Color Wars

31 Jan 2012

When I asked friends and colleagues about landscape painting artists with the best use of color, the conversation got downright heated. Mostly because there's so much to consider when you look at each individual artist's color "theory" or purpose they have for the painting. Color schemes are going to vary depending on whether the artist wants to convey mood or expression; to capture the light or a time of day; or to create a dynamic composition that is less about reality and more about creating a painting that visually holds together.

Corot—I'm not sure how Corot did his color mixing, but I'm consistently amazed at how pearlescent his colors appear. He rendered form tightly with the brush, but his colors were all about a delicate, natural unfolding.

Ville d'Avray by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, ca. 1867, oil on canvas.
Ville d'Avray by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot,
ca. 1867, oil on canvas.

Levitan—I think if I'd had Levitan's eyes, I would know what true color is. That's what I think of when I look at his work—that the colors are so pure that it almost seems like he was painting with colored glass.

A Sunny Day by Isaac Ilyich Levitan, oil painting, 1900.
A Sunny Day by Isaac Ilyich Levitan, oil painting, 1900.

Pissarro—To convey a time of day or year with the skill that Pissarro possessed was all about seeing light when mixing colors. Looking at any one of his works, you get the sense of a chill in the air or an overcast shadow to the sky because Pissarro believed in painting in the natural settings he found in the outdoors.

Boulevard Montmartre by Camille Pissarro, oil on canvas, 1897.
Boulevard Montmartre by Camille Pissarro, oil on canvas, 1897.

Whistler—An incredible atmosphere envelopes all of Whistler's nocturnes—they go from murky to jewel-toned, shadowed yet pierced with searing light. His color theory was all about building form through the arrangement of color that is beautiful and compelling, but may not necessarily be true to what is found in the natural world.

Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Old Battersea Bridge by James McNeill Whistler, 1872-77, oil painting.
Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Old Battersea Bridge
by James McNeill Whistler, 1872-77, oil painting.

One thing that sets an artist's color art abilities above the rest is his or her ability to paint light with color. Painting Light: The Cape Code School Method with Camille Przewodek was an eye opener in that regard for me. Przewodek shows how color and light are inextricably linked, and that the true test of color is how well it conveys light. Her process is an exciting challenge for any painter and one that will serve us all well when we have it mastered. Enjoy!

 


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