Friday, May 13, 2011

Words of Wisdom: Sir Edward John Poynter

Sir Edward John Poynter  -  Chloe  -  28 X 36 in.

"It cannot be too strongly impressed on students of painting, that the use of such brilliant colours as orange vermilion, for instance, in flesh-painting, is not only dangerous, from the uncertainty attending the preparation of the pigment, but unnecessary, and destructive, moreover, of the purity and delicacy of the tints; it is worse than useless to employ a bright colour which has to be qualified by an admixture of other pigments to break its harshness, when a simple earth would be sufficient for the purpose. As a rule, purity is lost, rather than gained, by the use of colours more brilliant than necessary."

- from a letter written by Sir Edward John Poynter to William J. Muckley

William J. Muckley, A Handbook for Painters and Art Students, (Ballière, Tindall, and Cox, London, 1880).


Brady said...

That's interesting. My figure painting teacher said just the opposite. Maybe this falls into the category of "Whatever works for you"?

Dean said...

I've always thought the same thing--for the same reasons. When one has to torture cadmiums to behave like sienna does naturally--I ask why?

Albert. S said...

Poytner would have clashed with Hawthorne and Shanks, as they employ really high saturation for anything in the subject which personally can tend to gaudiness, but that is just me. Perhaps that is what poytner might of meant?? Poytner being a teacher around the time when draftsmanship and sensual use of color was strongly prevailed, it would have been like a different religion seeing something other.

Lokelani Forrest said...

Beautiful painting. I agree with what he has to say.

innisart said...

@Brady I think it is similar to "whatever works for you," but not exactly. In terms of Poynter's work, and what they were teaching at the Royal Academy, then I think Poynter was absolutely correct. But Poynter's goal was Classicism modified by Naturalism (I suppose). In other words, his ideas work if you goal is not to be a Colourist, but a representational painter.

I believe in the simplest route to achieving your color, and when strong pigments are used, you are often forced into complex mixtures to get a "natural" palette.

Neil said...

Poynters advice needs to be handled with care. One of his paintigns was hung at the AGNSW in place of J.W. Waterhouse's Diogenese during 2009. The comparison was very unfavourable to Poynter, whose model looked quite dead (by only a few minutes)by comparison with Waterhouses models.

I almost always use Vermillion to lift flesh colours but in tiny amounts.

Alexandra Tyng said...

"Whatever works for you" is what I would say, too. It all depends on how you want your paintings to look. How the colors appear in relation to each other can be more important than each individual color in a painting.

A tonalist can use complementary colors to make greys or neutrals, or simply use neutral and earth colors. The effect will be different, but still relatively neutral. Then there are painters who fall between the extremes of "colorist" and "tonalist." I'm probably one of those.

Sometimes I use a mixture of chromatic colors to get the right flesh tone, and at other times I use earth colors like burnt sienna with white. It all depends on the particular skin tones in the particular lighting conditions. I always try to paint the color I see, and I grab the paint that I think will work best. There are endless variations. People's skin varies in opacity as well as in color; often chromatic colors will work better for fair, transparent skin, and earth tones for opaque-looking skin. Some of the most widely-used "recipes" for skin tones are made by mixing a chromatic color with an earth color (i.e. yellow ochre and cad red light, or venetian red with cad yellow light).

In the shadows, I try to keep a sense of mystery and transparency in the shadows, and I find that chromatic colors work better than earth pigments. But other artist use earth pigments in shadow very successfully; again it all depends on what your "color sense" is, and what you are trying to achieve in your work.

innisart said...

@Neil I think Poynter's advice is sound, but his personal execution based upon this thinking was often lacking. His color sense is a too muted for me. Of course any two artists given the same colors would paint differently-colored scenes. I wouldn't be surprised if Poynter and Leighton used the same palette, yet Leighton's paintings are brighter.

Waterhouse loved color far more than did Poynter. There are often random strokes of chromatic color in his paintings that, because of value, don't stand out until you're a foot in front of the canvas. I don't think Poynter's work can compare to most of Waterhouse's (the exception being Poynter's "The Cave of the Storm Nymphs" ).

sara star said...

I have found this to be very true. Burnt Sienna and Indian red are plenty powerful enough reds for flesh tones, I don't seem to need any cadmium or vermilion to make my Venus blush. Those bright colors are better saved for drapery.