“I can paint you the skin of Venus with mud, provided you let me surround it as I will.” Eugene Delacroix
“Color! What a deep and mysterious language, the language of dreams.” Paul Gauguin
“What a horrible thing yellow is.’ Edgar Degas
“How lovely yellow is! It stands for the sun.” Vincent van Gogh
I am fascinated by lists of colors and the images of painters’ palettes from history. Those dried smears of congealed colors evoke a moment of intimacy with an artist from the illusion of the past, like being invisible voyeur into their process.
There is a wide variation in the organization (or disorganization) of the layout of an painter’s palette.
We can observe from the palettes of Matisse, Monet and Moreau that free-wheeling treatment of color layout and intuitive mixing connotes a rapidity of brush strokes. While a glance at the supreme organization of Delacroix’s palette indicates that he mixes his colors and values from the start. Delacroix noted in his journal“My freshly arranged palette, brilliant with contrasting colors, is enough to fire my enthusiasm.” I love to see how his brushes are ground to a chisel point. He obviously keep his platte clean.
I adore the romance of the names of colors that are no longer exist or art not currently in favor, such as Egyptian brown (also known as Egyptian Mummy) and smalt used by Delacroix. It is unfortunate that with the addition of new formulations of colors that we have lost the nuances of the past (of course not counting the toxic aspect of some historical colors!)
Gauguin’s palette indicated that he has no such thought of organization, that paint was abandoned to dry up and then more paint was simply added on top.
And from the palette of Van Gogh, we can remark that the attenuated forms stared on his palette.
From studying the palettes from the past as our own history (as all artists share in the historical lineage of art) we can gain insights into own approach to color and our perception of color organization. You may wish to start studying your own palette to assess how you intuitively place the colors next to each other as you are mixing. Another way of working might be to take the list of colors of the palette of one of your favorite painters and then make your own painting using that range of pigments. Or you might work backwards from a painting that you worship and extract the mixed colors and then use those in your own painting.
And with the advent of the digital age, there are such internet tools available such as a palette generator: http://www.degraeve.com/color-palette/
or color hunter: http://www.colorhunter.com . (Although these are principally for photographic sources for computer use, they might be useful in analyzing the color and value range.)
I personally no longer currently work from a physically set palette, preferring to mix the colors on the canvas. And when I do mix, I use white ceramic plates, which I wash for reuse. But the romance and mysterious quality of the palettes of artists from other ages so intrigues me.
What evokes the presence of art history for you?