Article V. - F. Wayland Fellowes: Effect of Color-Law on our Homes - Ouside.

New Englander and Yale review 234, 1889

*Feb. No., 1889, p. 118.In a previous Article,* the absolute authority of Color-Law, in all matters within its province, was asserted and something was advanced in proof of the assertion. Some notable points of special ruling in our home interiors were observed. But, at this time, there are reasons for considering its effect the exterior, and for that purpose, we will together step out of doors.

After an intelligent look at the natural surrounding as back-ground, with the indispeneable assistance of Color-Law, we lose eve, trace of indecision respecting the tone that is requisite to the best appearance of our home. Long processions of tints, each one more tempting than the other, cease to perplex. True pictorial effect settles the question definitely. And it is a welcome fact that the tone called for by inflexible law may exist in an endless variety of color-chords, so that individual preference may not be conscious of limit from Color-Law.

There are house-owners in no degree students of color who think that it is an easy matter to tone their dwelling in all respects as well as the expert. They also believe that they see color with the painter's eye, because their natural sight is as good as his. In much the same way, others suppose they really sing, when, with voices physically strong, but wholly untrained, they are able to produce consecutive sounds or sustained noise with the mouth.

When use of color may no longer be postponed, the practical house-painter is not unfrequently summoned. This important personage can hardly be expected to be guided by any higher degree of taste than that which he actually possesses. This is the reason why house-owners have themselves to thank, when they see factory, store, and fence spick-and-span with the identical color-chord that distinguishes their own outer-wall. At the same time, it does not, of necessity, follow that tints thus exhibited must be correct in taste or law.

There ought to be no difficulty in understanding that a city home may look its best by treatment that would not be well adapted to the country house. The heavy, dark tones that lend themselves with acceptable effect to much repetition of brick and stone are generally out of place when away from familiar pavements of street and flags of sidewalk. They are features as little rural and as plainly urban as any other characteristic sight or sound. They may accordingly be forthwith omitted from the abundant catalogue of colors that will be found appropriate, where nature herself rather than the handwork of man is most apparent.

The cottage that is provided with ample back-ground of trees, and fairly peeps out from surrounding foliage, may not becomingly wear chords of color that exactly suit a great mansion which towers from a hill-top with every outline clean cut against the sky. A different plan is also needed for the venerable summer home that has made itself snug upon some sun, hillside; and still another is needed for the spacious pavillion which is thrown into brilliant relief by back-ground of the sea, or by both sea and sky.

Such varied circumstances of position clearly indicate the individual landscape-tone that is superlatively becoming. These natural suggestions are made with meaning so broadly expressive that when comprehended and used, they bring a satisfaction that time only increases. No other inspiration or influence is to be absolutely trusted, nor does any other ask for what is especially fitting, with the same unmistakable distinctness. Only by this actual art-interpretation, is knowledge of the language enabled to compose an ensemble so conspicuously complete that ignorance and indifference are both surprised into respect for an undreamed of power in color.

When the foliage-hidden cottage has been gifted with form that is really admirable; when it has qualities too rare to pass unnoticed; when it is desirable not only to keep its strong points well in view, but to accentuate them, any legitimate chord of tints, that are warm and light, will develop the desired strength of contrast-relief.

But, when the composure of harmony, rather than powerful relief-effect, is preferred; if the owner seriously wishes the house to become part of the landscape, if he decides to lose the structure in the local tone, the method is simple. Two warm olives, with one clean red—this latter color cooled and refined with blue and thus used as the cold tone of the color-chord — will be found a grateftd combination, on which the eye will be sure to rest with lasting contentment; one that improves with the grey of time and weather, a tint that wears well and does not tire.

But, for success again in this instance as in every scheme of color the values must be carefully studied and their strength exactly measured.

It is evident that from every avenue of approach the house on the hill-top is likely to have, as back-ground, a considerable share of uninterrupted sky. Nothing could be more flattering to fine lines or more trying to defects. The unlimited breadth of cold space here over-head affords excellent relief for warm tones of all varieties and of any note on the scale. Attention need mainly be given to the color-chord itself, remembering that dark tones suggest heaviness with solidity and that all warm tints show themselves at their very best when seen against this blue.

Circumstances, resembling each other not a little, make it probable that the house on the hill-side might be well suited with colors of a class similar to those that were found pleasing on the cottage among the trees.

Nor do conditions governing the adoption of tints for the house near the sea vary materially from such as decided the color-chord for the house on the hill-top. In a spot where trees are few and herbage scanty — when sea and sky and sand mainly compose the local tone, — it wi11 be found that warm classes of color, and those high up on the scale, best preserve the values without disturbing the landscape color-balance. Into these tranquil surroundings, powerful tones seem to tear their way — they roughly seize a place. The widest view is sensible of intrusion. On the other hand, milder colors rightly chosen, melt into the perspective; they are felt rather than seen; they appear to be an original feature of the field of sight; they produce the impression of having been there always.

It is a convenient fact that skillful use of color is able to loudly accent any out-door matter that it is desirable to make prominent, as also that this same item, and simply by change of tint, may be largely veiled, or in great measure concealed, or rendered entirely unattractive.

It is essential that pigment be kept scrupulously clean. In this connection attention is directed to an all but universal mistake in mixing tints. It ought M be known that the greater number of tints may be darkened by means other and better than turbid discoloration from the routine and habitual lamp black. It is undoubtedly true that a color, thus begrimed, is forced down in tone, but it also follows that after this primitive treatment, every tint becomes not only darker but dirty!

In the pictorial sense, "dirty" describes the opposite of bright, clear color, either entirely pure or so combined as not to lose its "life" — another term for individual color self-assertion.

For instance, we may suppose that it is desired to lower the tone of a crimson-lake. And it does not seem difficult to imagine that a muddy tone may be likely to result from admixture of lampblack, nor to understand that when still more soot is added, deeper mud must follow, but not necessarily deeper blackness.

There is a much better way to lower tho tone as wanted. Palette in hand, with a clean brash, let a dip be made into the same pure crimson-lake that was just now soiled with lamp-black. Deepen this lake-tone with Prussian-blue until the desired depth is reached, no matter how great this depth is, it will be, and soon. Metaphorically, this combination calls to the blackest black to come lower down on the scale and learn to what depth the deepest of color really can go.

From this color union, there is produced a tone that invariably proves itself to be powerful, refined, transparent, and satisfactory. In a tint thus composed, there will be no suspicion of mud. It becomes a color thoroughly desirable whenever color-law needs a tone thus low on the scale. It also has a quality that is admirable; let its area be greater or less; and when strength of color is sought, let its depth go when-ever it is required; it always remains a tone — it never looks like a hole.

The advantages obtainable from study of color are so numerous and their character is so continuously helpful that, without due measure of experience, the full scope and extent of their usefulness may not be even imagined. Rarely, is an hour allowed to pass with no valuable service from color and never a minute that does not bring to the trained eye lively gratification, as abundant as it is complete.

- F. Wayland Fellowes.

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