F. Wayland Fellowes: Yellow - The Secret of Color-Beauty.

New Englander and Yale review 239, 1890

The important position rightfully belonging to the pigment warm yellow on the palette of the artist is not invariably conceded, nor has it always been correctly appreciated. In the popular mind there even exists a, prejudice against this color that is not only unwarranted but is unjust. Because to be "bilious" is to be yellow, it is by no means a sequitur that all yellow refers to bile! Only one who habitually mixes color on the palette can estimate the boundless influence and power of this tonemaster. Skill, of course, is needed for its finished use. If, however, its employment were entirely easy, there would be in art circles less respectful mention of those who have mastered its difficulties.

This same color — warm yellow — must always tone and temper the outer walls of our homes. Without such supervision these walls will certainly fail to enjoy the sanction of color-law and therefore be truly agreeable. In every case where an exterior house-tone is more than usually pleasing it will surely be found that yellow contributed the special suceees to the combination and in large measure supplied the effect that was admirable. It gives to color the studio-named quality of "life" — that is to say, its attraction, and its charm.

But over an extensive view, when a clear-sighted look is taken, nature herself plainly repeats what color-experience has already learned, that without yellow our autumn landscape would no longer blaze, and thus shorn of its crowning glory would lose its fire and cease to dazzle.

As an easy instance we will consider the fros-tpainted maple leaf, in autumn so gorgeous with scarlet and orange. The fact is generally known that scarlet is composed of red and yellow, with red predominant; while orange is made from the same colors, but with yellow predominant. If we take the yellow from scarlet there remains a cold, purplish red but when the yellow is taken from orange, scarcely anything survives — perhaps a trifle of dull, cold red; and, in the case of our maple leaf, possibly some feeble traces of green. But since green is made up of blue and yellow, if the yellow is again removed, there remains of our leaf, just now resplendent, only some dingy cold red, shivering beside a still colder blue.

And, of course, if the color loss on this leaf be repeated on other thousands of million leaves, the dismal eclipse of our October forest — both gloomy and forlorn — would not be difficult to imagine!

There could be small inspiration to poet or painter in so dreary a landscape where nothing livelier than a dirge would seem to be in order. It has plainly been seen then, that the elimination of only one color has managed to destroy the brilliance of the whole scene, and has mainly ruined nature's very best autumn pageant.

It is not necessary to have been a student of color to know that the eye is fitted to estimate with exactness every shade of color just as the ear is designed and prepared to discriminate every tone of sound.

It is desirable that we should know also that warmth in color tone is the quality that closely resembles the nature of sweetness in musical tone.

It is not to be disputed that this same warmth becomes the vital essence of color beauty. And the statement is capable of proof whether the case in question is made by nature or composed by art. The color-loving eye looks for this warmth with an eagerness that inexperience can not imagine; and, when found, experience only can realise from its correct use the gratification not only possible, but logical and natural.

When cold tones become intrinsically enjoyable or seem to be complete in themselves, the unusual circumstance is sure to be explained by some close-at-hand plethora of warm tints. Color-law, then and the, needs such neutralizing power, and plainly asks for the color balance only supplied by tone reaction.

As was the case in the loss of warmth in the landscape of which we spoke, so it also follows that a picture whose tone is distinctly cold can never be wholly successful. No matter how admirable its intellectual vigor, nor how great its artistic powers, the ensemble will certainly not satisfy the eye, and therefore be wholly enjoyable. The lack of an important something will be plainly sensible.

It may be asserted that a due proportion of yellow is indispensable to pleasing effect on every canvas. It is the typical warm tone. Without the wholesome warmth which it supplies, even our genial friend red, its sympathetic comrade, takes on hue more or less livid.

The preponderance of cold tones will always be hurtful to a picture on any subject, but when a canvas is designed to represent living flesh, such lack of balance, according to color-law, produces a ghastly effect that is truly melancholy. Healthy blood, quickbounding under the skin, can never be correctly imitated by assorted shades of cold purple. There is a glow of warm color plainly evident in real flesh. The glow, through all white race complexions, is common to the powerful man and to the delicate woman. To supply this mellow brilliance is the special province of warm yellow. Without the supplement of its fine-tone solidity every tint of red, grey, and green must be cold and unattractive. Even the violet tinge that characterizes the human eye, as well as the green shades that are always to be found — only more or less pronounced — about the mouth corners, are fairly loaded with yellow. Without warm yellow these delicate local tones can never be truthfully imitated. The reader may examine his own hand, and if taught to look properly and see what positively exists there, he will at once be convinced. He will conclusively satisfy himself that the warm color peculiar to all "white" races is due to the abundant presence of yellow.

If these lines should come under notice of color students who are conscious of an unwelcome disposition to use livid reds and cold yellows, they may find consolation in knowing that they have abundant company in error. So strong at one time was the writer's own inclination in this unfortunate direction that his eyes were supposed to be defective and to see color irregularly.

In order to correct this fault when painting flesh, "lakes" of every kind were forbidden on the palette. The one "blue" allowed was diluted with white, and no reds unmixed with yellow were to be used. The primal excess of warmth, as might have been expected, by degrees subsided, more accurate sight was acquired, with the natural consequence of more correct color balance.

Them are those who are aware of their need of this color cure who will gladly make use of this simple prescription. But there are others now floundering where the writer once found himself, and perhaps too thoroughly ill to be conscious of their malady. Their cases are more serious and a radical cure is less hopeful.

One word more! The pigment white is not a primary, nor even a binary color, and in the strict sense may not be a color at all, but it certainly is an indispensable ingredient in mixed tones almost everywhere and almost always. It forms part of every "fine" tone, and by nature has an inherent, and peculiar power to soften, harmonize, and brighten.

Yellow supplies warmth and transparence, white adds sunlight and brilliance. Yellow largely furnishes to the wave, white — to the wave, sparkle.

Without the presence of white in combination, the indispensable reproduction of sky reflections would be impossible. And the same may be said of any variety of pictorial "atmosphere," which is only another word for the same thing — that is to say sky reflections.

There is no doubt that if painters were unable to draw at sight upon the unlimited resources of white pigment, the existing artist-palette would promptly be bankrupt.

In an assortment of colors, the warm reds, yellows, and greens enrich.

The blues, purples, and other cold colors supply tone reaction and neutralize excessive warmth.

The blacks strengthen.

But in spite of not being a color at all white invariably animates and brightens, and when allowed to assert itself individually supplies what may be called the gayety of every combination of color.

- F. Wayland Fellowes.

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