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.
"Kate, like the hazel-twig, Is straight and slender; and as brown in hue As hazel-nuts, and sweeter than their kernels."
Shakspere: Taming of the Shrew.
As colour, according to the regular scale descending from white, properly ceases with the class of olive, the neutral black would here naturally terminate the series; but as, in a practical view, every coloured pigment, of every class or tribe, combines with black as it exists in pigments, - not as deepened, or lowered in tone only, but also as defiled in colour, or changed in class, - a new series or scale of coloured compounds arises, having black for their basis, which, though they differ not theoretically from the preceding order inverted, are, nevertheless, practically imperfect or impure; in which view, and as compounds of black, we have distinguished them by the term semi-neutral * and divided them into three classes, Brown, Marrone and Gray, corresponding to the natural relations preceding, and comporting with our common appellations and conceptions of colours, and the greater number of our natural and artificial pigments, between the extremes of the hitherto indefinite terms brown and gray. Inferior as the semi-neutrals are in point of colour, they comprehend, nevertheless, a great proportion of our most permanent pigments; and are, with respect to black, what tints are with respect to white: i. e. they are, so to call them, black tints, or shades.
* See Note D.
The first of the semi-neutrals, and the subject of the present chapter, is brown, which, in its widest acceptation, has been used to comprehend vulgarly every denomination of dark broken colour, and, in a more limited sense, is the rather indefinite appellation of a very extensive class of colours of warm or tawny hues. Accordingly we have browns of every denomination of colours except blue; thus we have yellow-brown, red-brown, orange-brown, purple-brown, etc.: but it is remarkable that we have, in this sense, no blue-brown, or any other coloured-brown, in any but a forced sense, in which blue predominates; such predominance of a cold colour immediately carrying the compound into the class of gray, ashen, or slate-colour. Hence brown comprehends the hues called feuillemort, mort d'ore, dun, hazel, auburn, etc.; several of which we have already enumerated as allied to the tertiary colours.
The term brown, therefore, properly denotes a warm broken colour, of which yellow is a principal constituent: hence brown is in some measure to shade what yellow is to light, and warm or ruddy browns follow yellows naturally as shading or deepening colours. It is hence also that equal quantities of either the three primaries, the three secondaries, or the three tertiaries, produce variously a brown mixture, and not the neutral black, etc.; because no colour is essentially single, and warmth belongs to two of the primaries, but coldness to blue alone. Browns contribute to coolness and clearness by contrast when opposed to pure colours, and Rubens more especially appears to have employed them upon this principle; the same may be remarked of Titian, Correggio, Paulo Veronese, and all the best colourists. These colours are a sort of intermedia between positive colours and neutrality, equally contrasting colour and shade. Hence their vast importance in painting, and the necessity of preserving them distinct from other colours, to which they give foulness in mixture; and hence also their use in back-grounds and in relieving of coloured objects.
The tendency in the compounds of colours to run into brownness and warmth is one of the general natural properties of colours, which occasions them to deteriorate or dirt each other in mixture: hence brown is synonymous with foul or defiled, in a sense opposed to fair and pure; and it is hence also that brown, which is the nearest of the semi-neutrals in relation to light, is to be avoided in mixture with light colours. It is nevertheless an example of the wisdom of the Author of nature that brown is rendered, like green, a prevailing hue, and in particular an earth colour, as a contrast which is harmonized by the blueness and coldness of the sky, - both these colours prevailing together, too, in hot climates.
This tendency will account also for the use of brown in harmonizing and toneing, and for the great number of natural and artificial pigments and colours we possess under this denomination: in fact, the failure to produce other colours chemically or by mixture is commonly productive of a brown, which, on the other hand, is the colour of dirt, and defiles all other colours. It was this fertility and abundance of brown that occasioned our great landscape-colourist Wilson, when an acquaintance went exultingly to inform him he had discovered a new brown, to check him, in his characteristic way, with - "I'm sorry for it: we have gotten too many of them already." Yet are fine transparent browns obviously very valuable colours. If red or blue be added to brown predominantly, it falls into the other semi-neutral classes, marrone or gray.
The wide acceptation of the term brown has occasioned much confusion in the naming of colours, since broken colours in which red, etc, predominate have been improperly called brown; and a tendency to red or hotness in browns obtains lor them the reproachful appellation of foxiness. This term, brown, should therefore be confined to the class of semi-neutral colours, compounded of, or of the hues of, either the primary yellow, the secondary orange, or the tertiary citrine, with a black pigment; the general contrast or harmonizing colour of which will consequently be more or less purple or blue; and with reference to black and white, or light and shade, it is of the semi-neutrals the nearest in accordance with white and light.
Brown is a sober and sedate colour, grave and solemn, but not dismal, and contributes to the expression of strength, stability, and solidity, - vigour, warmth, and rusticity, - and in minor degree to the serious, the sombre, and the sad; not with the painter only, but also with the rhetorician and poet, with whom, nevertheless, many of the broken colours are yet "airy nothings" and "without a name." The antients, according to Jambli-chus, regarded this colour and black as indicative of sluggishness, and in nature they denote decay and death.
Examples of the applications of brown to the purposes of sentiment abound with the poets. Milton employs this colour in the beginning of his monody of Lycidas thus plaintively: -
"Yet once more, O ye laurels, and once more, Ye myrtles brown, with try never sere, I come to pluck your berries harsh and crude; And, with forced lingers rude, Shatter your leaves before the mellowing year: Tor Lycidos is dead."
And in the following, from an unknown hand, brown is thus beautifully associated with true feelings of the force of colouring: -
"Go, mark in meditative mood where Autumn
Steals o'er his woods with mellowing touch, like Time
Ripening the tints of some delicious Claude.
Mark where each elm hangs forth its golden bough,
Like that which Virgil's hero sought;" each oak
Fades picturesquely brown; each sycamore
Mantled with ruddy richness. *Tis a scene
That o'er us sheds the mild and musing calm
Ofwisdom; breathes, as noblest bards have own'd
Poetic inspiration; bids us taste
The lonely sweetness of a walk with her
By Milton wooed, ' divinest Melancholy.'
And wouldst thou go, unfeeling, and prefer
The gorgeous blaze of summer to the charm -
The dying charm at Autumn's farewell smile?"
It is apparent, that in many instances the colours in which the poet clothes his figures are chosen purely for their expression, as in the following: -
* ,Ĉu vi
" Satyrs and sylvan boys were seen Peeping from forth their alleys green; Brown Exercise rejoiced to hear, And Sport leap'd up and seized his beechen spear."
"Be mine the hut
That from the mountain's side
Views wilds, and swelling floods, And hamlets brown, and dim-discover d spires, And hears their simple bell; and marks o'er all
Thy dewy fingers draw
The dusky veil."
Idem: Ode to Evening.
"But see the fading many-colour'd woods,
Shade deepening over shade, the country round
Embrown, a crowded umbrage dark and dun
Of every hue"
Byron justly and beautifully contrasts this hue thus: -
"How throbs the pulse when first we view The eye that rolls in glossy blue, Or sparkles black; or mildly throws A beam from under hazel brows"
And Goldsmith thus: -
"Low lies that house where nut-brown draughts inspired, Where grey-beard Mirth and smiling Toil retired."
Again, Mrs. Barbauld: -
"But thou, O nymph! retired and coy, In what brown hamlet dost thou joy To tell thy tender tale?
The lowliest children of the ground, Moss-rose and violet, blossom round, And lily of the vale."
Ode to Content.
And again: -
" O'er hit fair brow, the fairer for their shade. Locks of the warmest brown luxuriant play'd. Sweet, serious, tender, those Mm eyes impart A thousand dear sensations to the heart."
Sir Walter Scott thus contrasts brown with fair: -
"Wreathed in its dark-brown rings her hair, Half hid, Matilda's forehead fair; Half hid, and half reveal'd to view, Her full dark eyes of hazel hue"
Shakspere calls brown dissembling, perhaps in the sense of shadowing, as the Italians call burnt umber fasalo: -
"His very hair is of the dissembling colour. Something browner than Judas's."
As you Like it.
And in the following it is accorded with shade, black, etc.: -
"To arched walks of twilight proves. And shadows brown, that Sylvan loves, Of pine or monumental oak."
Milton: Il Pensemso.
"Not that our heads are, Some brown, some black, some uuburn, and some bald.
But that our wits are so diversity coloured."
"The rustic youth, brown with meridian toil, Healthful and strotg: full as the summer rose . Blown by prevailing suns, the ruddy maid - -."
The list of brown pigments is very long, and that of mixed browns literally endless, it being obvious that every warm colour mixed with black will afford a brown, and that equal portions of the primaries, secondaries, or tertiaries, will do the same; hence there can be no difficulty of producing them by mixture when required, which is seldom, as there are many browns which are good and permanent pigments among the following: -