"As a student, I was attracted to Renoir's “Fruits of
the Midi” at the Art Institute of Chicago because the
colors in this painting seemed to be so clean, bright
and natural. The "liveliness" of these colors, in
comparison with traditional still life paintings,
excited me and made me want to know more about
how we see colors."
"Called by critics a 'color theorist,' 'communications expert,' and 'The Wizard of Op'" The
Park Forest Star, May 11, 1969 Hal became the first artist to successfully paint with the
concept of color as light energy. His hard-edge geometric artwork is aesthetically
appealing and demonstrates and corrects many color principles. Hal hoped to provide a
road-map from which future artists can master the visual language.
History of Color
By the middle of the nineteenth century scientists
had discovered how the light energy from different
colors can be added together to make brighter
colors. This is known as the additive color system.
The physicists of the nineteenth century discovered
that there are two distinctly different kinds of color
mixture, additive and subtractive, depending on
whether the colors are mixed as substances or as
light. They knew that the impression of white light
can be produced if light from the right colors are
mixed additively. This cannot happen in pigment or
dye mixtures which are subtractive in nature. In a
subtractive mixture of pigments and dyes any two
or more colors in a liquid vehicle produce a darker
duller color when mixed together.
By the end of the nineteenth century Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), Claude Monet (1840-1926), and other Impressionists
influenced by the works of Turner, Constable, and Delacroix and the newest scientific color discoveries applied a loose
broken color technique to their paintings in an attempt to portray the impression of luminous atmosphere.
Georges Seurat (1859-1891), tried to make art into a science by applying the latest scientific theories about light and
color to his work. He additively combined the subtractive color components of his intended color effect such as blue
and red to make purple, blue and yellow to make green, red and white to make pink, etc. by placing small areas of
these colors next to each other. In the border of "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande Jatte" he shows us
how he placed his colors. Additively orange and blue make pink. Thus he additively combined the colors of the
subtractive palette. That is why the overall colors of his paintings are not bright or vibrant like those of the additive
palette. He did not use true additive palette color combinations to get radiant colors. Mixtures of red and white to make
pink belong to the subtractive system of color mixing. Additively near values of orange and blue make a radiant,
glowing, luminous pink.
Despite the attempt at additive color placement, due to the principle of exponential contrast reassignment the colors in
this painting function more as value pattern rather than as the brilliant colors made by using the additive palette and
true additive system colors. Seurat's method of painting is called pointillism. a technique of painting in which small,
distinct dots of pure color are applied in patterns to form an image. Georges Seurat and Paul Signac developed the
technique in 1886, branching from impressionism. The term "pointillism" was first coined by art critics in the late 1880s
to ridicule the works of these artists, and is now used without its earlier mocking connotation. The technique is also
known as divisionism. The movement Seurat begun with this technique is known as Neo-impressionism.
If Seurat had combined his system with true additive colors in the same painting it would have been much brighter.
Because of the limitations of the true additive palette system, a design like the Grande Jatte can't be all additive palette
painting alone. Such designs work best when the additive method and traditional subtractive colors are contrasted in
the same design. If Seurat had combined true additive colors with the additive combinations of the subtractive colors
that he did use, the painting would have been far richer and much more spectacular. Contrast reassignment would
have made the colors in the overall painting much, much more potent and its pattern more striking. The radiant color
effects would have been far more beautiful. In brief, had he combined the two systems in the same painting he would
have come closer to what he was trying to achieve.
Trying to understand the many ways we may see the color of objects Monet chose outdoor subjects and made
many paintings of each subject in the same position in many different light conditions, at different times of day,
and in different seasons. Best known of these paintings are the series of the smoke-filled "Gar Saint Lazare"
railway station in Paris, his "haystack" series and his "Rouen Cathedral" series.
The Impressionists and Post-Impressionists attempted to apply the new scientific discovery of the additive system
of mixing color to their paintings. However, they confused additive combinations of the components of subtractive
color mixtures with true additive color system combinations.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, Picasso, (Pablo Ruizy - 1881-1973),
who started by emulating the Impressionists soon with Georges Braque,
(1882-1963), took artistic innovation in a different direction by breaking with
representational art and creating Cubism. considered the most influential art
movement of the 20th century, affecting music, art and literature.
They sought to expand structure and design innovations along with color usage
concepts (decorative rather than representational) but no longer sought to
improve the understanding of how we see and perceive color and apply it to
Georges Braque, 1910, Violin
and Candlestick, oil on canvas
Meanwhile, in France the Fauves led by Henri Matisse (1869-1954), and in Germany Franz Mark (1880-1916), and
others freed color from strictly representational usage. Matisse used various color harmonies to elicit feelings.
He did not pursue how we see color. Mark used bright unrealistic color combinations to express images of
idealized nature. His colors are much more lively and joyous than Matisse. These artists advanced the freedom
to use color expressively.
Woman with a Hat,
1905. San Francisco
Museum of Modern Art
Seymour Hal Rogoff