Science of light and colour

What science can now tell us

Figure 1 : “The raising of Lazarus”, by Marian Bohusz-Szyszko

Two earlier Posts draw attention to the historical importance of Seurat’s science-based ideas on the history of painting light and colour. In “Venetian Colourists” , it is argued that the artists known by this label and those who built upon their ideas were not “colourists” at all. Rather they were “lightists”, whose reputation as “colourists” was based on their mastery of whole-field lightness/darkness relations (“chiaroscuro“). Colour did not enter into the theory of painting light until Seurat introduced his idea of using optically-mixed arrays of separate dots of complementary pigment-colours to give a new kind of luminosity to his paintings. This step proved to be the precursor of a transformative jump from “lightists” to “colourist”. The next steps, which were were taken by such artists as Cézanne, Gauguin and Bonnard, were later to inspire the synthesis of my teacher Marian Bohusz-Szyszko. It is these that provide the main subject matter of “The Dogmas”, Chapter 1 of my book “Painting with Light and Colour”. There I explain how, as well as having an abiding influence on my own painting and my teaching, they were to:

  • Provide the questions that led to my scientific research into the perception of surface, space, light and harmony in paintings (see link below).
  • Pique my curiosity about its origins in ways that led to my interest in the history of the influence of  science on the ideas and work of the Impressionists and their Early Modernist successors.
  • Lead to the gamut of practical insights on the use of colour in painting that distinguish my books from others on the same subjects.

An introduction to key ideas

To help readers to navigate the considerable quantity of unfamiliar science-based ideas contained in my book “Painting with Light and Colour”, I decided to preface the its main content with an “Introduction to the science”. A .pdf version of this can be obtained by clicking below.


INTRODUCTION TO THE SCIENCE in “Painting with Light and Colour”


Earlier Posts from “Painting with Light and colour”

Other Posts on colour in painting


Full list  of Posts

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4 thoughts on “Science of light and colour”

  1. I don’t think it can be overestimated how much ‘the dogmas’ and your greatly extended research on them has on what can be achieved with colour in paintings. Whether a painter wishes to use this information or not, I feel it is something that should become common knowledge for any serious painter. Thank you for sharing your learnings here!

  2. merci de ces informations précieuses qui nourrissent nos connaissances dans l’histoire de la peinture.

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