THE LAY FIGURE: ON COLOUR
AND THE SENSE OF COLOUR.
" Is the sense of colour deteriorating
here in England ? " the Journalist asked suddenly.
" A charitable person may hope so," replied the
Reviewer. "Its lot is a hard one now. Consider
the facts. To-day, in this age of fashions in
sombre costume, and of a settled dulness in vast
cities, all ugly, overgrown, and grimed with smoke,
a strong and good colour-sense is a misfortune to
anyone. Indeed, it receives so many shocks every
day that most artists would go mad if theirs were
really good and strong. The sense of colour
needs exercise and practice, and as our industrial
time robs it of both, its deterioration is inevitable
—yes, and even useful, for its want of sensitive-
ness protects the nerves from much wear and
tear. The evils of bad colour exist only to
those who, feeling them to be evils, are as much
irritated by them as a musician by an orchestra
out of tune.''
" But stay a moment," cried the Painter. " You
run on like a leading article, and leave me gasping
a mile behind you. Let us take breath. Tell us,
as a secret if you like, what the dickens you mean
by ' bad colour.' Bad colour is not necessarily
brilliant and sumptuous. A cultivated eye delights
in greys, and finds an infinite deal to admire in the
changing sombre tones of a Thames mist."
" Mere custom," answered the Reviewer dryly.
"The artist in your eyes has grown conceited
because he has discovered beauty in a Thames
mist. Would not a Swiss sunrise please him better
and do him more good ? Or would he feel ill at
ease, and say to himself that a taste for brilliancy
of tone is less cultured than a fondness for subtle
greys, since barbaric peoples are nearly always lovers
of those colours that glow, and triumph, and denote
action and virility ? "
" That argument has often been advanced, I
admit," said the Painter ; " but it does not concern
the point I have in mind—namely that good colour
is not necessarily brilliant or glowing."
" I never said it was," returned the other.
"Many pictures in a singularly low scheme of
tones are a joy to look at. But this should not
hide from us the fact that such beautiful low tones
are but a few notes in the infinite gamut of colour
which Nature has orchestrated for us, and which
the sense of colour in all true artists should enjoy.
Love your greys by all means, but can you believe
that the eye's sensitiveness to richer and more
varied shades of colour is not dulled by a
prevalence of grey tones in the surroundings of
everyday life ? "
" I see your point," said the Journalist. " Let
me put it in another way. Paganini could play
admirably on one string of his violin, but he did
not suppose that by this means he did wonders on
a complete instrument. It was merely a tour de
force. Painters who are fond of sombre harmonies
use but one string of their violins, yet many of them
don't know that they practise on incomplete
"And why don't they know?" asked the Re-
viewer. " It is not only because they have grown
accustomed to the repetition of doing practically
the same thing. That is bad enough, to be sure.
But there is something worse at present in most
countries in Europe, and that something is the
general greyness of life in every town that re-
sponds to the industrial spirit of the time. This
must needs be bad for the sense of colour in
painters, and therefore harmful to the arts which
" What remedy, then ?" the Journalist asked.
" Say that a London painter, anxious for new
sensations of colour, journeys to the East, and
works there for some time. Will that be beneficial
to him, or will it set him at odds with the circum-
stances of life in his real environment, the environ-
ment of London? The daylight in London, I
should think, after the searching radiance of the
Eastern sun, would seem to him' little better than
a gloomy twilight, and that would unsettle him and
make him unfit for work."
" That has happened more than once," the
Painter agreed, " so you have touched a real
difficulty. Nothing is to be gained by being at
war with the place in which one's daily work
must needs be done."
" But even so," said the Reviewer, " i? it not
well to acknowledge that the range of colour in
your art is limited by your ready acceptance of
London's grey vastness? And surely you must
have noticed that good landscapes, just painted
in the bright country air, very often look crude
on the walls of a London exhibition? Pictures
finished in the gay, sharp, translucent light of
America suffer greatly in London, being trenchantly
out of key with an atmosphere that clashes with
the light which they represent. Old pictures, on
the other hand, darkened and toned by time and
varnish, fare so well in London that the
dealers dream of Old Masters, like Shylock
of his money-bags."
The Lay Figure.