This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
We do not generally make a sufficient use of color as a beautifier of our dwellings. This is partly owing to the fact that the physical organization of northern nations is not so susceptible to the impressions of color as is that of southern nations, even though these latter be intellectually our inferiors. It is in tropical countries, where light is most dazzling, that color is most gorgeous and abundant These are the native climes of the sapphire, the diamond, and the emerald, - of sunsets unspeakably gorgeous, and of night-skies, through the azure of whose transparent depths the eye wanders upwards until it loses itself as if on the threshold of other worlds. The savannahs there are covered with perennial flowers; the pillared forests are linked in a maze' of beauty by the scarlet and other brilliant blossoms of the trailers that hang in festoons from tree to tree; and the green mantle of earth flashes everywhere into colors beneath the flood of sunshine which keeps all nature a-pulsing to the rythm of its subtle and inconceivably rapid vibrations.
Color, like its parent light, dies away towards the poles; and as the constitution of nations is ever in harmony with the region where they dwell, the susceptibility of us hyperboreans to color is far inferior to that of the race who produce the magic dyes of India, or the still nobler one who built the glowing walls of the Alhambra. Even our next-door neighbors, the French, beat us hollow in the art and use of color; and we do not think we overstate the case when we Bay, that there is no civilized people on the earth who do not equal or excel us in a taste and passion for color.
We are too fond of paleness, colorlessness, in our interiors. We shrink from bright colors, because we do not know how to use them, and believe we show taste when we have produced an effect which is simply commonplace. With M. Chevreul for our guide, let us offer a word or two upon this subject We shall begin with the more grand and artistic parts of a mansion, and then come quickly down to remarks which may be as interesting to the single gentleman with his triplet of rooms in the Temple, as to the more stately occupants of palatial edifices. Enter a gallery of sculpture, and see what hints about color there suggest themselves. Here we have our old friend the Venus de Medici, showing the perfection of physical beauty, but with as little as possible of the divine either in her head or attitude. Next to her, in not uncongenial contiguity, is Dannecker'B Ariadae on the Panther - exhibiting a voluptuousness of position, combined with an exquisite charm in the undulating contour of the picturesquely posed figure.
Here also is Kiess's Amazon in bronze - by no means a material for representing the soft figures of the female sex, but appropriate in this case, owing to the greater part of the composition being occupied by the rearing horse and attacking wild beast, and to the circumstance of the attitude of the female rider representing nothing but masculine energy and daring. Finally, we shall say, we have that divinest of statutes, the Apollo Belvidere, in which life and noble power ray from every limb. Now, if those various pieces of sculpture are placed together, of course they must all be viewed against the same background - namely, that of the wall of the room in which they stand. But suppose - in order to bring out the peculiar qualities of various colors as backgrounds - it were proposed to us to take each of these sculptures by itself and assign to it a wall of such a color as would show it off to the best advantage. Then we would remark, in the first place, that whatever may be the case when a piece of cloth is hung immediately around a statue, the walls of a gallery must be considered as giving rise to effects, not of. reflection, but of contrast Accordingly, it will be found that statues of white marble or stone, as well as plaster casts, stand out well in a gallery whose walls are of a pearly-gray color.
But suppose we wish to attain effects not generally aimed at, with the several pieces of sculpture above named - then it will be found that if you place the Venus de Medici against a wall of blue-gray, the statue of the Cyprian goddess forthwith acquires a warm color, which many sculptors prize so highly. Take the Ariadne, and place her in a room painted green, and forthwith the deserted of Bacchus flushes all over with a faint rosy tint, such as she is seen in her chamber at Frankfort, where the light is let in upon her through rose-colored glass. For the divine Apollo, such tinting would be inadmissible. He must stand forth in the simple majesty of pure white; and in order to produce this effect, the color of the wall should be chamois or orange-gray, which tends to neutralise any redness of hue in the marble or plaster of the statue. As to the tone of color used upon the walls, cateris paribus, it ought to be lower the brighter we wish the sculptures to be. Finally, coming to deal with Kiess's Amazon, and bronzes in general, it must be remembered that the metallic alloy of which they are composed, yields two very different tints, - one green, which the metal acquires by exposure to the action of the atmosphere; the other, the peculiar golden tint which it possesses when not oxidised.
If we wish to heighten this green tint, the color of the walls of the gallery must be red; while, if we wish to bring out the golden tint of the bronze, the walls must be blue.
* Fran Blackwood's Magasina.
Let us turn now to a picture-gallery. Here the first thing that strikes us is, bow badly paintings look when thus crowded together. Even supposing that they have been arranged by a man of taste, and that they are not too numerous to compel him frequently to do violence to his artistic feelings, still the ubiquitous melange of color and the dazzling headachy effect of the multitude of gilt frames produces an impress-sion upon the spectator by no means favorable to his appreciation of the pictures. In truth, it is only the intelligent connoisseur who, in such a case can experience the effect which the artist has wished to produce; and this he does, not only by knowing the best point of view, but by fixing his attention so wholly upon the work as to be unconscious of the surrounding pictures, or even of the very frame. In fact, frames in general are no better than necessary evils; for if they are requisite to isolate a picture from surrounding objects, yet it most be confessed that the contiguity of the frame to the picture is exceedingly detrimental to the illusion of perspective. It is this which explains the difference between the effect of a framed picture, and the effect of the same picture when viewed through an opening which allows of our seeing neither frame nor limits.