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.
"Down sunk the sun, the closing hour of day Came onward, mantled o'er with dusky gray."
Of the tribe of semi-neutral colours, Gray is the third and last, being nearest in relation of colour to black. In its common acceptation, and that in which we here use it, gray denotes a class of cool cinereous colours, faint of hue; whence we have blue grays, olive grays, green grays, purple grays, and grays of all hues, in which blue predominates; but no yellow or red grays, the predominance of such hues carrying the compounds into the classes of brown and marrone, of which gray is the natural opposite. In this sense the semi-neutral gray is distinguished from the neutral grey, which springs in an infinite series from the mixture of the neutral black and white: - between grays and grey, however, there is no intermediate, since where colour ends in the one, neutrality commences in the other, and vice versa; - hence the natural alliance of the semi-neutral gray with black or shade; an alliance which is strengthened by the latent predominance of blue in the synthesis of black, so that in the tints resulting from the mixture of black and white, so much of that hue is developed as to give apparent colour to the tints. This affords the reason why the tints of black and dark pigments are colder than their originals, so much so as in some instances to answer the purposes of positive colours; and it accounts in some measure for the natural bluetiess of the sky, though this is partly dependent, by contrast, upon the warm colour of sunshine to which it is opposed; for, if by any accident the light of nature should be rendered red, the colour of the sky would not appear purple in consequence, but green; or if the sun shone green, the sky would not be green, but red inclined to purple; and so on of all colours, not according to the laws of composition in colours, but of contrast, since, if it were otherwise, the golden rays of the sun would render a blue sky green.
The grays are the natural cold correlatives, or contrasts, of the warm semi-neutral browns; and they are degradations of blue and its allies; - hence blue added to brown throws it into or toward the class of grays, and hence grays arc equally abundant in nature and necessary in art; for the grays comprehend in nature and painting a widely diffused and beautiful play of retiring colours in skies, distances, carnations, and the sha-dowings and reflections of pure light, etc. Gray is, indeed, the colour of space, and hence has the property of diffusing breadth in a picture, while it furnishes at the same time good connecting tints, or media, for harmonizing the general colouring: the grays are, therefore, among the most essential hues of the art, which yet must not be suffered injudiciously to predominate in cases where the subject or sentiment does not require it, so as to cast over the work the gloom or leaden dulness reprobated by Sir Joshua Reynolds;* although in solemn subjects they are wonderfully effective and proper ruling colours. Nature supplies these hues from the sky abundantly and effectively throughout landscape, and Rubens has employed them as generally to correct and give value to his colouring, with fine natural perception in this branch of his art; of which his paintings in the National Gallery, and in that of the Luxembourg, are sufficient examples.
According to the foregoing relations, grays favour the effects and force of warm colours, which in their turn also give value to grays. It is hence that the tender gray distances of a landscape are assisted, enlivened, and kept in place by warm and forcible colouring in the foreground, gradually connected through intermediate objects and middle distances by demitints declining into gray; a union which secures full value to the colours and objects, and by reconciling opposites gives repose to the eye.
* Reynolds's Works by Farriugton, Nolo, Vol. III. p. 162.
It is not, however, the merely disposing colours on canvass agreeably and harmoniously, with regularity and art, that deserves to be called painting, for this is relative in every respect to drawing and design: nay, a misapplication of colouring however true - such as looking at nature through a prism and painting its effects - is but to substitute a fool's paradise for natural vision, and to excite wonder and false admiration, in place of the true effect and sentiment of nature.
As blue is the archeus of all the colours which enter into the composition of grays, the latter partake of the relations and affections of blue, both with the painter and the poet. Grave sounds, like gray colours, are deep and dull; and there is a similarity of these terms in sound, signification, and sentiment, if even they are not of the same etymology: be this as it may, gray is almost as common with the poet, and in its colloquial use, as it is in nature and painting. The grays, like the other semi-neutrals, arc sober, modest colours, contributing to the expression of gloom, sadness, frigidity, and fear, - the grave, the obscure, the spectral, - age, decrepitude, and death; bordering in these respects upon the powers of black, but aiding the livelier and more cheering expressions of other colours by diversity, connexion, and contrast, and partaking of the more tender and delicate influence belonging to white, as they approach it in their lighter tints. As indicative of age, or constancy, the poets have represented fidelity, or Fides, the goddess of honesty, as gray.
Upon the whole, it may be inferred as a general rule, that half of a picture ought to be of a neutral hue, to insure the harmony of the colouring; or at least that a balance of colour and neutrality is quite as essential to the best effect of a picture as a like balance of light and shade is, so universal is the reference of gray; and hence the frequent allusions to this colour by the poets, thus: -
In relation to Light, etc.: -
"Put your torches out - the gentle day. Before the wheels of Plicebus, round about Happies the drowsy east with spots of gray"
SHAKSPERE. " For all was blank, and bleak, and gray, - It was not night - it teas not day,"
Byron: Pris. of Chitlon.
"The grey-eyed morn smiles on the frowning night. Checkering the eastern clouds with streaks of light; And flecked darkness like a drunkard reels From forth day's pathway."
Shakspere: Horn, and Juliet, Act ii. Sc. 3.
"Cacelia, that is gray-eyed."
"Black spirits and white, Blue spirits and grey, Mingle, mingle, mingle."
Shakspere: Macbeth. Act iv. Sc. 1.
In relation to Colours, etc.: -
"Oh I how unseemly shews in blooming youth Such grey severity I"
"Cray-headed men and grave with warriors mixt."
Idem: Par. Lost,
"Oft have I seen a timely-parted ghost
Of ashy semblance, meagre, pale, and bloodless."
"Though grey Do something mingle with our younger brown."
Idem: Ant. and Cleop., Act iv. Sc. 8.
" The roses in thy lips and cheeks shall fade To paly asltes; thy eye's windows fall."
Idem: Rom, and Juliet, Act iv. Sc. 1.
"Cray-beard, thy love doth freeze."
In relation to Shade, etc.: -
"Ye mists and exhalations, that now rise From hill or steaming lake, dusky or gray. Till the sun paint your fleecy shirts with gold, In honour of the world's Great Author, rise."
Milton: Paradise Lost.
"Now came still evening on, and twilight gray, Had, in her sober livery, all things clad."
"I would not leave old Scotland's mountains gray,
Her hills, her cots, her halls, her groves of pine. Dark though they be; yon glen, yon broomy brae,
Yon wild fox cleugh, yon eagle cliff's outline;
An hour like this - this white right hand of thine, And of thy dark eye such a gracious glance,
As I got now, for all beyond the line, And all the glory gain'd by sword or lance, In gallant England, Spain, or olive vales of France."
There are several pigments of this class, which follow; and others might easily be found if required. They are also as easily compounded as they are useful and essential in painting: -
Mixed Grays are formed not only by the compounding of black and white, which yields neutral greys, and of black and blue, black and purple, black and olive, etc, which yield the semi-neutral grays of clouds, etc, but these may be well imitated by the mixture of russet rubiate, or madder browns, with blues, which form transparent compounds, which are much employed: grays are, however, as above remarked, so easily produced, that the artist will in this respect vary and suit his practice to his purpose.
Several mixed pigments of the class of gray colours are sold under the name of Payne's gray, neutral tint, etc. They were first employed by Cousins, and are, as we have been informed, now variously composed of sepia and indigo or other blues, with madder or other lakes, and are designed for water-colour painting only, in which they are found extremely useful. And here it may be proper to mention those other pigments, sold under the name of tints, which belong to no particular denomination of pigments; but being compounds, the result of the experience of accredited masters in their peculiar modes of practice serves to facilitate the progress of their amateur pupils, while they are eligible in a like view to other artists. Such are Harding's and Macphenon's tints, usually sold ready prepared in cakes and boxes for miniature and water painting. These are composed of pigments which associate cordially; nevertheless, the artist will In general prefer a dependence upon his own skill for the production of his tints in painting.
Ultramarine Ashes, - Mineral Gray- are the recrement of Lapis lazuli, from which ultramarine has been extracted, varying in colour from dull gray to blue. Although not equal in beauty, and inferior in strength of colour, to ultramarine, they are extremely useful pigments, affording grays much more pure and tender than such as are composed of black and white, or other blues, and better suited to the pearly tints of flesh, foliage, the grays of skies, the shadows of draperies, etc. in which the old masters were wont to employ them. Ultramarine broken with black and white, etc, produces the same effects, and is thus sometimes carried throughout the colouring of a picture.
The brighter sorts of ultramarine ashes are more properly pale ultramarines, and of the class of blue; the inferior are called mineral grays.
Phosphate Of Iron is a native ochre, which classes in colour with the deeper hues of ultramarine ashes, and is eligible for all their uses. It has already been described under its appellation of blue ochre.
Slate clays and several native earths class with grays; but the colours of some of the latter, which we have tried, are not durable, being subject to become brown by the oxidation of the iron they contain.
See Black Lead, which forms grey tints of greater permanence and purity than the blacks in, general use, and it is now employed for this purpose with approved satisfaction by experienced artists.