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.
The progress of the Art of Painting under the happy auspices of this favoured country, the refinement of taste which it has so universally diffused, and the predilection which prevails for its study and practice as a necessary branch of polite education, render acceptable whatever can facilitate the acquisition, or advance the ends, of this useful, elegant, and enlightening accomplishment. Nor are the concerns of this art uninteresting in a still higher view, since whatever refines the taste, enhances the powers and improves the disposition and morals of a people, - and whatever improves the morals, promotes the happiness of man, individual and social. Hence the high moral and political value of this art, to say nothing of its commercial and religious uses, upon which so much stress has been justly laid.
So impressed was the most elevated, free, and intellectual people the world has, upon the whole, hitherto produced, of the dignity and importance of this art, that the states of Greece ordained by a perpetual edict - not the nobility of the painter, for that nothing but his works could enact, - but that of the art itself, by decreeing instruction therein to all of liberal birth, and forbidding it to the slave. And, although we inhabit a country where, happily for its honour and for humanity, the touch of the soil enfranchises the slave, it is here tacitly a law that an acquaintance with this art is as necessary a qualification of the accomplished gentleman, as the utmost skill and excellence therein is to the like elevation of its professors.
Among the means essential to proficiency in Painting, none is more important than a just knowledge of Colours and Pigments - their qualities, powers, and effects; and there is none to which the press has hitherto afforded fewer helps. There have appeared, it is true, at different times, several works professing this object, and most of our encyclopaedias and books of painting treat cursorily on this branch of the art; but not only are these for the most part transcripts of the same obsolete originals, unsuited to the present state of the art, but they are inadequate, irrelevant, and often erroneous or untrue, as every one acquainted with the subject is aware. Hence have arisen several inducements of the author to attempt a guide to the knowledge of colours and pigments generally, and with reference to the Art of Painting in particular.
Most technical readers are fond of recipes and devices communicated as secrets of art, which are accordingly liberally supplied by the caterers to this taste, who compile them in general upon very vague authority; hence the author anticipates some dissatisfaction from those who are in search of royal roads to knowledge, or stratagems and secrets of art: but one principle is worth a hundred processes, - nor was it by prescription, but by the spirit of freedom and philosophy, that the Greeks carried the arts to sublime perfection. Hence it is not a detail of the processes for producing pigments that is here intended, which belongs to another extensive art not to be learnt from brief recipes, and upon which the author has a distinct work in hand;* and it is a pursuit accidental and subordinate to painting, in which the pictorial artist can never attain the skill of the chemical colourist without a proportionate sacrifice of his own art, if not, unhappily, of his fortune also, - as was the case with Parmegiano, and has been with others in our own day, who " Their time in curious search of colours lose, Which, when they find, they want the skill to use!" Shee.
* Which will complete his original intention, expressed in his "Chromatics," of treating on the relations, the nature, and the preparation of colours, etc.
However imperative such sacrifice might have been to the earlier painters, there is no want in the present day of furniture for the palette, - since pigments, and fine ones too, so abound, that nearly as much experience is requisite to a judicious selection of them as was formerly required for their acquisition or production; to which, also, there is little temptation, since the expense of the palette, which was immense to the antient masters, is comparatively trifling to our contemporaries. The principal object of the present Treatise is, therefore, by pointing out the true character and powers of colours, pigments, and vehicles, to enable the student to choose and employ judiciously those which are best adapted to his purpose, and thereby to prevent the too-frequent disappointment of his hopes and endeavours by a failure at the very foundation of his work. Such failures arc often attributed to bad materials; but whatever practices may have formerly prevailed for imposing false and adulterate articles upon the artist, either through ignorance or fraud, it is due to the respectable colourmen of the present day to bear testimony to the laudable anxiety and emulation with which they purvey, regardless of necessary expense, the choicest and most perfect materials for the painter's use; so that the odium of employing bad articles attaches to the artist, if he resort to vicious sources or employ his means improperly. As, however, perfection in all art is a vanishing point, there will be always something to desire in colours, vehicles, and in all the materials of painting; and, since the necessity for, and the practice of, the artist's preparing his own materials have ceased, it is the more essential that he should be enabled by precept to select, appreciate, and understand the pigments and vehicles he employs.
As colours or pigments * refer to the various modes in which painting is practised, and as these modes differ most essentially in the mechanical application of colours, in their chemical combinations, and in the purposes to which they are applied, - the chemical and mechanical properties of pigments have been indicated herein, and the appropriate application of each pointed out, so far as to enable the student in each mode to make his own selection; and, with a view to the same end, Lists or Tables of Reference are subjoined, in which pigments are classed according to their uses, properties, and propensities.
* The terra colour being used synonymously for pigment, is the cause of much ambiguity, particularly when speaking of colours as sensible or in the abstract; it would be well, therefore, if the term pigment were alone used to denote the material colours of the palette.