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Ideas and Questions for Class Discussion and Accreditation Tasks


Key understanding

Certain colors (Red & Green, Blue & Yellow) are opposites. They appear to enhance each other when they are juxtaposed. It a light is colored, often we sense the opposite of a color in the shadow. Artists make use of both of these aspects of “complementary colors”

A few further definitions to help clarify terms used:

  • Hue: It is what we think of when envisaging color.
  • Primary colors: Red, Yellow, Blue. By the late 19c on, white and black were generally viewed as ‘non-colors’.
  • Complementary Colors: The two opposite primary colors, combined: e.g. The Complementary of Red is the combination of Yellow and Blue (i.e. Green) Yellow: Purple. Blue: Orange.By the second half of the 19c artists illustrated that shadows cast by any object would be tinged by their Complementary.You may see the term: Successive Contrast or After-images: If you stare intently at one Primary: (e.g. Red) on a white ground then look at the white area beside it, the Complemtary can be seen coloring it..
  • Harmonizing Complementaries: a term for colors used by Seurat to structure and give order to paintings as “Grande Jatte”, yellow-green, blue-violet, red-orange, blue-green.
  • Simultaneous Contrast: also known as “Color Inter-action” It is sometimes referred to as ‘Color Deception, the visual effect that certain adjacent colors exert on one another. Chevreul makes a clear distinction between ‘Successive contrast’ (see above) and the effect of spatially adjacent colors on one another. However: these effects were noted (albeit less scientifically! ) in the 15c by Alberti!
  • Warm colors = red, yellow, orange.
  • Cold = Green, Blue, Purple.

Finally, please remember the fact that the personal vision of an artist AND the individual subjectivity of the viewer, all contribute to the way we view a work of art!

Possible tasks and questions

  • What do artists mean by “simultaneous contrast”? Answer the question by referring to two works of art.
  • Look at the entry on Goethe and Chevreul. There have been exhibitions on Turner and Monet (Whistler also) which focussed on the similar subjects that appealed to them, such as the river Thames, or Venice. how would you describe the important differences between them? (Remember that Turner is a contemporary of Constable and poets like Wordsworth and Shelley!)
  • List 10 paintings where the artist has made use of complementary colors. You can include paintings from this exhibit, your course text, and other sources.
    • For five of the paintings above, describe how the artist makes use of complementary colors.
    • At some date, use of complementary colors seems to increase. Estimate the date.
    • What provoked the increased use?
  • Consider van Gogh’s Café Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles (1888). In this painting, why did van Gogh paint the shadows as violet and not black?
  • Adjacent colors interact. Adjacent complementary colors interact the most. That is why painters often lay down blue and yellow, side by side, the blue intensifying the yellow and vice versa. What is the physiological basis for this effect?
  • Read the entry on ‘Dufy’s Ambient Light’, considering also Matisse’s quoted remarks on colour: then look at the way that Dufy uses colour in The Wheatfield. (Blue and red horses!) Enlarge the painting. How does he lead our eye into the painting despite ignoring traditional laws of conveying aerial perspective? Look at the detail. Tbere is a good example of traditional aerial perspective in Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne, in the exhibit on Feast of the Gods, (look at the color of the ship’s sail’s) and further notes on the theory in the entry on Michelangelo’s use of colour.
    • Why is Dufy’s painting so satisfying as an example of ‘depth’ together with color pattern, reminding us of personal vision of the artist?
  • Read the entries on Seurat’s Grande Jatte and the Circus, also Signac and other theories which influence Neo-Impressionism, Seurat paints scenes of recreation and entertainment in these painings, but is there any real sense of enjoyment? Does he subvert the theories of Chevreul, Blanc, and Henry to criticize the Society of his day? If so: how?
  • Warhol painted the same black-and-white photograph of Marilyn Monroe in more than 50 different ways. What did he achieve thereby?
  • What did Matisse mean by saying: “When I put a green, it is not grass. When I put a blue, it is not the sky.”
  • Does color have a social or political purpose? Discuss the question in relation to the artists such as Cindy Sherman and Mona Hatoum.
  • We could also ask, in relation to the above question: apart from the artist’s use of color, do you think that each viewer’s upbringing and prejudices can influence the way that they view a work of art?