My Favorite Colorist Painters 1… Van Gogh, Frieseke, Charles Sovek and Bonnard (for starters)

What is a colorist?

Some painters seem to avoid color and stick to safe and subtle tones. Others overdo color, using wildly intense hues that end in disharmony. There is a quest for balance between the two extremes, and when a painter finds it, I would call that painter a colorist. Here are some of my favorites.

Recent news has revealed that Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings we see today may have faded and changed from the time he painted them in the late 1800’s. (This is not surprising to we painters who have made the mistake of using paints and pigments in our work, only to find out later they were “fugitive” or not completely fade-proof.)

Entrance to the Public Gardens in Arles, 1888, oil, Vincent Van Gogh

Entrance to the Public Gardens in Arles, (1888), oil, Vincent Van Gogh- click to enlarge

In “The Entrance to the Public Gardens in Arles,” Vincent’s bright blue/greens, yellows and orange accents are perfectly balanced with his signature black and midnight blue lines and strokes which add the necessary neutrals to make for a harmonious balance of color. Neutrals and toned color are very important ingredients in my own full spectrum color recipes.


The Balcony Frederick C. Frieseke (1904) Private collection Painting - oil on canvas

The Balcony, Frederick C. Frieseke (1904), Private collection, oil on canvas

Frederick Carl Frieseke was an American Impressionist painter born in 1874, nearly 20 years after the birth of Vincent Van Gogh. Still, they were contemporaries, and both knew Paris and Europe well. In “The Balcony” Frieseke used largely neutral colors. The upper third of the painting employs the brighter complementary colors of yellow/violet and blue/orange. The effect is warm and exciting, and then there is, of course, the lady in white on the balcony. Is she the focal point or is it the lovely sky? The human factor usually wins, and the light sandy road leads our eye from the sky to the lady.

The Yellow Room Frederick C. Frieseke - circa 1913

The Yellow Room
Frederick C. Frieseke – circa 1913

Frieseke’s “Yellow Room” has a very similar palette as the next painting I’ll share by Charles Sovek. Do you agree?

“Colorful Backyard,” Charles Sovek, gouache

Charles Sovek is one of my most admired contemporary painters. He passed away in 2007 only a few weeks before I was to attend his workshop in Massachusetts. I felt very sad about this. He freely shared a treasure of lessons on his website for painters, and must have been an amazing teacher. This small gouache painting looks very colorful at first glance. Yet nearly all of the colors are very toned mixtures, none pure color out of the tube. Tiny patches of yellow and yellow/green are the vital accents with bright white showing through as another lively splash. Such fresh studies like this show a true personality of the painting, much like a quick drawing would do. I felt a great loss of not having met Charles Sovek.

“Work on the accent, it will enliven the whole.”

-Pierre Bonnard

Place de la Chichy, Pierre Bonnard

Place de Chichy, Pierre Bonnard, 1912

A painting without brights (untoned, bold, intense hues) here and there may be sorely lacking excitement, and might benefit from even small accents here and there. This street scene of the Place de Chichy by Bonnard is a true favorite of mine. Its liveliness begins with strong contrasting neutral values of dark browns, creams and peach. Then come the subtle accents of orange, yellow green, light yellows and blue. The brightest accent of orange is in the lady’s hat, smack in the middle of the painting. If I could own any painting in the world, this one might be it.

Is color first and foremost when deciding if a painting is really a good painting? It wasn’t Picasso’s primary design element. What do you think?

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5 Responses to “My Favorite Colorist Painters 1… Van Gogh, Frieseke, Charles Sovek and Bonnard (for starters)”

  1. Leslie Ann Clark Says:

    You already know my feelings. Color above all else! Color grabs me and moves me deep! It also upsets me at times. Color is an amazing thing. It is from God himself!

    Like

  2. Jans Art Quilts Says:

    I enjoyed your blog this morning. I tend to use the vivid colors with wild abandonment and agree that balance is needed. I like to be drawn into a painting and then stay awhile. If it’s not comfortable to do that then I don’t feel like I have a completed piece. I never really looked at it like this before but that has been my process. I throw out the colors and then tame them down a bit for balance. Thanks for the insight. I may be able to finish my projects a bit earlier now that I am looking for the balance instead of just standing back and saying; something is just not right.

    Like

  3. segmation Says:

    Entrance to the Public Gardens in Arles is one of my favorites! So colorful!,

    Like

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