Colour can be a major part of any creative process.
The most famous past and present artists have used colour to create artistic masterpieces.
Following from my previous article on how to use colour, and my other guide to help you level up your skills of understanding the colour wheel, in this post, I’m going to be looking at 10 painting masterpieces and the colour these artists use.
I’ll be looking at different colour schemes of these paintings, understanding the colour palettes and gamuts that they have chosen, and where it sits in the colour wheel. You can then take this into your own colour theory, and use this within your illustrations, design work, and your own colour choices.
These 10 famous artists and paintings include my favourite artist of all time of David Hockney, a classic Rembrandt artwork, to Claude Monet’s wheatshack oil painting.
With all of these examples, I’ll also be showing gamuts on a YCRMBCG colour wheel (or yellow, red, magenta, blue, and green colour wheel – which you can learn about here.) A colour wheel developed by Albert Munsell, which I learnt in James Gurney’s Light and Colour book, this colour wheel uses RGB and CMY together, which is a far better colour wheel to work from. It balances each colour equally, so if you don’t know much about this colour wheel, click on the link above if you want to learn more.
So let’s get started with a classic Vermeer piece.
Girl With A Pearl Earring – Johannes Vermeer (1665), Oil
Earthly colours are used within this classic Vermeer piece, with a blue adjacent to act as a complement to the warm colours.
The figure is placed on a dark blue-gray background, with a warm colour palette for the figure, using red for the lips. Your eye is drawn to this section of the painting, as Vermeer has purposely used this to his advantage.
The colour gamut is situated at the top of the wheel. Vermeer used a colour gamut of blue, yellow, red and orange.
David Hockney – A Bigger Splash (1967), Acrylic
In this painting, Hockney uses blue as the dominant colour. An addition of brown-red and green-yellow, these colours are very neutral, with the most saturated part of the image coming from blue.
The blue used as 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).
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 colour. This colour palette has already been used by 3 artists, which shows you how popular it is!
This painting by Van Gogh is quite saturated, with the assistance of gray-blue.
The YRMBCG colour wheel looks like a diamond shape, with the focus on blue.
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 within the centre, 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. There is a use of very subtle blue-green as a compliment.
The colour wheel is quite basic for this one, and is situated in the top right-hand corner of the wheel.
Pablo Picasso – A Girl Before A Mirror (1903), Oil
Orange-red, green, purple, lime green, yellow and orange are all used within this piece, which is painted in saturated colours.
In contrast to the examples above, this artwork doesn’t have a gamut as such. Even though this is the case, it still seems to work well. You can see the colour wheel gamut is large in this painting.
Edward Hopper – New York Movie (1939), Oil
This is such an amazing piece of art for it’s use of composition and colour. Quite a lot of gray is used, with the three main colours of blue, red, yellow (a gray-yellow), and orange (a gray-orange).
Emphasis is used to help the composition of the piece, as blue is used as the movie screen colour, and also the woman’s clothing too.
The colour gamut is further down the wheel, with more emphasis on blue, red, a little bit of cyan and yellow.
Claude Monet – Wheatstacks (End of Summer), 1890 – 1891, Oil
Absolutely lovely use of colour for this classic painting. Monet uses earthly tones of red-brown, yellow-green, green, light blue and yellow.
Dark tones are described as green colours – (a lesson that you don’t need to always use dark colours to represent dark tones)! Much like 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.
Caravaggio – Supper At Emmaus (1601), Oil
Again earthly colours are used within this painting, with 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.
Salvador Dali – Persistence Of Memory (1931), Oil
Blue features heavily in this painting, with an adjacent of brown, orange-red, yellow and subtle yellow-green.
Similar colour gamut used of a diamond shape shown within the colour wheel.
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. Lovely use of warm, passionate and lust filled colours within this image.
Mainly using 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.
So What Have We Learnt About Colour From These Paintings?
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.
I hope you have enjoyed this blog post guys! It was really fun to learn about these painters and the colour that they use within their work.
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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