Thursday, March 19, 2009

Anders Zorn's palette: an experiment with green and blue

Yes, two posts in one day again!

Periodically, the issue of Anders Zorn's limited palette comes up in artistic circles. Zorn is famous for his stunning portraits and nudes with very rich skin tones. His paintings are a feast, in color, composition, and form. His palette is said to have consisted of Ivory black, white, scarlet, and yellow ochre, though he probably occasionally used other pigments on occasion. There are some who find it difficult to believe that he could actually used that palette, as many of his paintings show blue (albeit subdued) and some quite vivid greens. Thus, these nay-sayers claim, he must have used blue, or he could not have achieved green. Some allow the blue, as warm grey tones will read blue when placed in context with warm colors such as yellow and orange.

However, I know from my own experience that it is possible to mix greens without using blue pigment. So in response to a blanket statement by one of those people who are adamant about their assumption regardless of the facts, I did a quick little demonstration. These may not be the exact pigments used by Zorn, but they are nonetheless a clear demonstration that it is indeed possible to achieve both blues and greens with his limited palette.

I use M. Graham oil paints, and already had a selection laid out for a painting. From those, I used ivory black, zinc white, azo yellow, terra rosa (one of the iron oxide reds), and quin red (a modern scarlet pigment that Zorn could have used). I chose the two reds because I wanted to see what the differences would be. I found the results quite interesting, and learned something in the process. Here it is:

On the left: Ivory black and terra rosa, tending toward green.

On the right: Ivory black and quin red, tending toward blue.

The top two patches in each line have azo yellow added.

I found it interesting that with the quin red, adding yellow created an olivey shadow leaf green, while with the terra rosa, the yellow brought out an intense grass green.

The bottom patch on the left is not as dark as it appears here-- it is distinctly a deep green.

I was surprised to see how much blue showed up in the quin red/ivory black combo, especially when white was added. In real life, it is slightly greyer than shows here (the paint was still wet, so reflection probably increased the blue). But perfect blues for water, and certainly in contrast with warm colors the blue would stand out. It would be interesting to try this with other reds and yellows to see what kind of greens and blues would emerge.

Mixing colors is fun. And Zorn is vindicated once again (many, many people have demonstrated this, but it is worth doing just for the learning exercise).

No comments: