Archive for category Subject: Art History
Between 1637 and 1644, the Dutch artist Frans Post travelled to Dutch territories in what is now part of Brazil to record the exotic flora and fauna found there. The paintings he made after his return to Europe became celebrated and were the first time many had seen creatures so far from their personal experience. These finished works are now in galleries around the world.
The original drawings on which the paintings were based were presumed to have been lost, but were recently discovered in an archive in Haarlem. It is these that form the basis for this exhibition, on loan to the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin. For those unable to visit, the reproduction in this slim volume that accompanies it gives an excellent indication of the closeness and accuracy of Post’s observation as well as the opportunity to compare the drawings with the conventionality – in European terms – of the full paintings.
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A band on the jacket helpfully advises that this is “the book Charles Darwin used to describe colours on his voyage on HMS Beagle”. So much, you might say, for that.
This is a facsimile (if you hadn’t guessed) of a book first published in 1814. It was invaluable then and, although mainly of historical interest now, contains information that can still be of use to the artist. This version took a previously existing colour naming system and adapted it for practical use by botanists, zoologists, mineralogists and artists.
Why, you might ask, was it necessary? Two hundred years ago, colour printing didn’t exist in any useful form. Those full-colour guides we’re so used to now are surprisingly recent. Only 30 or so years ago, it wasn’t uncommon for painting books to be illustrated with only some dozen colour plates and those would be concentrated together, not run throughout the text. The quality of the colour reproduction in the present volume suggests that the swatches were hand-tinted, so this would have been a small edition, and by no means cheap.
But still, why place so much importance on how colours are described? Well, if you can’t reproduce it in print, you need a reliable way of writing about it so that the reader can mix it for themselves, and that requires a standard approach. Enter Mr Werner, ably assisted by Mr Syme.
To see how this works in practice, let’s look at Bluish Green. It “is composed of Berlin blue, and a little lemon yellow and greyish white”. The accompanying table tells us that it’s suitable for a thrush egg, the under disc of wild rose leaves or the mineral beryl. And that’s how you get the colours right, even if you haven’t got a reliable chart.
Yes, this is mainly of historical interest, but it’s a fascinating read and a reminder of how the world got on when everything really was black and white.
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