Colour theories of Chevreul and a daring visit to a London gallery…


(all photographs of the paintings are my own)

I did not know that you could just casually visit the type of galleries that have expensive art works for sale, but aided and abetted by a very confident couple, (who are in the market to actually bid for these things) I did just that on my trip to London.  There was a whole room of Marc Chagall’s work for sale in the gallery ‘Stern Pissarro’ and we were allowed down to view them.  Whilst I was not personally ‘taken’ by his work, it did occur to me that he was using complementary colours to makes the colours stand out in his work.


This one (above), ‘David a la harpe’, goache on paper, has just a small spot of yellow (it appears as white in my flash unfortunately. But I puzzled over this until I worked out that it made the turquoise  and blues look more vivid, just that small spot. So, whilst achieving a painting in blues, I think he has managed to make them look more vivid with this small spot. This is something that I could  look at using in my own work  should I want something to be mainly all one or two colours.


‘Bouquets sur fonds bleus’, oil on canvas board. Chegall obviously likes his blues. I loved this one, mainly, I think, because of the colours. Again, more obviously this time, he has used the yellows and orange touches of the flowers to complement the blue foreground and turquoise sky. I note the texture in the paint, and the redness in the houses. There is a happy balance here I feel. It is all rather surreal, with the scene being conducted from the sky , although the woman looks happy to be fondled….

Looking more at the theories of Cheverul, I found a lot of information on this link below:

Chevreul was a chemist who was hired by a French tapestry company to investigate why colours were fading on their tapestry. Chevreul found that they were not in fact fading, but the effect was due  to simultaneous contrast between adjacent coloured threads. There is an interesting slider on here that allows you to view this effect yourself.

I remember from the Mike Leigh film, Mr Turner, that Turner flamboyantly added a blob of red to his painting, and then cleverly shaped it into a buoy, which added the red needed to complement the colours and add brilliance to the painting. I found that clip  here:

Watch two clips from Mike Leigh’s Mr Turner

Turner was a master of colour and I thoroughly enjoyed the Turner rooms on Tate Britain on my recent London trip.  ‘Snow storm: Hannibal and his army crossing the Alps’, 1812, oil on canvas.  20160928_122404This seems to have all the forces of nature in it – the snowstorm sweeping across the sun, the stormy clouds, the big sweeping motions of it.  I would like to paint my town with a swirling, stormy sky above as apposed to the more usual blue skies we have here in Spain. I will need to venture out on a stormy winter’s day….but it would be a different take on the usual paintings and photographs common to the area. I make a note of this for a future project.

In the National Gallery, I fell in love with Van Gogh’s ‘Two Crabs’, oil on canvas, 1889. I think the use of complemetary colours here is what makes this painting stand out. The turquoise-green of the background enhances the redness of the crabs. So deceptively simple and how well it works.



Goethe correctly identified simultaneous contrast as a perceptual phenomenon:

“Every decided colour does a certain violence to the eye and forces it to opposition.”


Lots of information here also:

‘Chevreul claimed to predict the visual effect of simultaneous contrast across all these situations with a single rule: if two color areas are seen close together in space or time, each will shift in hue and value as if the visual complementary color of the neighboring or preceding color were mixed with it. Thus, if a dark red and a light yellow are seen side by side, the red will shift as if mixed with the visual complement of light yellow (dark blue violet), while the yellow will shift as if mixed with the complement of the dark red (light blue green): the red will appear shifted toward violet, and the yellow toward green. (Similar shifts appear if either color is seen after the other.) At the same time, dull or near neutral colors will make saturated colors more intense, though Chevreul was not clear about this effect.’








Author: Wendy Kate

Happily sharing my life in Spain with a tall bearded man from Dorset.

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