A colourist can be defined as artists who give priority to the creation of colour-based experiences in their paintings. The problem is that it can be used in significantly different ways. In two Posts I suggest two approaches to the unraveling the consequent ambiguities. This post contrasts the very different meanings of the word for three particular 20th century painters who have been described as colourists. The second Post will analyse its meaning when used in the phrase “Venetian Colourists”.
First approach: Three distinct types of colourist compared
I had two artist teachers who described themselves as colourists. One was interested in whole-field colour relations and the other in local colour-contrast effects. Both represented widely accepted meanings of the word.
Marian Bohusz-Szyszko, the Polish artist, teacher and mathematician, thought in terms of a multiplicity of colours (in principle many hundreds of thousands) and, more precisely, the effect of each and every colour on the picture surface on each and every other colour on it.
Michael Kidner, the English “Systems Painter”, thought in terms of a very limited number of colours (for example, two, three or four) and was principally interested either in local interactions between them or in their denotative function in his systems.
A well known American artist, had different ideas:
Ellsworth Kelly felt that both of the approaches to colour just described divert attention from the experience of colour as itself. He came to the conclusion that the only way of providing a pure experience of colour was to cover the entire surface of a painting with a single colour.
But these are only three examples and many other possibilities exist. For instance, I have met artists and viewers who seem to think that producing more or less any array of what they consider to be colourful colours qualifies them as colourists, no matter how garish and discordant the results appear to the eyes of others.
Ina previous Post, I compared three 20th Century artists who have been described as “colourists”, and who had very different ideas on the place of colour in painting. I also suggested that these were only three among many possibilities.
In this second Post, I comment on the meaning art historians’ give the word “colourist” when writing about two different groups of pioneer artists, one that flourished in the the Italian Renaissance and the other that overturned all sorts of preconceptions in the last part of the nineteenth century. The two groups are:
The Venetian Colourists (Giovanni Bellini, Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto, etc.) and other, later artists, who kept within the same tradition (Vermeer, Turner, etc.).
The Modernist Painter Colourists of the late nineteenth century (Cézanne, Gauguin, etc) and early twentieth century (Matisse, Bonnard, etc.).
This website provides a way of making a list of categories. The one I have created can be found at the top of the left-hand side margin, written in brown typeface. The categories (in upper case) and sub categories (in lower case) are arranged in alphabetical order. They categories are:‘Creativity’, ‘Drawing’, ‘Extracts from my books’, ‘Miscellaneous subjects’, ‘Painting’, ‘Painting School news’, ‘Science’ and ‘The Glossary’. Click on any of these to access all posts in that category.
Experience shows that many readers find it difficult to find specific Posts by this method. To make it easier, I have created an up to date ‘Contents List’, divided into five categories. Most of the material in the categories “drawing”, “painting” and “creativity” comes from my books on those subjects.
Contents list, listing the five categories and the Posts to be found within each of them:
This post on Horace Lecoq Boisbaudran was promised in to the New Year Letter to Studentsposted in the category “Painting School News“. In this I mentioned the similarities between the teaching methods of Horace Lecoq Boisbaudran and mine. In later posts I will be saying more about these. Meanwhile here is an extract from the “Glossary” to “Drawing on Both Sides of the Brain” that provides an introduction to his ideas and his influence. I have also added the entry for Alphonse Legros, described as his star pupil, who had great success in spreading his ideas to both his own generation and the following ones.