence."

Henry Henscher

                                                                                                                             Henry Hensche

1. Introduction (identification of the terms: "Neutral", "Near neutral" or "Dirty" colours)

2. Role of neutral tones in classical visual art.

3. Role of "dirty", "muddy" colours in classical paintings.

4. Role of "dirty" colours in modern paintings. Creation of collaret.

5. Colour compensation for vibrant colours.

6. Conclusion.

1. Introduction (identification of the terms: "Neutral", "Near neutral" or "Dirty" colours)

Lets start from clarification of terms "Neutral", "Dirty" or "Near Neutral colours". My friend come to me and ask to write an article on neutral colours and their role in a classical painting. As I already wrote couple articles on the role of colours and tones. After a short conversation I realised that she want me to write not on neutral colours but on, like she said, on "dirty" colours. Those colours which are not neutral as they still have chromatic value, but quite close to achromatic neutral tones.

Naturally, as a person for whom English is a second language I get to the WikipediA to find out what would be the more scientific term for "dirty" colours and how they are related to the neutral achromatic tones. Neutral tones are tones, which do not have any chroma in them. That are include white, black and all shades of grey tones you can find. (See Pic. 1).


Pic. 1.Grey scale.                                             Pic.2 Right is Grey scale. Left is grey + yellow scale

As soon as we add smallest amount of any chroma - the tone is not neutral any more (See Pic. 2.) It is become near neutral or "dirty" or "muddy" colour. Which are include pastels and darker colors like browns or beige.

As we know visual art in whole and painting in particular is greatly dependent upon the use of colour for its impact, temper and depth. The impact of colour on the visual senses of the viewer is extremely effective and even one brush stroke of bright colour in an monochromatic or muddy coloured painting could transform the artwork. Through our history many scientist try to create The Colour Theory to understand how colours work and what impact they made on us.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle put the first theories about colour forward. After him the colour ideas were developed by theorist of Italian Renaissance art, Leon Battista Alberti (1404-72), explained in 1435 in his inspirational handbook Della Pittura (On Painting). Sir Isaac Newton was the major person to address the fundamental concepts of colour. He discover the colour spectrum and created his theory of colour (outlined in his later essay Opticks, 1704) In 1810 scientific investigator Johan Wolfgang von Goethe created his "Theory of Colours" In 1839 optical investigator Michel Eugène Chevreul’s created: "Law of Simultaneous Colour Contrast" Complete Colour System which incuded White, Black, Greys and their relationship with all chroma colours was created by Albert Munsell.

Albert Henry Munsell (1858 – 1918) was an American painter and teacher of art. He organise colours in 3D system which aloud us to find any particular colour by 3 measurements: hue, saturation or chroma and value or tone creating an accurate system for numerically describing any colour. (See Pic. 3). Munsell established a decimal notational system to describe the transitional relationship as one colour is identified from another. His systems serve as a starting point in understanding the complex relationships of balance, proportion, harmony, and effect that combinations of colours can produce. Which is impotant as "durty" colours are often diffical to identify. However, his system do not identified all possible colours.

Pic. 3. Munsell colours system.

Pic. 4. Munsell colours wheel and development of different cromas and values of just one hue - 5R.

Thanks to the colour theory we all know about Primary (Red; Green; Blue) colours of RGB colour wheel. (See Pic. 5) The secondary colours will be Cyan; Magenta and Yellow. (See Pic. 6.) The tertiary colours are mixtures of one primary and one secondary colours closes to each other on the colour wheel.

If compare two colour, which located close to each other on the colour weal, our eye will try to change the shade of the colour, to make it more contrast, more different to the comparative colour. So, green colour next to blue will looks more like green-yellow one. The yellow near red will looks like a yellow-green one. If you know these laws you can successfully resolve questions of colour harmony and colour scheme.

Pic. 5. Three primary lights.                           Pic. 6. Three secondary colours

Mix of any two of primary colours gives secondary colour. Mix of all three gives the white ligh.These colours are additive. (See Pic. 5.) Mix of any two of secondary colours gives the primary colour. Mix of all three gives black These colours are subtractive. (See Pic. 6).

The primary colours in an RGB colour wheel are red, green, and blue, because these are the three additive colors—the primary colors of light. The secondary colors in an RGB color wheel are cyan, magenta, and yellow because these are the three subtractive colors, but they are the primary colours of pigment. However, colour paint which we use are always subtractive colours so, the colour wheel for painters is looks diffetently. (See Pic.7)

Pic. 7 Subtractive colour wheel with primary, secondary and tertary colours.

As you can see there are not Cyen or Magenta colours and some other colours are looks differently. When mixing coloured lights (additive colour models), the achromatic mixture of spectrally balanced red, green and blue (RGB) is always white, (See Pic. 5) not gray or black. When we mix colorants, such as the pigments in paint mixtures (which are subtractive colours), a colour produced is always darker and lower in chroma, or saturation, than the parent colours. This moves the mixed colour toward a neutral colour—a grey or near-black. Lights are made brighter or duller by adjusting their brightness with white paint. Darknes are adjusted with black, grey or with mixture of several complementary colours.

It is obvious that primary, secondary and tertiary colours are extremely vibrant, however when we mixed two opposite colours from the subtractive colour wheel we will always get more unsaturated colour. If mixed in equal proportions - the colour become a "dirty" one. (See Pic. 8 & 9)

One of the most common mistakes of beginners is attempt to passively transfer the colours of nature as it is to the painting. They separately look at the subjects with out noticing any connections. After they separately transfer each colour of the subjects on the painting and do not takes in account the air perspectives, reflections, lightning and boundaries of the colours. Each of these aspects will change the colouring of a subject dramatically and combination of two or more can easy change the colour of the subject in to the opposite one.


The mix of three primary or secondary colours will give us near neutral or "dirty" colours too. (See Pic 9.) Further more, a mix of any two primary and any two secondary colours gives us even more wide palette of chromatic colours which are become closer and closer to grey or brown depending on number of colours, their hue and their percentage in the mixture. Further even more - if we mix several primary and secondary colours and adding to that mix some shade of grey or black or white - we will get even more broadly palette of near neutral colours.

Such mixture gives us enormous range of tones, half tones, shades and tints. That is the beginning of real richness of classical paintings. So, as we can see the palette of "dirty" colours is quite extensive. From many shades of grey tones to countless varieties of mixtures of primary, secondary and tertiary colours - the possibilities are endless. Most of these "dirty" colours are not in any colour system.

The most effective contrast of opposite colours is better achieved with combination of not saturated colours or combination of one chromatic saturated colour and one achromatic. As saturation of two bright colours is compete for our attention and exhaust our perception.

2. Role of neutral tones in classical visual art.

A first line, which a first human been drawn on a light wall of his cave, was a black charcoal line. That was beginning of black and white graphic art. Since then the humans have sought to bring its inner vision into the world trough visual art.

Pic.10.Big Horn Rhino (25-30,000 BEC) Cave painting from Chauvet Cave.

After that, humans discover more and more wonderful pigments, created new colours and visual art made huge progress in terms of materials and technics. However, drawings of black on white and white on black are still fundamentals for any artist. With addition of grey tones it is used for wide variety of different forms and application of visual art. Such as sketching, grisaille, under painting..

Sketch - usually black line drawing on white paper or white drawing on black paper. However, in XIV -XV centuries was developed black and white drawing on grey paper (chiaroscuro mode). It was important step as artists transferred this technique from drawing to painting. This technique development gives the artist opportunity to structure forms and tones relationship of the painting before deciding on colours connections of the painting.

Have look at Anthony van Dyck's portrait of King Charles I and his Family. The sketch was done from nature. Royal family depicted in there home's surrounding on the royal scale. Even there were several seatings, most likely this was only one that seated all family together and artist was able to catch up their personalities, looks, and intimacy of relationship. He did it at the same time as he made decision on what is going to be dark and what is going to be light and what elements will need to be included and which are better not to bring in. The sketch on greyish paper gives him ability to make the tones drawing in very short time. This one seating had created base for the whole painting.

Pic 10. Anthony van Dyck. Portrait of King Charles I and his Family. Sketch.

Pic. 11. Anthony van Dyck. Portrait of King Charles I and his family.

After the sketch van Dyke created grisaille on the canvas and only when all tones were decided he painted it in colours.

Grisaille (/gr?'ze?l/; French: gris [g?izaj] 'grey') is a term for a painting executed entirely in shades of grey or of another near neutral colour. Also it was used as an underpainting for oil painting. It was widely used by artist from fifteen to beginning of nineteen century. Since a full colour painting requires more time and skill then one in monochrome, grisaille was often chosen as a quicker and cheaper alternative or to create a specific visual effect. Traditionally, when part of a large decorative scheme in fresco or oils, or if incorporated into an altarpiece, a grisaille composition was often modelled to resemble sculpture, either relief or statuary. Good examples of grisaille mural paintings can be seen in the church of San Egidio in Florence. It is shows grisaille as finished artwork, where painter take the technique to its ultimate result, achieving previously unknown depth and realism, almost a three-dimensional quality. See Altarpiece of Flemish painter Hugo van der Goes, completed in the 1470’s.

Pic.12. Hugo van der Goes. Portinari Altarpiece.

Basically, a work of grisaille may be executed as an independent finished artwork or as a preliminary underpainting for an oil painting. In this case a master over paints the grisaille with layers of colour glaze.

Further more, the grisaille may serve as a preliminary design for an engraving. Rubens' workshop was known to have employed monochrome techniques when sketching compositions for engravers.

Pic.14. Anthony van Dyck. Self-portrait. Engraving.

3. Role of "dirty" colours in classical paintings.

As we talk before about the first humans who pick up a piece of charcoal to do the first drawing, since then for many centuries humans have had only limited pallet of earthy colours, which they mastery with ease. On the other hand bright vibrant colours were rarity and were valued as gold. Only the wealthiest people possessed colourful objects and brightly coloured books or wall murals. Any colourful objects were cherished and guarded as real tressure. Most of art was dedicated to God and that was great excuse to use the most vibrant colours available as God demand the best.

Partly history of visual art is the history of discovery bright colours, which humans never have had enough. As soon as a new coloured agent was discovered or chemically created - it was put in good use by the most riches artist to paint religious painting or portraits of royals. Then, when the pigment become more widespread, it was taken on board by all artists as no one wanted to miss on a bright colour. So, "muddy" colours was not so often used and definitely were not valued as they should be.

Until end of fourteen century all paintings and drawings were done by colouring in expensive bright colours main figures of the painting and use dark shades with sharp edges around them for contrast, to make bright colours even more vibrant with the sole aim to make the supernatural subjects of the painting more visible and real. Areas of high-key colour were set against sharp, deep shadows. The whole effect is highly contrasted, precise and crisp, but essentially fragmented. There were no real or air perspective.

Only at the end of fourteen century artists begun study perspective, differences of light in a morning or an afternoon and the right proportions of human body. They also take more freedom to express themselves.

All that lead them to creation of Renaissance in fifteen century - time when they start depict real perspective, sunny and shady days, richness of real light effects, three dimensional figures- they start portray more realistic life. The realistic painting with three-dimensional figures needs not only bright colours but the "muddy" ones too. As only the "dirty" surrounding could really show off the vibrants of a primary or secondary colour and created sensible play of lights and reasonable perspective

Caravaggio was refined the chiaroscuro mode* into something altogether more atmospheric. Meanwhile, Leonardo da Vinci developed his own method of achieving a magical dark harmony - this was known as the sfumatto (smoke) method the subdued tonality is based on an extensive under modeling in monochrome black, brown and grey like in which finely modulated forms emerge from soft shadows.

It was time when painters moved from using wood panels as painting base to canvas. Patrons who order the work, wanted to see bigger and bigger paintings. Those paintings were difficult to moved from an art studio to premises of a patron. A new method was created and it was called Venetian. New method gave an opportunity to paint on uneven, slightly moving surfies of canvas. After a painting was finished it was easy to take it of from the frame, roll in and get to the other place, roll out and stretch on another frame - ready to be viewing by the patrons.

Venetian method of painting is contained collection of diverse system of different well-known masters of painting. However we can define common principals, which there were using. First of all they used light or middle tone or dark grey under paint (imprimatura**). In some cases they used slightly coloured under paint. Then a painter made the drawing in charcoal and after that contour was done in brown paint. If the under paint was done in middle ton grey - then shades and all dark places was painted in brown paint with the edges left soft and imprecise to allow for later adjustment where necessary. Light was painted in opaque white paint. (Se Pic. 15). After the under paint was dry a master was painting the lights in real colours, but half shades were left in grey tone of under paint, which was saving some paint and time. A painting was finished with transparent glazes, which are then worked into white and wet opaque pigments.

Pic.15 Rembrandt. Venetian method. Under paint grisaille in "muddy" colours. (Detail).

* Chiaroscuro in art is the use of strong contrasts between light and dark, usually bold contrasts affecting a whole composition.

** Imprimatura is the classical term for a semi transparent or transparent color layer used to create a toned ground for a painting. It literally means, “what goes before first”. Imprimatura acts as harmonizing element for all upper color layers if they are laid according to the laws of the classical technique allowing the imprimatura to show through in certain places.

The Venetian method is the most varied and flexible method. It is utilized opaque and glazes, scrambles and semi glazes. It is create depth by utilising work of natural light coming through layers of glaze. It is incorporated natural light into oil paint to create tones of amazing variety, while also allowing to the artist a lot of opportunities to change any form as required in the picture at any stage during its formation. The optical illusions created by light-manipulating techniques like glazing and scrambling combined with being able to choose which edges are refine and sharpened, enable master to fool the viewer into seeing a three dimensional reality.

Among Old Masters who used Venetian technique were Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Franz Hals, Nicholas Poussin, Anthony van Dyck, Jacques Louis David, Jean August Dominique Ingres and many more.

The Venetian technique greatly facilitates the realization of finely balanced compositions, accurate depictions of light and chromatic nuances. However, underpainting is rarely practiced today. For the last century, artists have simply begun painting directly on commercially pre-prepared white canvases with full colour. Therefore, neither the function nor the practices of underpainting are well understood.

I spend so much time describe Venetian technique because it was the technique which started the classical painting on canvas and it is first one which used not just dark colours but utilised all enormous palette of "muddy", "semi muddy" and any possible colour combination in a painting. And thous artist were first developed the colouret.

4. Role of "dirty" colours in modern paintings. Creation of colouret

So, what the real roll of near neutral colours in a classical painting and did that roll is changed through the history? Lets start with simple statement that a classical painting could be painted in only neutral and near neutral colours and still will be the most beautiful one. It is all depends on skills and the vision of the master.

Below are samples of painting created by great Russian artist Valentin Aleksandrovich Serov. (1865-1911) and Konstantin Alekseivich Korovin (1861-1932). In 1894 they are together took a trip in to unknown and dangerous place: Russian Far North. It is the land of very long Winters and short Summers. It is the land where day at Summer time is 24/7. It is the land of the Silver Light. Especially they loved the North Sea - violent and beautiful, quiet and unpredictable, different in any moment. (See Pic. 16). Valentin Serov was so amazed and totally captured by North Silver Light that it is effected all his future art works. After that trip he was continues to paint in greyish, silvery colours for the rest of his life. (See Pic. 19 and 20)

Pic. 16 Valentin Serov. Fishing vessels in Arkhangelsk. 1894.

Pic. 17 Konstantin Korovin. Arkhangelsk. 1894.

On the other hand, his best friend Konstantine Korovin, who was painting same landscapes with Serov, and admired the Silver Light days too, painted it with more colours and bigger tone range. (See Pic. 17). His impression of the North is much brighter even it is still quite contain. (See Pic. 18). In "A North Idyll" He used two his favourite colours, located on the opposite sides of the colour wheel: red and green - the most loud colour combination, which is not easy to bring in balance. To do so he uses greys, white and black between reds and greens. Also he very carefully choose his red and green: they have darker calmer tones and that together with very calm grey sky created atmosphere of the twilight and tranquillity, so remarkable sighs of the Russian North.

Pic.18. Konstantin Korovin. A North Idyll. 1896.

Pic. 19 Valentin Serov. Peter II (1715-30) and the Tsarevna Elizabeth (1709-62) Hunting. 1900.

If we return to the paintings of Valentin Serov (See Pic. 19) -we can see he create sheen silver greys paintings and drawings with very little differentiation of near neutral colours. There are off cause, the graduations in tones in his paintings.

His greys in "Peter II" has shows cloudy, windy day somewhere in outskirts of St.-Petersburg. The flying rhythm of the hunt is shows through a running dog, which we notices first as it one of the most light stain of the painting. Our eyes are moving through waving back of the dog to a white head scarf of the bend peasant woman to the back of the horse, from there to the head of the horse and on the way we finally see the spoiled couple of Elizabeth and Peter II. They are galloping through out the windswept and ruffle landscape, enjoying themself in time of Russia being in economic and politic disaster. Dark grey under paint create the atmosphere of gloom and unease of coming historical changes as Peter II died at age of fifteen years old, just several months after that hunt.

In one painting the artist shows to us whole epoch of Russian history and not only the historical side, but inner mood of that time in general. All that is just by using neutral and near neutral colours.

Pic. 20 Valentin Serov. Odyssey and Nausicaa. Gouache. 1910.

Now we can have look at his other work - "Odyssey and Nausicaa". It has many shades of grey, browns and grey/blue colours. It is a very reserved painting but amaisingly beautiful one. It is shows a sunny morning, closer to midday. Nausicaa is driving a mules cart, her maides are following her and behind them is walking Odyssey. Last night was a tempest and Odyssey's ship was wrecked. Odyssey was through on the island of Scheria complitly naked. There Odyssey saw Nausicaa and her maides were playing a ball. He ask for her help and modest Nausicaa gave to him her laundry cloth and help to get to the city. The greyich/ blueich light sky is a background for nealy silhouetted figures on the beach, which remind us the silhouette decoration on Greeck vases. You can feel the freshness of bright morning thanks to very light clouds up in the sky. The sheening sea is still dark and muddy after the storm. With very limited pallete of colours, simmelar to pallete of "PeterII" V.A. Serov created absolutly different image with different theme and with different mood. And it is all created with "muddy" colours...

However, the human's non stop love for bright colours is the inspiration for many very vibrant classical paintings and "muddy", near nuetral and nuetral colours are very important part of them too. For example lets take "A peasant woman in a green apron" by Abram Arkhipove. (See Pic. 21)

Pic. 21 Abram Arkchipov. A peasant woman in green apron. 1927.

I choose that painting as a sample of real Selebration of Life. The author Abram Efimovich Arkhipove (1862-1930) created a hymn to vitality. The artist choose the most bright and contrast colours and made them even briter by placeing the woman on a dark background. Even so, the painting is in ballance and harmony thanks to black and white buffers between the greens and reds. Furthermore, to make painting ballance the artist carefully measured how much green and how much red he could put. With "muddy" dark and white colours in between reds and greens the artist created unforgetable image of Joy. The britest colours of his painting creat the mood, the "muddy" colours - combine them together.

It is interesting exercise to compere that painting to the Konstantin Korovin. "A North Idyll". (See Pic. 18) Just by choosing different proportions of green, red and greys colours the painter create absolutely different atmosphere in the painting and display different artistic vision. All of that lead us to the most valuable achivemant of classical painting - creation of colouret or colourito.

Colouret is the richness and charakter of colour shades incorporated into the painting and into separat parts of that painting as a dominant set of tones, tints, nuances and shades in that painting. It could be expressed in yellowish, pinkish, blueish or many more different shades. Colouret inrich the painting quality, fulfill it with overflow of plantiful half tones, tints and nuances. Any painting could be rich or poor in colouret, but rich in colouret paintings are usually lavish in near nuetral colours too.

Practicaly, the task of any artist who wants to creat an image painted from nature is nearly imposible one. As we know the most white colour in nature is more whiter then any white on the pallet of an artist. And so is black - much more darker then any black colour we could find. So, we could not take precise colour tones from the nature, we need to find some middel tones and harmonised the relationship of all involved colours and color shades around them. If that task will be done successefuly we could be on the way to the colouret painting.

When we succeed in uniting colours between themselves - then we could notice a quality change in the painting. That quality shows through especial sounds of the colours. If we have one colour, which is not in harmony with all others - then melody of the painting will be destroyed - we will feel that it is wrong colour and it is falling out of the painting. A great painting is painting in which no one colour stain could be change in hue, tone, shade or size without distorting wholeness of the painting.

Colourito helps us to grasp the colour richness of the world. It is assist an artist to shows the mood of the painting. To do it right an artist need to paint not in colours, but in colour combinations, colour relationships, as all colours are influence on each others and this influences are changing perception of the colours. Found right colour combinations helps not only to show beauty of the world, but represent the character of the painting heroes and express the feelings of the author toward the subjects he/she painted

Modern art at the end of 19th century is moved out from the classical painting. Barbizon painters were last great colourists who used a lot of near neutral colours in their landscape paintings. Barbizon artist brake up with traditions of Classical French Painting School and developed their own style based on Dutch painting Scholl of XVII century. They took from them ability to extract from nature special harmony of colour combinations, which helps to express air atmosphere of the landscape, air which surround objects in the landscape. They combine the value task with colours and created unique direct and spontaneous style. (See Pic. 22)

Pic. 22. Jean Baptiste Camille Corot. (1796 to 1875) Paris. Spring, the willow. Reims.

The Impressionists are pick up that spontaneity. They were great colourist too, but they were first who brake up with the complicated colour combinations. The Impressionist did not used black colour at all and they created greys and other dark colours by mixing complimentary colours. Colours were applied side-by-side with as little mixing as possible, a technique that exploits the principle of simultaneous contrast to make the colour appear more vivid to the viewer. (See Pic. 23).

Previously, painters made their own paints individually, by grinding and mixing dry pigment powders with linseed oil, which were then stored in animal bladders. New technology played a role in the development of the style. Impressionists took advantage of the mid-century introduction of premixed paints in tin tubes, which allowed artists to take his painting to outdoor. More other, many vivid synthetic pigments became commercially available to artists for the first time during the 19th century. These included cobalt blue, viridian, cadmium yellow, and synthetic ultramarine.

Pic.23. Camille Pissarro. Sunset in Eragny. 1891.

The Impressionists' progress toward a brighter style of painting was gradual. During the 1860s, Monet and Renoir sometimes painted on canvases prepared with the traditional red-brown or grey ground. By the 1870s, Monet, Renoir, and Pissarro usually chose to paint on grounds of a lighter grey or beige colour, which functioned as a middle tone in the finished painting. By the 1880s, they start to prefer white or slightly off-white grounds, and not allowed the ground colour to play any role in the finished painting. They moved more and more from "muddy", near nuetrial colours as they painted outdoor 'en plein air' and they see their new main task to portrait visual effects and not the details.

The Post Impressionism movement appear in an era during which painting surpass its traditional role as a window onto the world and instead became a window into the artist's mind and soul. They embraced use of bright colours and quite often avoided any "muddy" colours all together. (See Pic. 24.)

Pic. 24. Paul Gauguin. Sweet Dreams. Nave-nave-moe. 1894.

Post-Impressionists broaden Impressionism by finding new ideas and new themes to paint: they continued using vivid colours, often thick application of paint, and real-life subject, but were prefur to emphasize geometric forms, distort form for expressive effect, and use colours that has no realistic or natural relation to the object that is depicted, as in a blue horse, or pink ground, but which may have emotional or expressive significance. Post-Impressionists could be divided in two stylistic trends: one of them with structured, geometric style was lead to creation of Cubism and the other with expressive style lead to foundation Abstract Expressionism.

Cubist paintings are not mean to be realistic. They are design to see the subject from any possible angel. It is shows it subject from many different vantage points and combine thous points in one painting. So, it is describe the subject more full, but makes space of the painting flat. So, painting looks like draft and artist often used near neutral colours, which are more, appropriate for constructive drawings. They are dry and detached; they are describing a subject as architectural project. (See Pic. 25)

Pic. 25. Pablo Picasso. Fanny Tellier. Girl with mandolin. 1910.

The other movement, which derived from Post-Impressionism, was Expressionism. Movement which was know for it's distortions of forms and use of strong colours to express authors feelings of anxiety and nostalgic. They paintings were more flat too and colours were used not to create a realistic space, but to express emotions of the author. For example, Edward Munch in his the most famous painting used bright orange-red as an immediate danger hanging on the top of the hero's head and dark, nearly black and 'dirty' colours as depressing and creepy feelings created by that danger. (See Pic.26).

Pic. 26. Edward Munch. The Scream. 1893.

Expressionism was developing into Abstract Expressionism after World War II. Abstract Expressionism (1940-1950) is a movement that was committed to an expressive art of reflective emotion. The universal themes translated into a new style fitted to the post-war mood of anxiety and trauma. Those feelings are quite often expressed with dark and 'dirty' colours. Abstract Expressionists are well known for their expression of deep personal feelings, anti-figurative aesthetic, emotionally intensity, rebellion and nihilism. Their depressive emotions were splash out on canvas and by doing so - achieving their profound inner transformation. (See Pic. 27)

Pic. 27. Franz Josef Kline (1910-1962). Untitled. Oil on paper. 1957.

Parallel to Post-Impressionism movement was developed the other art group: Fauvism. One of Fauvism's major contributions to modern art was its aim to separate colours from its descriptive, representational purpose and allowing it to exist on the canvas as independent elements. Colour could project a mood and set up a structure within the work of art without having to be true to the natural world. Most of the time they used only bright bold colours. Above all, Fauvism valued individual expression. The artist's has direct experience of his subjects, his emotional response to nature. (See Pic. 28).

Pic 28. Henri Matisse. Dance II. 1910.

It is not difficult to notice that the visual after two World Wars and many other emotional, political and economical changes more and more moved from depiction of real world to the world of imagination of the artists and from art movements, which were followed by thousands to the smaller local groups (Suprematism, Dada, Constructivism, Neo Dada, Op art, Minimalism) and to the art of individual artists. The visual art in 20th century get drastic transformations from classical old school to the radical change use of colours by Impressionists, to fundamental change of subjects of painting in Post-Impressionists, to complete muss production of art in Pop Art.

Pic. 29. Victor Vasarely Zebras. 1938. (Op Art).

5. Colour compensation for vibrant colours

Pop artists began to look for inspiration in the world around them, representing—and, at times, making art directly from—everyday items, consumer goods, and mass media. Pop artists were using bold primary colours, often straight from the tube of paint. They adopted commercial methods like silk screening and produced multiple copies of works. Pop artists favoured realism, everyday imagery with heavy doses of irony and wit. Neutral and near neutral "muddy" colours, as absolutely non-commercial were completely forgotten. Thous colours are doing not sale. They do not reflect on TV advertisements or on picture in glossy magazine. They are not endorsement of the capitalist market, so they have to go from the palette of Pop art artist for good. As I mention before, we are all as specie love bright colours, and even now when we have so much of them - we want more and much more...

Pic 30. Andy Warhol. Merilyn Monroe.

As we are live in faster world with fast foods and swift aggressive advertisements and not enough time to process our own thoughts and feelings, for that life - extremely saturated colours are the best. However, you do not need to dig deep to find out that our eyes are getting tired very quickly from thous colours. They are actively influence our mood, form our reactions, even intervened into physiology of our organisms. Their intervention is so powerful that our eyes are getting tired very quickly and we are loosing perception of the colour. We are getting the paradox of chroma full colours loosing its power. If we will have a long look on very bright red colour wall we will get tire quickly and we will see everything around us in green colours. Especially all greys and near neutral colours will looks to us greenish.

Have looked at Pic.31 below. It is shows three bright colour spots on grey background (on the left). If we will look for 30-60 seconds on each of spot and after on a neutral colour (in the middle), we will see on that neutral background a spot of opposite colour (on the right): dark blue instead yellow, light, luminous red instead of green... And if we will look on blue for sometime and after on yellow-orange - we will see the yellow orange become yellow and the spot on it even brighter yellow-orange. This is colour compensation, which formed in our eyes to reward tired eyes for looking at invasive colour. Our brain tells to us: "I had enough, I could not see it any more."

Pic. 31. Colours that you will see when your eyes are fatigue

This picture was taken from Paul Churchland's scientific article "Chimerical colours: Some phenomenological Predictions from Cognitive Neuroscience", in Philosophical Psychology vol. 18 no.5 (October 2005), pp. 527-560.

Meanwhile, colour combinations, which are near neutral in the closer look shows us they hidden richness. Even after short glance a viewer will start to see muss of nuances and halftones, which gives the painting enormous value and enjoyment to look at. Which is mean that the viewer will stay and look at the painting much longer. Moreover it is gives us abilities to shows much greater range of emotions, which are impossible to describe with just bright colours.

Pic. 32. Abram Efimovich Arkchipov. Washerwomen.

Have look at the other beautiful painting of Russian artist Abram Efimovich Arkchipov. "Washerwomen".(Pic. 32.) The painting has show hard relentless job of peasant women. They do not see the daylight; they are non-stop working in hot damp surroundings. The whole painting is full of near neutral colours, which in this context shows light and humidity of the place and hopelessness of the situation at the same time. Colour combinations and the colouret of the painting tell us so much more, then we can even describe with the words. You can watch and watch that painting and more you watch it - more new details you find, more quiet contemplation you obtained. Your thoughts could take you very far - from thinking about these women you could go thinking about your life or your parents life or anybody else life. The fact is it wills makes you think...

6. Conclusion

Recently, I watched a movie about Joseph Mallord William Turner. He was very famous English Romanticist landscape painter. In the film it was shown how Mr. Turner struggle to use oil paint to depict swift wind and fog and the disappearing in fog and water landscape. He used to spit on canvas and smudge the paint. Actions, which oil paint was not design for. But he succussed in his paintings - his struggles bring to us breathtaking painting, painting which full of fogs and winds and admirations of nature. Nowadays, we can do it with ease by using acrylic - paint, for box of which Mr. Turner, probably would give away all his possessions.

Now we have not only toxic, allergic, smell free, wonderful and very versatile acrylic paint with colours range of which Leonardo da Vinci could only dream in his the most vivid dreams, but we also have enormous variety of tools (walking sticks) for artists and artists like. Tools like "Colours by numbers", reference photographs, art software, projectors and Gamut mask tool. Gamut mask tool is supposed to get a colour harmony for you. It is cutting out a shape in the Colour weal that will create a limited harmonic palette. And this limitation will keep you in nice, commercially saleable colour combinations.

Pic 33. Gamut mask tool and sample of use Gamut mask tool.

With this and some other tools you can make pretty paintings, which will appeal to many viewers, but actually are nothing but sugary sweet pictures. And you really do not need much knowledge and experience to do that. Thous prosthesis are getting better and better. But if you were willing to put up hard yakka, as you should, you would not need them. If you will appreciate yourself and your art enough to trust your sense of colour and colouret to choose your own colours according to theme needed for your painting and not the figure colour mask of the prosthesis you will have a chance to create a dissent painting, painting which you could be proud of.

The greatest sample of modern development in colouret painting was Art school of American artist and art teacher of Henry Hensche (1899-1992). Henry Hensche achieved an aerial perspective in a still life paintings - something which before was achieved only by Monet in landscapes.. He shown differences of light in early morning and late morning; in sunny day and in cloudy day; in north light and in east light. He placed his still life right in the sun and painted the light in colours not in tones. While others achieved depth by gradations of tonality or focus, Hensche saturated his still lives paintings with the atmosphere and sophisticated colours development. Hensche was follow tradition of Monet, but he surpass him in his still lives and landscapes by creating greater variety in the qualities of light. Here are some main points of his teaching:

"Every plane change is a colour change."

"Finding the light key is the most important aspect of painting."

"If a color is correct the value is correct. If a value is correct it does not guarantee a color is correct."

"There are four possible lighting situations. Cool light with warm shadows, warm light with cool shadows, cool light with cool shadows, warm light with warm shadows. Though, there are no formulas to paint a colour."

"There is no such thing as local colour."

"Colour situations and effects are infinite."

"It takes years to develop visual perception."

"Artists should represent nature as she represents herself."

Pic 34. Henry Hensche. Still life.

Here what Henry Hensche has to say about Monet: "The landscape helped Monet determine how colour expressing the light key was the first ingredient in a painting, not drawing. And now the problem could be solved as to how to pursue this. Today, painting study has become a science. I guess science means having a method, to follow a path. If you read about Monetís struggle for this realization, you find out that it wasnít handed to him on a silver platter. He had no one to go to. He was an iconoclast, destroying a past conception, but unlike others, he put a better idea in its place that has proven itself to be true. Today, it is a new language of visual expression. One fact to understand here, as to what made it possible, is the augmentation of the painterís palette with new and varied pigments. More intense colours gave Monet a greater keyboard to express the endless varieties in the melody of nature. So he pushed our vision into the 20th century. Painting before Monet was ancient, and after Monet, by those who understood it, became modern in the truest sense of the word."

Pic 35. Henry Hensche in Cape Cod.

Henry Hensche dedicated all his life to study colours in light, to shows us the amazing beauty of our world, Beauty, which we still did not learn to see properly. Here that Henry Hensche has to say about colours in light and new technique to see it: "The obvious fact is that you cannot see an object except as it exists in the light in which it is seen. As the sun travels across the sky the same object is seen at the same distance at different times of the day. It is seen by a completely different colour combination and must be expressed by the artist who must be aware of the new relationships before he can record them. It is mainly a new technique of seeing by colour differences and not by tonal differences." "It is the imaginative quality of man that advances the whole human race."

Pic 36. Still life by Henry Hensche in process of creation.

Pic 37. Henry Hensche. Still life.

For thous who interested to study Henry Hensche technique I could recommend three publications: (It is free to download) and

Robichaux, John W. Hensche on Painting. Dover Publications. Which you could perches at Amazon.

There is also book on painting written by Henry Hensche "The Art of Seeing and Painting", but it is quite expensive one:

We are social specie and we have inherent need to conceptualise the world around us. In order to communicate we invented the languages. Visual art is one of them. As our global culture developed, so does our art and its reflection on the world. With one painting we could say so much more then in a hundred pages book. Visual art is a language that every artist has to master. To use all palettes of colours (bright ones and "muddy" too) is means to used whole vocabulary instead of just the fashionable slang words. To master it - we need life long dedication like Henry Hensche and long list of artist before him did.

I want to finish my article with the words of Henry Hensche - he with his relentless study ant teaching work more then any one else deserve to say the last word: "Unless an artist penetrates nature’s moods and colours and sees beyond the average person, and can reveal this through his paintings, he has no function in society."

"There is no “royal road to art” in any of its forms, and often the only reward is the realization of progress. This seems unjust, and it is, and it will remain so until an appreciative public comes into existence. Meantime, the artist has the inner satisfaction of his own spiritual and cultural growth. This is a blessing millions will never know."

by Margarita Iakovleva 16.02.2016                                                                                     

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