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.
"What is here? Gold 9 yellow, glittering, precious gold? No, Gods, I am no idle votarist
Thus much of this, will make black, white; foul, fair; Wrong, right; base, noble; old, young; coward, valiant. Ha! you God* I • " * Why this Will lug your priests and servants from your sides; Pluck stout men's pillows from below their heads; This yellow slave."
SHAKSP.: Timon of Athens.
Yellow is the first of the primary or simple colours, nearest in relation to, and partaking most of the nature of, the neutral white; it is accordingly a most advancing colour, of great power in reflecting light. Compounded with the primary red, it constitutes the secondary orange, and its relatives, scarlet, etc. and other warm colours.
It is the archeus, or prime colour of the tertiary citrine; - it characterizes in like manner the endless variety of the semineutral colours called brown, and enters largely into the complex colours denominated huff, bay, tawny, tan, dan, dun, drab, chestnut, roan, sorrel, hazel, auburn, isabela, faun, feuillemorte, etc. Yellow is naturally associated with red in transient and prismatic colours, and they comport themselves with similar affinity and glowing accordance in painting, as well in conjunction as composition. It is the principal power also with red in representing the effects of warmth, heat, and fire, in painting and poetry: -
" Where Indian suns engender new diseases,
Where snakes and tigers breed, - I bend my way, To brave the fev'rish thirst no art appeases,
The yellow plagues, and madd'ning blaze, of day."
From the Spanish of Gonzalvo.
In combination on the other hand with the primary blue, yellow constitutes all the variety of the secondary green, and, subordinately, the ter-tiaries russet and olive. It enters also in a very subdued degree into cool, semineutral, and broken colours, and assists in minor proportion with blue and red in the composition of black.
As a pigment, yellow is a tender delicate colour, easily defiled, when pure, by other colours. In painting it diminishes the power of the eye by its action in a strong light, while itself becomes less distinct as a colour; and, on the contrary, it assists vision and becomes more distinct as a colour in a neutral somewhat declining light. These powers of colours upon vision require the particular attention of the colourist. To remedy the ill effect arising from the eyes having dwelt upon a colour, they should be gradually passed to its opposite colour, and refreshed amid compound or neutral tints, or washed in the clear light of day.
In a warm light, yellow becomes totally lost, but is less diminished than all other colours, except white, by distance. The stronger tones of any colour subdue its fainter hues in the same proportion as opposite colours and contrasts exalt them. The contrasting colours of yellow are a purple inclining to blue when the yellow inclines to orange, and a purple inclining to red when the yellow inclines to green, in the mean proportions of thirteen purple to three of yellow, measured in surface or intensity; and yellow being nearest to the neutral white in the natural scale of colours, it accords with it in conjunction. Of all colours, except white, it contrasts black most powerfully. Nature employs the proper contrasts of yellow exquisitely both in individual and associated flowers, thus beautifully imitated by Butler: -
" Where'er you tread, your foot shall set The primrose and the violet."
Hudibr. Part ii. Canto 1.
The near relation of this colour to white or light, and its alliance with red, are well represented by the poets, who clothe Aurora, or the morning light, in robes of a pale yellow colour, and give her a complexion of red; and Burns, following Nature, associates pale yellow with white thus: -
"Now blooms the lily by the bank, The primrose by the brae; The hawthorn's budding in the glen, And milk white is the slae."
Lament of Mary, Q. of Scotland.
Yellow is discordant when standing alone, with orange, unsupported by other colours. It is the vulgar symbol of jealousy, occasioned perhaps by the biliary complexion attending that passion; to which symbol Butler alludes thus: -
"Jealous piques, Which th' antients wisely signified By th' yellow mantoes of the bride."
Hudibr, Part ii. Canto 1.
And Chaucer thus: -
That wered of yelw colors a gerlond And had a cuckow sitting on hir bond."
Knight's Tale, v. 1032.
Dryden also alludes to the same in his Fables, thus: -
"After thought and idle care, And doubts of motley hue, and dark despair; Suspicion and fantastical surmise;
And Jealousy, suffused with jaundice in her eyes,
Discolouring all she viewed."
Yet the sensible effects of yellow are gay,gaudy, glorious, full of lustre, enlivening, and irritating; and its impressions on the mind partake of these characters, and acknowledge also its discordances.
As purple has been the regal symbol of the west, so yellow, which is the natural symbolical colour of the sun, is in the east a regal colour, more especially so in China, where it is exclusively royal.
The name yellow is used metaphorically for several malign passions; but from want of euphony, or other cause, it is less employed than those of other colours by the poets, with whom the terms saffron, golden, orient, etc. supply its place; hence -
"Now when the rosy-finger d morning faire, Weried of aged Tithon's saffron bed. Had spred her purple robe through dewy aire."
Faerie Queen, Cant. ii. 7.
"The cynosure of jaundiced eyes."
"Soon as the white and red mixt finger'd dame Had gilt the mountain with her saffron flame."
The substitution of gold, etc. for yellow by the poets may have arisen not less from the great value and splendour of the metal, than from the paucity of fine yellows among those antients who celebrated the Tyrian purple or red, and the no less famed Armenian blue; - so in the beautiful illuminated MSS. of old, and in many antient paintings, which glowed with vermilion and ultramarine, the place of yellow was supplied by gilding,* and in most cases the artist trusts to the gilding of his frame for some portion of the effect of this colour in his picture: had there been blue and red metals equal in beauty to the yellow of gold, their brilliancy would probably have driven other coloured pigments from the field of early art; but the modesty of nature has wisely denied such meretricious beauty to the painter; metallic tones being as harsh and unsavoury to chaste sense in painting as they are in music.
In the next example, the poet gives force to his epithets and comparisons by a double contrast, equally true and beautiful; -
"So sweet a kiss the golden sun gives not To those fresh morning drops upon the rote;
Nor shines the silver moon one half so bright
Through the transparent bosom of the deep."
In the following passage he employs yellow judiciously and naturally in various of its relations, and invigorates them by purple in the midst, as in the preceding instance from Spenser's Faerie Queen: -
* This was also remarkable in the unique collection of antient oil paintings lately belonging to Charles Aders, Esq.
"Your straw-coloured beard, your orange-tawny beard, your purple- in-grain beard, or your French-crown-coloured, your perfect yellow."
In the following, Shakespere characterizes yellow metaphorically for jealousy: -
" I will possess him with yellowness, For the revolt of mien is dangerous."
In the next, as giving lustre and life: -
"Glittering in golden coats, like images, As full of spirits as the month of May. And gorgeous as the sun at midsummer."
Now he shades it: -
"Her hair is auburn, mine is perfect yellow; If that be all the difference in his love, I'll get me such a colour'd periwig."
"I have lived long enough: my way of life Is fall'n into the fear, the yellow leaf."
And here he contrasts it with black: -
"Or hide me nightly in a charnel-house, O'er-cover'd quite with dead men's rattling bones. With reeky shanks, and yellow chapless skulls."
Romeo and Juliet. Act iv. Sc. I.
By other poets the term yellow is almost universally substituted metonymously, as we have already instanced; yet Spenser sings: -
"Her yellowe locks, that shone so bright and long,
As sunny beams in fairest summer's day;
She fiercely lore, and with outrageous wrong
From her red cheeks the roses rent away."
Goldsmith, another of Nature's pupils, has celebrated "The yellow-blossom'd vale;" and Byron, in imitating Catullus, speaks of "The yellow harrest's countless seed,"
Yellow is a colour abundant throughout nature, and its class of pigments abounds in similar proportion. We have arranged them under the following heads, agreeably to our plan, according to their definiteness and brilliancy of colour; first, the opaque, and then the transparent, or finishing colours. It may be observed of yellow pigments, that they much resemble whites in their chemical relations in general, and that yellow being a primary, and, therefore, a simple colour, cannot be composed by any mixture of other colours.