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.
As the eye of the artist is necessarily influenced in painting by light and surrounding colours, and as the same circumstances powerfully affect his finished works, the colour of the walls of the study and gallery of the artist, and their accordance, are no unimportant aid or hinderance to good colouring; they have accordingly excited his attention. The light of the room is usually taken from a fixed point toward the north to avoid the direct rays of the sun, but being subject to al the vicissitudes of the day, the sky, and the seasons, it might be of advantage in many cases if the studio and gallery were illuminated by a revolving window, enabling the artist to vary and choose his light from any part of the compass, so as to compensate these vicissitudes; although in such case it might be sometimes necessary that he wrought (for unity or light, shade, and effect upon the subject or object he painted), upon a stage which revolved concentrically with his light.
The colouring of the studio and gallery involves other eon-hiderations, and the late academical! Tresham, and his colleagues In the office of arranging the Townley collection of statues at the British Museum, found much difficulty in colouring the walls of the galleries in accordance with the best appearance of sculptures become dingy by age, owing to the well-known property of a plane surface, or mass of any particular colour, to obtrude or come forward upon the eye to the detriment of the relief of the statues, and the power of some hues to augment by contrast the foulness of their colour; both of which difficulties they ultimately overcame by sprinkling, or marbling, the walls with a second or third colour; upon which the walls retired from the eye, and the statues relieved, without any disadvantage from contrast, notwithstanding their having rather injudiciously adopted a warm advancing colour, better suited to a picture-gallery.
The principle which succeeded with the academicians in placing these statues has been carried into the painting-room and picture-gallery, perhaps irrelevantly and with ill effect, for pictures are in this respect opposed to statues, in which colour is of remote consideration, and relief principal. We look at a picture in its frame as if the representation had distance, and were seen through a window or door; the advancement or coming forward of the wall on which it hangs, so long as it does not attract or distract the eye, is therefore a bentit rather than a disadvantage: consequently a plain colour, or totally colourless ground, is preferable for hanging pictures upon; hence also frames of the boldest relief and most advancing colour exhibit pictures to the best advantage, by forming as it were a proscenium to the design, for pictures in this respect are scenes and dramas.
As to colour, those which are cold and dark are the ami retiring; the warm and light advance most; and each colour has its antagonist, and, consequently, may affect ft picture well or ill, according to its tone or general hue: hence there can be no universally good colour for the walls of a picture-gallery or painting-room; we may, therefore, conclude that a mesa, or middle colour, not too obtrusive on the eye, is generatttf |pre-ferahle; such is a crimson hue, compounded of a retiring and advancing colour, and neither hot nor cold, - which contrattt with the general green of nature and pictures. These are tie middle colours of the chromatic system, - the moat generally agreeable antagonists, and in almost all cases inoffensive to the eye.
We conclude, therefore, that an unobtrusive crimson colour is best adapted to the walls of an exhibition-room, and far superior to any other in general effect; it might also correct the too frequently subterraneous appearance of a painting-room. and, if the mass of colour in either case should prove too advancing upon the eye, its power may be subdued by breaking it with a faint pattern; or, in galleries of pictures hung in splendid gilt frames, a design in gold running over the ground of the walls would serve at once to connect the frames, contrast the pictures, and contribute splendour and unity of effect to the whole.
A crimson will in general afford the most effective contract to the works of the landscape-painter and subjects exhibiting distance, but is less essential to the portrait and historic paint era, whose objects are more immediate and advancing;; to such. therefore, a more retiring colour - a modest green, may in some cases prove more eligible; but the practice sometimes resorted to by the artist, of producing a favourable contrast for his pictures by a colour in itself disgusting upon his walls, is to be deprecated, as exciting an ill sentiment on entering the room by no means advantageous to himself or his works. In all casess, therefore, he should select a pleasing tint of colour; and, we may remark, that those of crimson ami green are universally so, and that they arc prime media of nature and art in effecting chromatic harmony: since, however, a universal rule cannot be given, the artist will have to exercise his judgment, according to the case, in selecting such hue as is best suited to the general character of his colouring, according to the principle of chromatic equivalence.
Upon this principle a bright fawn colour has been found by far the most favourable for contrasting the grey hue of the print in the hanging and mounting of engravings, etc, and the only ground upon which they are viewed to advantage.
A cool gray, or neutral, is in general best suited to the passages and approaches of the gallery as a preparation of the eye, but is too retiring for the exhibition of pictures in general, as may be remarked in the new rooms of the National Gallery; although it is better suited to the sculpture which commonly ushers the visitor in the gallery or pain ting-room.
It might become a useful accessary to the study of an artist if sliding rods crossed the: room diagonally, upon which a number of variously coloured and figured curtains moved beyond his subject or sitter, with which he might suit colours, or form combinations, draperies, etc. as back-grounds, or tune his eye upon feeling and principle to the colouring of his design. The utility and importance of appropriate back -grounds in portraiture, and even as auxiliaries to the rigid academic model, have been rendered so apparent by the precepts and practice of Rubens and Reynold, and they are so efficient in imparting meaning, sentiment, and harmony, to the otherwise inane and monotonous appearance of single figures, that they need hardly be urged in favour of such accessaries to the painting-room. The principle has indeed been acted upon of late years by some of those academicians who have been elected to the honourable distinction of directing the living school of the Itoyal Academy, as visitors, and the practice must have proved eminently conducive to the progress of the student, to whom it supplied the means of fully comprehending the action, and the art of using the figure, while he traced with correctness its form; thus subjecting at once his hand, his eye, and his mind, to the same discipline. " The art of seeing nature, or, in other words, the art of using models," says Sir Joshua,* "is in reality the great object - the point to which all our studies are directed."
• Sir J. R's Works. Note. XLII.
Form, and the simple figure, are, however, principal in sculpture, and in the rigid school of the living figure; nor should any accompaniments be allowed to infringe needlessly upon the time allotted for study, nor to run to the extreme of the minor schools, and tableau vivante of the Continent.
* In his 12th "Discourse."