This section is from the book "Chromatography; Or, A Treatise On Colours And Pigments, And Of Their Powers In Painting", by George Field. Also available from Amazon: Chromatography, or A Treatise on Colours and Pigments, and of Their Powers in Painting.
"Every passion and affection of the mind has its appropriate tint; and colouring, if properly adapted, lends its aid, with powerful effect, in the just discrimination and forcible expression of them; it heightens joy. warms love, inflames anger, deepens sadness, and adds coldness to the cheek of death itself." - Opie's Lect. iv. p. 147.
Assured as we must be of the importance of colouring as a branch of painting, colours in all their bearings become interesting to the artist. This subject, considered in the whole breadth of its survey, appears to refer to the material principles of colours, to their sensible relations, and to their intellectual effects, or highest purpose.
We will first discuss the latter of these, which is the prime object of colouring, comprehending the effects of colours and colouring on the passions, sentiment, and affections of the mind, and may therefore be termed the Expression of Colour; a subject which, if it has not been totally without light, has been involved in much obscurity: and if artists and philosophers have hitherto argued respecting the causes and harmony of colours with little of the confidence of science, they have spoken of their expression and moral effects with more imperfect apprehension, or even with confusion. There may indeed be some who, from natural organic defect or uncultivated sense, will question these latter effects altogether.
The man Whose eye ne'er open'd on the light of heaven Might smile with scorn, while raptured vision tells Of the gay-colour'd radiance flushing bright O'er all creation." - Akenside.
Yet the enlightened artist acknowledges these effects from having seen and felt them; and having felt them, it becomes a purpose of his art to produce them to the feelings of others gifted by nature or attainment to enjoy them. This alone is sufficient to render these powers of colours the subject of his serious inquiry, and to give value to hints and suggestions which may assist in realising them in his practice, when, according to the expression of Addison, he is "obliged to put a virtue into colours, or to find out a proper dress for a passion," etc. - Treatise on Medals, Dial. i.
For evidence of the natural expression of colours, we need not look beyond the human countenance, that masterpiece of expression, in which are acknowledged the redness indicative of anger and the ardent passions, and the blush of bash-fulness and shame betraying a variety of consciousness, - -the sallowness or yellowness of sickness, grief, envy, resentment, and the jealous passions, - the cold, pallid blueness of hate, fear, terror, agony, despair, and death; with a thousand other hues and tints accompanied by expressions readily felt, but difficultly described or understood.
If we turn our view from the face of man to that of nature in the sky, we find colour equally efficient in giving character, sentiment, and expression to the landscape, indicating the calm and the storm, and in infinite ways betraying the latent emotions of the spirit of nature.
It is by this influence that the greenness of spring indicates the youth, vigour, and freshness of the season; that the light, bright, warm, yellow hues of summer express its powers; that the glowing redness of fruits and foliage denotes the richness of autumn, "Yon hanging woods that, touch'd by autumn, seem As they were blossoming hues of fire and gold."
* Whether these colours of the human countenance are to be variously ascribed to the agency of nerves, blood-vessels. or lymphatics; - whether the warmth and redness expressing active feeling be not attributable to arterial action, and the cold hues of passive suffering to venous reaction; - and whether the passions denoted by the sal/our or yellow hue are not biliary affections - are questions we leave to the anatomist.
The analogy of the natural series of colours, with the course of the day and the seasons, coincides with the ages of man or the seasons of life, and adapts it to express them in the hues and shades of draperies and effects; from the white or light of the morn or dawn of innocuous infancy, through all the colours, ages, and stages of human life, to the black or dark night of guilt, age, despair, and death. Accordingly, with the antient Painters and Poets, Ver, the personification of spring, was bright, infantine, and crowned with flowers; Ęstas was lively and youthful; Au-tumnus was fruitful and manly; and Hyemas, aged, decrepid, and dark.
Throughout all seasons, and in all countries, it is by the colour of his crops that the hopes, fears, acts, and judgments of the husbandman are excited; nor are the colours of the ocean and the sky less indicative to the mariner; nor the colours of his merchandise to the merchant, - so universal is this language of colour, the sole immediate sign to the eye, which is the chief organ of external expression and intelligence.
Whether it be the face of nature or of man that is tinged with the varied expression of the gloomy and the gay, it reciprocates corresponding sentiments in the spectator, and we even form judgments of the disposition, temperament, and intentions, as well as of the youth, vigour,age, race, and class of individuals, by colour and complexion; hence colours have been made symbols of the passions and affections, denoting by a sort of tacit consent their connexion with moral feeling, all of which is transferable to the canvass.
Of these popular symbols, black denotes mourning or sorrow; grey, fear, etc.; red is the colour of joy and love; blue, of constancy; yellow, of jealousy; green, by a physical analogy, of youth and hope; and white, by a moral analogy, of innocence and purity.
These remarks do not apply merely to the more positive colours individually, but extend with even greater force to the more neutral or broken compounds, every hue and shade having its corresponding shade of expression and reciprocation, affording materials for the cultivation of feeling and taste; the sublimest expression vibrating in all cases to the most delicate touch. The subject is fertile, but enough has been said to confirm the fact, if it can be disputed, of the general, moral, sentimental, and natural expression of colours, analogous to that of musical sounds; and of the expression of colours individually we shall take further occasion to speak under their distinct heads.