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.
"Where'er we gaze, - around, above, below, What rainbow tints, what magic charms are found Rock, river, forest, mountain, all abound, And bluest skies that harmonize the whole."
Byron: Childe Harold.
The third and last of the primary, or simple colours, is blue, which bears the same relation to shade that yellow does to light; hence it is the most retiring and diffusive of all colours, except purple and black: and all colours have the power of throwing it back in painting, in greater or less degree, in proportion to the intimacy of their relations to light; first white, then yellow, orange, red, etc.
Blue alone possesses entirely the quality technically called coldness in colouring, and it communicates this property variously to all other colours with which it happens to be compounded. It is most powerful in a strong light, and appears to become neutral and pale in a declining light, owing to its ruling affinity with black or shade, and its power of absorbing light: hence the eye of the artist is liable to be deceived when painting with blue in too low a light, or toward the close of day, to the endangering of the warmth and harmony of his picture. Blue enters into combination with yellow in the composition of all greens, and with red in all purples; it characterizes the tertiary olive, and is also the prime colour, or archeus of the neutral black, etc, and also of the semineutral slate colour, etc.: hence blue is changed in hue less than any other colour by mixture with black, as it is also by distance. It enters also subordinately into all other tertiary and broken colours, and, as nearest in the scale to black, it breaks and contrasts powerfully and agreeably with white, as in watchet or pale blues, the sky, etc. It is less active than the other primaries in reflecting light, and therefore is sooner lost as a local colour by assimilation with distance. It is an antient doctrine that the azure of the sky is a compound of light and darkness, and some have argued hence that blue is not a primary colour, but a compound of black and white; but pure or neutral black and white compound in infinite shades, all of which are neutral also, or grey. It is true that a mixture of black and white is of a cool hue, because black is not a primary colour but a compound of the three primary colours in which blue predominates, and this predominance is rendered more sensible when black is diluted with white. As to the colour of the sky, in which light and shade are compounded, it is neutral also, and never blue except by contrast: thus, the more the light of the sun partakes of the golden or orange hue, and the more parched and burnt the earth is, the bluer appears the sky, as in Italy, and all hot countries. In England, where the sun is cooler, and a perpetual verdure reigns, infusing blue latently into the landscape, the sky is warmer and nearer to neutrality, and partakes of a diversity of greys, beautifully melodizing with blue as their key, and harmonizing with the light and the landscape. Thus the colour of the sky is always a contrast to the direct and reflected light of the scene: if, therefore, this light were of a rose colour, the neutral of the sky would be converted into green; or if the light were purple, the sky would become yellow, and such would it be in all other cases, according to the laws of chromatic equivalence and contrast, as often appears in the openings of coloured clouds at the rising and setting of the sun.
Blue is discordant in juxtaposition with green, and in a less degree so with purple, both which are cool colours, and therefore blue requires its contrast, orange, in equal proportion, either of surface or intensity, to compensate or resolve its dissonances and correct its coldness. Botanists remark that blue flowers are much more rare than those of the other primary colours and their compounds, and hence advise the florist to cultivate blue flowers more sedulously: but in this they are opposed to Nature, who has bestowed this colour principally upon noxious plants, and been more sparing of it in decorating the green hues of foliage; for green and blue alone in juxtaposition are discordant. Artists, too, have sometimes acted upon this principle of the botanist in introducing blue flowers into pictures, preferring therein rareness and novelty to truth and harmony: the artist has, however, more command of his materials than the botanist in resolving a discord; - Nature nevertheless, left to herself, is not long in harmonizing the dissonances men put upon her. Florists may further remark, that blue flowers are readily changed by cultivation into red and white, but never into yellow; that yellow flowers are as readily converted into red and white, but never into blue; and that red flowers are changeable into orange or purple, but never into blue or yellow: the reason of all which is apparent according to our principles: Nature also regulates the variegation of flowers by the same law of colouring.
Of all colours, except black, blue contrasts white most powerfully. In all harmonious combinations of colours, whether of mixture or neighbourhood, blue is the natural, prime, or predominating power: accordingly blue is in colouring what the note C is in music, - the natural key, archeus, or ruling tone, universally agreeable to the eye when in due relation to the composition, and may he more frequently repeated therein, pure or unbroken, than either of the other primaries; whence the employment of ultramarine by some masters throughout the colouring of a picture. These are, however, matters of taste, as in music, and subject to artificial rules founded on the laws of chromatic combination.
The moral expression, or effects of blue, or its influence on the feelings and passions, partake of its cold and shadowy relations in soothing and inclining to melancholy, and its allied sentiments: accordingly it is rather a sedate than a gay colour, even when in its utmost brilliancy. De Blancourt calls blue the symbol of generosity, and our tars use it metaphorically for truth and fidelity; and friendship in sea phrase is true-blue. In nature it is the colour of Heaven and of the eye, and thence emblematical of intelligence and divinity. It is accordingly, by a natural analogy, used in mythological representations to distinguish the mantle of Minerva, the blue-eyed goddess; and the veil of Juno, the goddess of air; while Diana, or the moon, is robed in blue and white, as the Isis of the Egyptians and her priests were in pure azure; and Poetry herself is personified in a vesture of celestial blue.
These analogies and effects of colours are by no means to be disregarded, since they are as various, simply and conjointly, as are colours and their tints; and it is by attention to them that colour conduces to sentiment and expression in painting. Even where the symbolical uses of colours are merely fanciful or conventional, they are not to be totally rejected, since, by association and common consent, they acquire arbitrary signification in the manner of words: it is their natural expression, however, which principally claims our attention. Indeed, a just knowledge of the relations of colours, and their effects upon the passions, feelings, and intellect, seems, we repeat, hardly less essential to the poet than to the painter: hence he often employs their ideas and terms with happy effect, and as frequently fails when wanting a proper comprehension, feeling, or taste of their powers: the latter case is, however, more fatal to the artist than to the poet. The following are instances in illustration of these effects, and of the coincidences of poetry and painting in the use of the colour blue.
As soothing, sedate, or sad, -
"Long, Pity, let the nations view Thy sky-worn robes of lend'rest bluc, And eyes of dewy light ' "
"Ah! hills beloved! where once a happy child,
Your beechen shades, your turf, your flow'rs among I wove your blue-bells into gurlands wild,
And woke your echoes with my artless song."
"And bend the harms of thwarting thunder blue"
As intellectual, etc.
"The blue-eyed progeny of Jove."
In accordance with white, etc.
"White and azure, laced With blue of heaven's own tinct."
Shakspere: Cymbeline, Act ii. Sc. 2.
"I saw their thousand years of snow On high - their wide, long lake below, And the blue Rhone in fullest flow."
Byron: Prisoner of Chilian.
"Morning light More orient in yon western cloud that draws O'er the blue firmament a radiant white"
The poets almost invariably use blue with its proper contrast; not indeed from theorizing on colours, but from fine feeling, or copying the images of nature; thus -
"But Fame, with golden wings, aloft doth fly Above the reach of ruinous decay, And with brave plumes doth beat the azure shy* Admired of base-born men from far away."
Spenser: Ruins of Time.
"As then no wind at all there blew, No swelling cloud accloid the air, The sky, like glass of watchet hue, Reflected Phoeby's golden haire;
The garnisht Irees no petulant stirr'd, No voice was heard of any bird."
Idem: Elegy on Sir Philip Sidney.
"Their eyes' blue languish, and their golden hair."
COLLINS. "There's gold, and here ray bluest veins to kiss."
Shaksp.: Antony and Cleopatra.
In the following, white is blended in the double contrast, Sec.
"Rise then, .fair blue-eyed maid! rise and discover Thy silver brow, and meet thy golden lover."
"Why does one climate and one soil endue The blushing poppy with an orange hue, Yet leave the lily pale, and tinge the violet blue?"
And in the succeeding examples it is associated with black or shade, melancholy and coldness, etc.
"O coward Conscience! how dost thou afflict me! The lights burn blue! - It is now dead midnight-Cold, fearful drops, stand on my trembling flesh."
Shaksp.; Richard the Third.
" Common mother, thou, Whose womb immeasurable, and intinite breast, Teems and feeds all; whose self-same mettle. Whereof thy proud child, arrogant man, is putf'd, Engenders the black toad and adder blue. The gilded newt and eyeless venom'd worm."
Idem; Timon, Act iv. Sc. S.
The paucity of blue pigments, in comparison with those of yellow and red, is amply compensated by their value and perfection; nor is the palette without novelty, nor deficient in pigments of this colour: of which the following comprise all that are in any respect of importance to the painter.