December 1805

Edward Wedlake Brayley, ed., The Works of the Late Edward Dayes (Dayes, Works, pp.279–311) (1805 – Item 2)


COLORING continued


This quotation will serve to illustrate the principle, though it is too much detailed for any mass in a picture; yet the characters of the trees are correct, and may serve as a hint to the student. The vegetation should not be colored too green; that is, with a raw, hungry color of blue and yellow, but by uniting a red, as burnt terra de Sienna, or lake, with it, to give it a more solemn or autumnal hue; as nothing can have a more common or vulgar air, than too much green. The student must distinguish between a glaring and a glowing color, as we admire what is fine, before we can discern what is beautiful; for color is the attire of the art, and not the patches and paint of a courtezan. In coloring large tracks of land, as well as masses of trees, to prevent a monotony, several sorts of greens should be mingled together; not so as to look spotty, but to blend and unite together, as in some of Rubens’s landscapes. The dark water in the landscapes of G. Poussin will be highly worthy attention, both for color, and as assisting the masses of dark; and the well-defined reflections in the Dutch scenes of Ruysdael, and others, are extremely beautiful.

It will be difficult to distinguish what quantity of warm and cold colors should prevail in a picture; but certainly, not more cold color than is just sufficient to give value to the warmer ones, or to support the color of the sky. In general, it must be regulated by the subject; but as there are two warm colors to one cold, it may serve to regulate the proportion of each; that is, two parts warm to one part cold. However, one thing is certain, that whatever the prevailing tone is, it should so blend and unite, that the whole may harmonize; for a fine piece of coloring may be considered as a concert for the eye; and, as before observed, the warm colors should be disposed in masses. Most people prefer the warm tones prevailing, and seem to be comforted, as well as pleased, by the sight of a sunny picture on a cold day.

The unity of light and shadow, and color, with the subject, is so necessary, that the harmony of the whole cannot be preserved without it. The sombre colors must ever attend the sublime; whilst the more brilliant will accompany the beautiful. Few men would be mad enough to represent a storm in all the gaudy colors of a stage pageant; or should any one be hardy enough to do so, it must meet the contempt of every discerning man.

            ––– the low’ring element

            Scowls o’er the darken’d landscape.


All that has been said to show how inadmissible gaudy coloring is in the higher walk of landscape, and in every other department of the art, is no more than absolutely necessary to guard the student from being seduced by that unnatural display of finery, that abounds in the works of some of our artists, and who appear to have formed their style of coloring from the windows of the milIiner’s shops. Fine showy draperies, in historical pictures, are highly injurious to the sober dignity of such subjects. Though the vanity of a few may tempt them, for a temporary fame, to mislead the taste of the public, the sober mind should shun such paltry arts, and leave those to make fine who cannot make good. The temperate in color, as in all other things, will ever be the most agreeable. Every man shows his mind as well in his composition and coloring, as in choice of subject. If any body doubts this, let him compare the tranquillity of Claude with the roughness of Salvator Rosa, which suit with the different dispositions of the men. The most difficult effect to manage will be the mid-day, or white light, as at that time great brilliancy prevails without much color, and the shadows are extremely deep; to obtain which, there will be great danger of hardness, except the shadow and light is well supported by a sufficient depth of middle-tint. As depth of middle-tint always gives a great richness to the effect, so in it will be found the true tone of the object; and on the truth of it depends much of the beauty of the whole. It will often happen on cloudy days, when the distance is under a gloom, that objects from shadow, or some local dark color, will appear so deceptive with respect to situation, as to seem quite out of their places, by coming too forward; this should always be corrected, and the due distance preserved in the picture, to prevent the object appearing false. Nature soon corrects this apparent error in herself.

In working up a drawing, if a richness of color is wanted, it will be necessary to repeat it two or three times, or, indeed, as often as necessary; this will give a depth and richness, that never can be obtained by a single color. This is what the artist calls glazing, and can only be got by practice; only the most warm and transparent colors are used for the purpose. Thus a green of blue and yellow would be raw; but burnt terra de Sienna, or lake, glazed over it, will beautify it; not make it lighter, but richer. Again, if crimson drapery is wanted, it should be dead-colored with vermilion, and glazed with lake: and if shadows of Indian ink are too cold, the bistre would warm and clear them. This practice is often pursued by the artist, from knowing that colors, when mixed, are not so bright as when laid over each other separate; and that two colors are brighter than three; and so on, in proportion to the number mixed. By this practice, great force may be obtained; as the nearer a drawing can be brought to an oil picture, the better, as it would possess superior clearness: perhaps the perfection of water and oil, should be for one to have all the force, and the other all the clearness, possible.

The warmer the shadows are kept, the more agreeable the effect will be; and as shadow is not a body, those colors should be selected for the purpose, that are the most clear and transparent: for this the Van Dyck brown will be found extremely useful in the shadows of the fore-ground objects. In coloring trees, it will be necessary to make the extremities of the branches tenderer than the middle parts; and, by letting the light be seen through various parts of the branches, great thinness and beauty will be acquired: this will prevent them looking solid and heavy, a thing most to be avoided. Barret excelled in trees; but particularly in his ash and beech, which are remarkably fine. His drawings in black-lead will be well worthy studying, for the beauty of form and foliage.

Should the student content himself to please by the illusion of color, that is, by flattering the eye with an industrious display of tints, he must content himself with a lesser reputation; as coloring is only a secondary consideration, and will by no means compensate for the want of accuracy, breadth, or dignity, in composition. Like high-finishing, when it engrosses too much of the attention, it always proves injurious. It is almost a common consequence of laboring the picture, not only to lose stillness, but often force. Gerard Douw, and one or two others, are the only instances to the contrary. It is a proper tribute to the memory of Wilson, (and perhaps it were not improper to add the Great,) to say his coloring is always agreeable; sometimes fine; his compositions equal to most, and his light and shade superior to any other landscape painter.

Before concluding this section, it may not be amiss to recapitulate so much of the foregoing part of the work as relates to the progress of the drawing. First, then, in making the outline, every thing that relates to the shapes of the objects must be settled, as the student will then have the advantage of doing it without the interference of light and shadow, or color; and so far his attention, being less engaged, may be the more vigorously applied. Secondly, he will consider light and shadow independent of form or color, and carry on the drawing as directed under light and shade; and thirdly, having only the coloring to regard, it is but reasonable to expect, that his success will be greater, than if had to attend to all the different parts at one and the same time.