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https://www.haydnsymons.com/blog/the-colour-palettes-used-by-10-famous-paintings/ Colour Palettes Used By 10 Famous Paintings To Help Your Colour English Colour can make or break any painting.   Colour is the first impression when someone first looks at your art.   Whether you’re a designer, fine artist to illustrator, colour plays a crucial role.   The most famous past and... https://www.haydnsymons.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/colour-palettes-of-famous-paintings.png 2022-10-22

Colour Palettes Used By 10 Famous Paintings To Help Your Colour

Colour can make or break any painting.
Colour is the first impression when someone first looks at your art.
Whether you’re a designer, fine artist to illustrator, colour plays a crucial role.
The most famous past and present artists have used colour to create artistic masterpieces – (as they’re masterpieces for a reason!).
Within this blog post you’ll discover 10 famous colour palettes the artistic masters used. You’ll discover the colour they used, colour analysis, and how colour helped compositions. This analysis can improve your own colour theory.
The list looks at David Hockney, a classic Rembrandt artwork, to Claude Monet.
If you’re new to colour, this post on how to use colour can be a good place to start. Otherwise, my other guide can help you understand the colour wheel.

The Colour Wheel

Before talking about colour within each painting, lets begin with the colour wheel.
Primary colours make up the colour wheel. This consists of red, yellow and blue. Secondary colours come from these primary colours. This spectrum of colour is what every artist can choose from. However, as you will find out, it’s the colours that you don’t select that are the most important.
These paintings derived from the colour wheel, selecting different gamuts to paint. A gamut is a selected area from the colour wheel that an artist can paint with.
I’m showing colours based on the YRMBCG colour wheel. This wheel involves yellow, red, magenta, blue, cyan and green colours. Created by Albert Munsell, and developed by James Gurney, this wheel employs RGB and CMY. It’s a better colour wheel to work from as it equally balances each colour. You can remember the Yurmby wheel with this catchy saying ‘You Ride My Bus, Cousin Guss’.
If you don’t know much about the colour wheel, learn all about colour wheel basics.
So now you understand what makes up colour, let’s get started with a classic Vermeer piece.

Girl With A Pearl Earring – Johannes Vermeer (1665), Oil

Vermeer uses earthly colours, with a blue adjacent acting as a complement to the warm colours.
The figure is on a dark blue-gray background, with a warm colour palette for the figure, using red for the lips. This is an excellent composition, as your eye draws to this facial feature. You may notice that red is only used for this part, which Vermeer has used to his advantage. This is a prime example of how colour aids composition. Learn more about how to learn composition from the great masters.
Using a mixture of light and dark blues for the head scarf, this draws the eye into the center. Viewers look at her face, her lips and of course, her pearl earring.
The colour gamut for this painting sits at the top of the colour wheel. Vermeer used a colour gamut of blue, yellow, red and orange.
Key takeaways: Use colour within your art to help your composition. Paint selective colours in certain areas to lead the eye to your focal point.

Girl With A Pearl Earring

Girl With A Pearl Earring Colours

David Hockney – A Bigger Splash (1967), Acrylic

David Hockney is one of my favourite artists, and he has one of the most interesting gamuts within this famous colour palettes series. In this painting, Hockney uses blue as the dominant colour. With the addition of brown-red and green-yellow, these colours are neutral, with the most saturated part of the image coming from blue.

The blue used for the water is almost a green-blue.

This colour gamut focuses largely on the blue hue, with tints of yellow, red and green playing a part too (with tones in-between). You can also see that Hockney has used gray for the windows – to make sure the building’s colour doesn’t dominant the painting.

The composition is balanced within the piece. Blue is used for the sky and pool (avoiding a top or bottom heavy image), with earthly tones in the center. Similar to Vermeer’s painting, yellow is used only for the diving board, attracting our eye, therefore leading the eye off the board to the splash – the core part of the painting.

Key takeaways: Earthly, dirty and gray colours are your friend! Use a mixture of these colours with a bit of saturated colour to create the perfect combination.

A Bigger Splash

A Bigger Splash Colours

Vincent Van Gogh – Cafe Terrace at Night (1888), Oil

Van Gogh uses complementary colours of yellow and blue, with hints of both green and red-brown. This colour palette has already been used by 3 artists, which shows you how popular it is (as it works every time)!

This painting by Van Gogh is quite saturated, with the assistance of gray-blue to counteract this.

The YRMBCG colour wheel looks like a diamond shape, with the focus on blue and yellow.

You can see that Vincent has used a dominant block of green for the tree on the right hand side. Not only does the shape lead the eye to the center of the composition, it breaks up the yellow-blue colours throughout the piece.

Key takeaways: Create a sense of warmth in a painting by using these two complimentary colours of yellow and blue. They are pleasing on the eye and look great together.

Cafe Terrace At Night

Cafe Terrace At Night Colours

Rembrandt – The Night Watch (1642), Oil

In this remarkable painting by Rembrandt, it’s almost difficult to see the colour that he uses, which are very earthy tones of brown, with the adjacent of yellow and red.

This painting is extremely clever and shows you how a painting’s colour can impact it’s composition. Do you notice when you look at the piece, you are first drawn to the yellow male figure within the center, and then the yellow girl in the background?

Rembrandt didn’t do this by accident and used a saturated colour here to draw your eye. The girl is placed against dark colours, bringing her colour out even more. The central figure wears an orange-red piece of clothing, leading the eye to the girl character and the red man who’s cleaning his gun to the left of the girl.

You may notice that red is only used within this part of the painting, further illustrating Rembrant’s deliberate attempt to draw the eye.

The colour wheel is situated in the top right-hand corner of the wheel, using mostly earthly tones with reds.

Key takeaways: It’s simply a brilliant masterpiece. The more you look at it, the better it gets. Colour transforms paintings, and shows you how important colour is!

The Night Watch

The Night Watch Colours

Pablo Picasso – A Girl Before A Mirror (1903), Oil

Orange-red, green, purple, lime green, yellow and orange are all used within this piece.

In contrast to the examples above, this artwork doesn’t have a gamut as such, and is quite large within the colour wheel. Even though this is the case, it still seems to work well.

But why is this?

Picasso uses subtle and gray colours with bright colours like orange used as an adjacent. Generally it’s quite a dirty painting (and when I say dirty – this is not a negative!).

It’s far from garish, which makes it work. Colours are placed throughout the painting to lead the eye, and keep the viewer interested in the artwork. For example, the light purple is used for the face, the arms, parts of the mirror and also the body.

Key takeaways: If you’re interested in using a broad colour palette, gray, subtle and dirty colours are your friend. Use bright colours sparingly.

A Girl Before A Mirror

A Girl Before A Mirror Colours

Edward Hopper – New York Movie (1939), Oil

This is an amazing piece of art for it’s use of composition and colour. A lot of gray is used, with four main colours of blue, red, yellow (a gray-yellow), and orange (a gray-orange).

Selective colour of blue is used to help the composition of the piece, as your eye is drawn to the movie screen and the woman’s clothing.

The colour gamut is further down the wheel, with more emphasis on blue, red, a little bit of cyan and yellow.

You may notice that the most saturated part of the image comes from the right; the woman’s clothing, but also the bright yellow projecting from the wall lamps. This further draws your eye to the concerned woman.

Key takeaways: If your painting concentrates on natural and gray colours, use saturated colour to lead the eye to your focal point.

New York Movie

New York Movie Colours

Claude Monet – Wheatstacks (End of Summer), 1890 – 1891, Oil

Superb use of colour makes up this classic Monet painting. Monet uses earthly tones of red-brown, yellow-green, green, light blue and yellow.

When you think of light and dark, you may think of black and white in basic terms. However this painting contradicts this entirely. Dark tones are described as green colours, the haystack’s shadows are formed using a light blue-green, with the light being formed with the use of yellow-pink.

You get a sense of warmth after a hot Summer’s day, which these colours communicate magically.

Similar to Vincent Van Gogh’s colour palette, a diamond shape is formed on the colour wheel, with emphasis towards blue, yellow, green and a bit of red too.

Key takeaways: Think outside the box. Instead of using black for shadows and white for light, what other colours can you use to convey the same meaning?


Wheatstacks Colours

Caravaggio – Supper At Emmaus (1601), Oil

Earthly colours are used within this painting. ith particular focus on complementary colours of green, red, orange, red-brown, and a little hint of red-green too.

The colour gamut used is quite different from the rest, that forms a diamond shape pointing horizontally, with a focus on green, red, some blue and yellow.

Complimentary colours of red and green work excellently, with dark earthly reds-browns used as the background.

The central figure’s clothing is red, with warm earthly tones used as a compliment. Like most of the other paintings with this article, red draws the eye to the center of the piece.

Key takeaways: Instead of using black pigment to form your shadows and dark areas, use a selection of colours like blue, red and brown.

Supper At Emmaus

Supper At Emmaus Colours

Salvador Dali – Persistence Of Memory (1931), Oil

Blue and brown feature heavily in this painting, with an adjacent of orange-red, yellow and subtle yellow-green.

A similar colour gamut of diamond is used, with one stand-alone orange protruding from the left hand side.

This piece goes to show you how crucial earthly tones are and it’s positive impact it has on paintings.

But what is Dali trying to convey with the use of colour? Blue is used for the clock faces, and in psychology blue refers to trust, wisdom, depth and heaven. It’s been said that the iconography used may refer to a dream that Dali had, or the time passed during a dream – do you think the colours represent this?

Key takeaways: From red for passion to green for envy, use colour within your art to communicate a message.

The Persistence Of Memory

The Persistence Of Memory Colours

Jack Vettriano – Game On (2006)- Oil

I’m not sure why critics seem to hate and detest Vettriano, but I love him – so I had to include him in this blog post. Warm, passionate and lust filled colours communicate the painting’s subject effortlessly.

The piece mainly uses red and warm colours of brown, light brown-red, yellow-brown, red-black, with an adjacent of purple-red for the man’s shirt.

The colour gamut on the colour wheel concentrates on the warm spectrum, with little hints of yellow and magenta to act as a counter-balance.

Notice that if you squint your eyes (used to help artists see tones), the female’s clothing, hair and the man’s trousers pop out from the light background. This almost black colour is an interesting contrast to the warm colours used throughout.

Key takeaways: When arranging colour for your painting, always think of this phrase: ‘no colour sits alone’. Every colour interacts with another. For example, a light yellow looks completely different when used on top of a dark red background to that of a light orange background.

Game On

Game On Colours

What have you learnt from these famous colour palettes?

1. Limited colours and a thoughtful colour gamut is crucial within any painting.

2. Gray is your best friend: these artists have used earthy colours and neutral colours to create these masterpieces.

3. A diamond colour gamut is popular within these paintings, commonly using blue, yellow, with a hint of green and red.

4. Complementary colours are an important colour scheme to remember – they are easy on the eye and also eye-catching too!

5. Understanding the colour wheel, colour gamuts and what colours work well with each other is crucial to an artist and painting success.

6. These artists have used colour within their paintings to lead the eye and create stunning compositions. Shapes, lines and tones aid compositions, but colour also plays a critical role.

I hope you have enjoyed this blog post! It was really fun to learn more about these painters, their use of colour, and discovering famous colour palettes!

I’ll love to hear from you, so do comment below with your thoughts on these colour gamuts, the colour that you use within your art, or any classic paintings that I may have missed!

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