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Eugene Chevreul, Color Circle from Des

Couieurs et leurs Applications aux Arts Industrielles a I'aide des Cercles Chromattques,

Paris, Baillere, 1864, pi. iv, fig. 5.

Chevreul's 72-part color circle depicts the three primaries, plus three secondary mixtures of orange, green, and violet, and six further mixtures. The resultant sectors were each subdivided into five zones separated into 20 brightness segments.


(above) The Bezold effect.

The Bezold effect: the yellow and orange are the same colors in each example, but seem to lighten or darken overall if white or black lines are added to the composition.


(left) Pierre-Auguste Renoir,

Boatingon the Seine,

c. 1879-80. Oil on canvas, 28 X 36


(71 X 92 cm). National Gallery, London.

Complementary colors—the orange of the boat against the blue of the river—added vibrancy to Impressionist paintings, following Chevreul's observations of simultaneous contrast.

color interactions
Color Schemes
Many of the color theorists mentioned earlier were not only interested in classifying color, but also investigated how colors work with each other. Color schemes may have connotations of interior design—matching the color of the walls with the woodwork and furnishings—but they also have a place in easel art. Even in classical landscapes, where grass is green and the sky blue, a mote harmonious composition can be created if care is taken in the choice of colors and their placement in the design. Abstract artists have fewer constraints and can choose schemes purely on the basis of color theory.
Color schemes are like music, with colors like musical notes working with or against each other to form harmonies and chords—or jarring discords. Many of these schemes were devised by Bauhaus teacher Johannes Itten and his pupil Josef Albers (1888-1976)


We use Itten's 12-step color wheel for consistency.
An achromatic color scheme is created from black, white, and the grays between. There are no possible color contrasts. Black with white provides the strongest con­trast available in art. A

chromatic gray

or neutral relief color scheme is formed from just dull colors, sometimes with a hint of brightness. Colors near the center of MunselPs color wheel are neutral, and this scheme will be harmonious because strong hue conttasts are not possible.


color scheme is the next simplest type of scheme, consist­ing of one hue and its various brightnesses, and sometimes variations in saturation


This scheme looks clean and elegant, producing a soothing effect, especially with cool blue or green hues. The


color scheme is based on a pie-shaped slice of thtee or more hues located next to each other on the color wheel, usually with one hue in common—yellow-orange, yellow, and yellow-green, for example

(7.30, 7.31).

They are at their most harmonious when the middle color is a primary.

7.28 Joseph Albers, Study for

Homage to the Square: Departing in Yellow,

1964. Oil on board, 30 X 30" (76.2 X 76.2 cm). Tate, London.

Itten's pupil Albers examined the effect of placing analogous colors in proximity, and the way they interpenetrate each other along the edges where they meet.


7.29 (above) Camille Corot,

Le Pont de Mantes,

nd. Oil on canvas,


X 21


(38 X 55 cm). Louvre.

Like Rubens (see 4.7) and Constable (see 9.28), Corot placed an accent of vibrant red in an otherwise predominantly green landscape to emphasize the diminutive figure.

7.30 (left) Alan Pipes, Analogous color schemes, 2003. Macromedia FreeHand drawing. Courtesy the author.

An analogous color scheme uses colors close or adjacent to one another on the Itten wheel.

7.31 (above) Kate Osborne,

Rosa Paulii,

1994. Watercolor, 15


X 7


(40 X 20 cm). Courtesy the artist.

Osborne's analogous colors combine with the pure white of the paper to produce a calm, serene composition.

color schemes
A complementary color scheme is built around two hues that are opposite one another on the color wheel


This scheme is intrinsically high-contrast and intense, to the point of cteating vibrating colors



double complementary

scheme uses two sets of complementaries, and if they come from equidistant places on the wheel, this is termed a


This scheme is hard to harmonize, and if all four hues are used in equal amounts, the scheme may look unbalanced. A

split complementary

color scheme consists of any hue plus the two colors either side of its complementary. Contrast is less marked than with a pure complementary scheme, but is more intense than the double complementary and much more interesting.

7.32 Alan Pipes, Complementary and split complementary color schemes, 2003. Macromedia FreeHand drawing. Courtesy the author.

A complementary color scheme uses colors directly opposite one another on Itten's wheel; split complementaries (dotted line) use colors one sector along from the complementary.


7.33 Claude Monet,

Poppies near Argenteuil,

1873. Oil on canvas,



X 25 %" (50 X 65 cm). Musee d'Orsay, Paris.

The red of the poppies against the green of the vegetation are complementary colors, working together to make each other appear brighter.


7.34 Alan Pipes, Triadic and quadrad color schemes, 2003. Macromedia FreeHand drawing.

A triadic scheme (dotted line) uses three colors equally spaced on the Itten wheel, such as the three primaries; a quadrad uses four colors at the corners of a square placed on the Itten wheel.



color scheme is any set of three hues that are equidistant on the color wheel, forming the vertices of an equilateral triangle


A primary triad provides the liveliest set of colors; a secondary triad is softer, mainly because, although the interval between the hues is the same, any two secondaries will be related, sharing a common primary—orange and green, for example, both contain yellow. A scheme based on the square is called a


The hues are equally spaced and will be a primary, its complement, plus a complementary pair of tertiaries.
The arr of using one of these color schemes is to vary the proportions of the colors, rather than distributing them in equal measures. An artist can never be tied to a rigid set of colors, but taking a colot scheme as a starting point and adapting it will result in a composition with a degree of "tonality"—a dominant hue or type of colot scheme.

7.35 Mark Harrison,

Brighton Pavilion,

2002. Acrylic on MDF, 27" X 27" (68.6 X 68.6 cm). Courtesy the artist.

Harrison has used a monochromatic blue color scheme for the majority of this composition, with touches of complementary orange to make the light from the windows glow.

color schemes
Using Color

7.36 William Holman Hunt,

The HirelingShepherd,

1851-2. Oil on canvas, 30 X 43" (76.4 X 109.5 cm). Manchester City Art Galleries, Manchester.

Hunt was a Pre-Raphaelite and painted directly from nature in bright daylight, using local colors. The subject of a shepherd neglecting his sheep is from

King Lear,

but also has a Christian interpretation. Hunt also painted in moonlight (see


Armed with all these color theories and schemes and with a comprehensive selection of the colors available at the art store, how does the artist begin to use color? We have seen that colors are not constant—they are affected by the quality of light, the juxtaposition of other colors, and the mind of the artist. There are three main types of color in a painting: local, optical, and arbitrary. Objective or

local color

is the real-world color of an object under ordinary bright daylight, the color we know objects to be: the green of grass, the red of ripe tomatoes, and the orange of oranges


Colors do change, however, under different lighting conditions and the time of day


Atmospheric effects give distant hills a bluish haze, and supermarkets put meat under red lighting to make it look fresh. Photographers need different types of film for daylight and indoor use; video cameras adjust the white balance of a scene to compensate for the yellow tinge of incandescent light or the blue tinge of fluorescent strip lights. The human eye adapts without our knowing it, so we have to look hard, or local color will over-ride what we see. This kind of observable color is called

optical color.


A third kind of color is

arbitrary color,

which is either the product of the artist's imagination or the result of an emotional tesponse or visual defect. The bright, unnatural colors of van Gogh and Gauguin are termed

heightened colors.

The yellow skin of the Simpsons in the cartoon series is another example.
Warm and cool
Colors can be divided into

warm colors,

such as red and yellow, which are associated with fire and sunlight, and

cool colors,

such as blue and green, which we associate with ice, water, and crisp salads. On the Itten color wheel, the yellow to red-violet segment is deemed warm; the yellow-green to violet segment, cool. It is all telative, however, because green can seem warm next to blue but cool when it is placed next to orange.
Complementary colors offer artists the greatest contrast after black and white, with the added effect of vibrating edges (see


and they are ideal for creating areas of emphasis. This is an effect well known to the Impressionists, who might place vivid red poppies among otherwise monotonous grassy green fields (see


Patches of bright warm colors proj­ect themselves forward when they are sur­rounded by cooler or less saturated colors. Without color, we would emphasize an element by making it larger, a distinctive shape, or by isolating it from the rest of the composition. With color, however, the tiniest dab of red or orange among drab green or neutrals will shine out, demand­ing attention


Our eyes are drawn to bright colors, and when they are placed at the focal point of a picture, such an accent will draw our gaze into the stoty.

7.37 James McNeill Whistler,

Nocturne in Blue and Cold: Old Battersea Bridge,

c. 1872-5. Oil on canvas, 26


X 20


(68.3 X 51.2 cm). Tate, London.


Old Battersea Bridge,

the subject of this Japanese-inspired "aesthetic" picture was less important than its harmonious arrangement of cool colors. The critic John Ruskin was unimpressed, accusing Whistler of "flinging a pot of paint in the public's face."

using color
Visual balance

7.38 (left) Joan Miro,

Personage Throwing a Stone at a Bird,

1926. Oil on canvas, 29 X 36


(73.6 X 92 cm). Museum of Modern Art, New York.

The intense red of the bird's plumage against the scrubby green sky balances the larger white biomorphic shape of the personage, despite the figure with the giant foot swinging backwards in reaction to the movement of the stone.

7.39 (right) Bhupen Khakar,

You Can't Please All,

1981. Oil on canvas, 69


X 69


(175.6 X 175.6 cm). Tate, London.

Aesop's fable of a father and son taking a donkey to market is reinterpreted in arbitrary color. First, the father rides; the son walks. Then they both ride, but when criticized for being cruel they decide to carry the donkey. They are burying the dead donkey when the father delivers the moral: "You can't please all."

Because color is so powerful at accentuating design elements, it is also a useful tool in balancing a composition. A symmetrical composition is perfectly balanced around a central axis, the left-hand half being an approximate mirror-image of the right. We must be careful not to disrupt that balance by a too overpowering coloration on one side. In asymmetrical designs, we perform a balancing act with unequal elements. On a set of scales we can balance a small dense weight with a large bag of feathers, so a small patch of intense color can balance a larger neutral area. If an image appears to be well balanced, but when viewed in black and white looks off-balance, color has been holding it all together


Space and depth
We have already seen the use of color in aerial perspective—the effect of distance scattering light toward the blue end of the spectrum (see


Colors also have the property of moving forward or receding. Generally, warm colors will emerge and expand, whereas cool colors will contract and recede. A spot of red on a gray background will appear to hover in front of the picture plane, but a similar patch of blue will burrow into the background


Saturated and bright colors will move toward us when surrounded by desaturated colors. Objects colored by hues that are brighter at maximum satutation, such as yellow, will appear to spread and look larger than those that are intrinsically darker. Add all the othet depth cues we have learned, and we will be able to create a convincing sense of space and depth. Similatly, artists can create more flattened confined spaces by giving a porttait, say, an orange or red background that almost pushes up against the back of the sitter.
Value, as we have seen earlier, is one of the three attributes of color—it is called brightness in the HSB system—and in Chapter 6 we dis­cussed value without colot, restricting outselves to black, white, and the grays between. During the Renaissance, there was much debate over which was more important, dtawing or color— Michaelangelo even accused Titian of not being able to draw. Right up until the 19th century, some artists argued that color was merely an adjunct to a good drawing, like a watercolor wash placed over an engraving. Others insisted that color was fundamental to a design, as we know it is.
Paul Cezanne experimented in depicting the bulk and weight of forms, such as apples, not by the usual means of modeling in shades of value and coloring with local color, but by using warm colors where the forms should come forward and cool colors where they should tecede


Gauguin strove to reverse this effect, using cool colors in the foreground and warm colors in the background, to produce an almost decorative space


Nevertheless, drawings and paintings can be produced without color, and we can discuss line, shape, and texture with almost no reference to color. However, it would take a brave artist to attempt to create a painting using pure color, with no variation of value, compensating, of course, for the value component inherent in the hues. Although we could still "read" a Renaissance or Pre-Raphaelite painting in monochrome, so much of an Impressionist or Fauve paint­ing would be lost that it would be almost pointless to attempt a reproduction. A color field painting reproduced in black and white would be laughable.
Fauvism: France, 1905-1908
Fauvism was characterized by intensely vivid, non-naturalistic, and exuberant colors. The style was essentially Expressionist, and generally featured distorted landscapes. The Fauves first exhibited together in 1905 in Paris. A critic pointed to a Renaissance sculpture in the same gallery and exclaimed derisively "Donatello au milieu des fauves!" ("Donatello among the wild beasts!"). The name caught on, and was gleefully accepted by the artists themselves. The movement was subjected to mockery and abuse as it developed, but gained respect when art buyers such as Gertrude Stein took an interest. The leading Fauve artists were Henri Matisse (1869-1954), Andre Derain (1880-1954), and Raoul Dufy (1877-1953).
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