COLOR is a mystery, a charm, an enticement. It is stimulating, depressing, enervating, or uplifting. It warms or it chills. It will irritate, take the pleasure out of everything, and even go so far as to produce - one woman assures me - acute indigestion. Why not?
Color, like music, is a question of vibration, affecting some of our nerves more easily than others. Take, for instance, the epigastric nerve lying over the stomach, one of the most sensitive in the body: both color and sound affect it. I know people who on this nerve feel every vibration of an orchestra; feel the vibratory waves of sound as clearly as a wind blowing against the hand. I know others who feel the vibrations from color quite as acutely, the epigastric nerve being so affected by those from a distasteful color that a feeling of repugnance, of illness even, is produced.
All this, of course, is nonsense to people devoid of sensitiveness, and a dubious question to those who feel cheered or depressed by different colors but have never had the explanation discussed in their presence. The fact remains, that the vibrations of color affect different persons differently.
The most marvellous instance of sensitiveness to color vibrations that I know is found in Miss Helen Keller, the deaf, dumb, and blind girl whose intellectual prowess and accomplishments never cease to astonish us. She knows color by the touch, and has tastes and predilections as strongly developed, - nay, even more strongly developed - than the average human being in full possession of all his senses. Her friends tell me that she knows the colors of her dresses, whether one is blue or brown or black; that she will go into the garden and never make a mistake between pink or white roses. She will do more - enjoy the pink for one quality, the white rose for another.
Doctors from time to time have tried to make use of these color vibrations in the cure of patients. Not many years ago we had the blue-glass craze. Invalids were immured in rooms the windows of which were filled with panes of blue glass, so that the sunlight entering through them might set the blue vibrations in motion. Occultists are always discussing the influence of color upon the mental and spiritual nature of man. "You will outgrow green," said one occultist to a student in his class, and suggested faint rose tones as more elevating to the character.
The subject is inexhaustible. My reason for touching upon it here is to suggest that color in the home has an importance irrespective of its value from an artistic point of view, or yet from the standpoint of fashion, which declares in favor of yellow walls to-day, and of green to-morrow. Many a tired woman has found a change of color in her room as refreshing as a change of air.
Color can do more than anything else to beautify the homes of the impecunious. Colors well arranged may take the place of richer appointments and costly furniture, in creating an impression of prosperity. Yellow is capable of accomplishing wonders in the homes of the indigent. In one case a woman earning a scanty income, counting each penny before she spent it, was supposed to have inherited a fortune because her walls, originally a dingy maroon with sprawling figures, blossomed out one day in a soft yellow paper for which the landlady paid. The rumor of her prosperity spread and carried her through several financial panics, finally establishing her in success. Yellow is like cheerfulness under affliction. It is the color which metaphysicians say works directly on the brain. Magenta could never create an impression of prosperity; neither would blue when seen by itself. If blue did, it would be because of the quality of the textile in which it appeared, - the beauty of satin or brocade. Blue is refreshing to some, reposeful to others. It is always associated with daintiness. But to convey a conviction of prosperity, there is nothing in the whole scale of color so potent, so infallible, as yellow. It has an exultant quality, a joyous, sunny atmosphere; but it never gives a sense of cosiness or warmth - never one of drawing together for intimacy, for confidential touches and interchanges of thought.
Yellow helped to give the old Colonial drawing-rooms of the Hudson their air of cold and quiet reserve, of being always on their best behavior, and, like the straight-backed chairs of our ancestors, recalls an atmosphere in which no relaxation, even in private, was permitted. Long after the fortunes of those Hudson River householders were lost, these yellow drawing-rooms helped the impoverished inmates to maintain a certain proud and isolated dignity before the world. I never remember a greenish cast in those yellows, like that seen in many wall-papers of today, - without it the red of the beautiful old damask curtains was delightful in drawing-rooms with yellow walls.
When there is a suggestion of brown in yellow wall-paper, mahogany furniture with yellow-brown hangings is harmonious, the hangings taking up both the yellow of the walls, and the brown, broken by black, of the mahogany.
Blues with certain yellows are captivating. I remember a bit of old Venetian yellow brocade used as a table-cover, on which one day a blue Nankin jar was placed. The result was as delightful as the smile of a child, flashing a cheerfulness at us as we passed. In ball-rooms this color scheme has been carried out in fullest degree. Rooms of to-day, modelled upon those of French palaces, have taffeta silk curtains of golden tones edged with a blue gimp.
The yellow of the lemon is greenish, that of orange reddish, and you cannot mix them. It is difficult to explain to an amateur the reasons for this. People with a color-sense discover its truth without aid. I had some sofa cushions of a soft yellow shadow silk in which pinkish tones predominated. One day I introduced among them a cushion of yellow in which the green tones were strongly felt. The result was disastrous, as if a voice out of tune had joined in a chorus and spoiled it. The same feeling of discord is produced by introducing a blue-green into a room where the rest are olive-greens, or in placing two green pots together, one a blue-green and one a yellow-green. This makes it imperative for the inexperienced man or woman, desiring harmonious results, to keep to one color or set of colors. Curtains, chair-covers, and even the walls may be of the same material. Relief from monotony is secured by the introduction of pictures, books, flowers, sofa cushions.