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Is In Reality We Grant That In Certain Objects Blue Is A Sign Of








distance, but that is not because blue, as a mere colour, is retiring;
but because the mist in the air is blue, and therefore any warm colour
which has not strength of light enough to pierce the mist is lost or
subdued in its blue. Blue in itself, however, is no more, on this
account, retiring, than brown is retiring, because when stones are seen
through brown water, the deeper they lie, the browner they appear.
Neither blue nor yellow nor red possesses, as such, the smallest power
of expressing either nearness or distance; they merely express
themselves under the peculiar circumstances which render them at the
moment, or in that place, signs of nearness or distance. Thus, purple in
a violet is a sign of nearness, because the closer it is looked at the
more purple is seen; but purple in a mountain is a sign of distance,
because a mountain close at hand is not purple, but green or grey. It
may, indeed, be generally assumed that a tender or pale colour will more
or less denote distance, and a powerful or dark colour nearness; but
even this is not always so. Heathery hills will usually give a pale and
tender purple near, and an intense or dark purple far away: the rose
colour of sunset on snow is pale on the snow at one's feet, but deep and
full on the snow in the distance; and the green of a Swiss lake is pale
in the clear waves on the beach, but intense as an emerald in the
sunstreak, six miles from shore. And in any case, when the foreground is
in strong light, with much water about it or white surface, casting
intense reflections, all its colours may be perfectly delicate, pale,
and faint; while the distance, when it is in shadow, may relieve the
whole foreground with deepest shades of purple, blue green, or
ultramarine blue.

There is one law, however, about distance, which has some claims to be
considered constant, namely, that dulness and heaviness of colour are
more or less indicative of nearness. All distant colour is pure colour:
it may not be bright, but it is clear and lovely, not opaque nor soiled;
for the air and light coming between us and any earthy or imperfect
colour, purify or harmonize it; hence a bad colourist is peculiarly
incapable of expressing distance. It is not of course meant that bad
colours are to be used in the foreground by way of making it come
forward; but only that a failure in colour there will not put it out of
its place. A failure in colour in the distance will at once do away with
its remoteness; a dull-coloured foreground will still be a foreground,
though coloured badly; but an ill-painted distance will not be merely a
dull distance, it will be no distance at all.

This seeming digression is not out of place, as it will enable the
artist better to understand that it is in their quality, not in their
hue, that colours are advancing or retiring; and that he must rely on
the depth, delicacy, &c., of his pigments, and not simply on their
colours, to produce effects of distance.

Of all colours, except black, blue contrasts white most powerfully. In
all harmonious combinations of colours, whether of mixture or
neighbourhood, blue is the natural, prime, or predominating power.
Accordingly, blue is universally agreeable to the eye in due relation to
the composition, and may more frequently be repeated therein, pure or
unbroken, than either of the other primaries; whence the employment of
ultramarine by some masters throughout the colouring of a picture.

Blue pigments, like blue flowers, are more rare than those of the other
primary colours. In permanent blues the palette is very deficient, the
list being exhausted when the native and artificial ultramarines and the
cobalts have been mentioned. That there is room for new blues, durable
and distinct, cannot therefore be denied. A good addition has been made





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Previous: Colours Are Advancing Or Retiring In Their Quality--as Depth



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