Art – Tone And Light-And-Shade – Part 2

You may often see good instances of color-tone among the woven fabrics and embroideries of the East, which are being brought in abundance to our country at the present time. The ground of these stuffs is generally of one tint, and upon this ground are often woven many other tints in various figures and patterns. But it will be noticed that these figures and patterns are generally small and unpretending, and that their combined color-effect, whether opposed or similar, does not equal one-fifth of the dominating power of the ground upon which they are placed. If we stand back at so great a distance that the patterns cannot be seen, the color-tone of the ground will be still plainly visible, and the whole will appear as one uniform coloring. This may be seen again in the closely woven Daghestan rugs, in the Spanish enamelled leathers, and in the finer pieces of Japanese lacquer-work. The work may be relieved or heightened by touches of sympathetic or even contrasted color here and there, but the general complexion of the whole should be pronounced and positive.

This phase of tone, regarding it for color only, which I have been trying to illustrate—and it is very hard work, I assure you, for the proper illustration belongs to art, not to literature, and should be seen by the eye, not told to the ear—this phase of tone will be associated in your minds with one tone, or decorative tone. But it is not quite monotone. Neither the rug nor the embroidery is like a roll of cartridge – paper or a peach – blow vase. The monotony of the one tint in the ground is broken by many other tints, which, though perhaps of the same family, and in sympathy with the chief tint, are nevertheless somewhat different. This difference is still more marked in color-tone pictures, where very often there are no two colors of exactly the same hue, not even in the ground of the picture ; but all the tints will be found of the same complexion, and tending toward a common-color goal. However, it may be admitted that perfect color-tone approximates monotone without entirely paralleling it. To please by uniformity of coloring is certainly its object. Perhaps the pictures of Puvis de .Chavannes, Cazin, and others are as good illustrations of color-tone as may be offered.

Between the American and the English meaning of tone there is some difference, though possibly it is largely a difference in terms or a confusion of cause and effect. Mr. Ruskin, in his Modern Painters, gives as his primary understanding of tone the right relations of objects to each other as regards their substance and shadow. This “right relation ” is largely brought about by the proper distribution of light, or the giving (approximately) to each object or color that quantity of light or dark which it would receive in nature. In actual landscape this distribution of light frequently produces a softening, a mellowing, or a “toning-down ” effect, and that effect, showing, as it often does, in a uniformity of tint, is what the American painter calls tone but Mr. Ruskin and the English painters give the name to the cause instead of to the effect, and speak of tone (in one sense at any rate) as the distribution of light. A painter, for whose opinion I have the most profound respect, once explained to me the effect of tone, as he understood it, by saying that “it was like looking at objects through a great gauze veil—the veil in nature being produced by sunlight diffused through atmosphere which ‘ tones’ in a uniform light all the objects seen.” The illustration was not without its truth. We see the same effect actually rendered by artists in their so-called ” artists’ tableaux,” in which a picture by some famous master is reproduced by placing living models in the setting of a large picture-frame over the front of which a transparent gauze is stretched. The gauze is placed there to give an effect of tone. Seen through it the figures back of it appear tinged or touched or modified by a harmonizing element resembling light and atmosphere.

We see this same transparent veiling in nature at every turn. The Jersey-marsh scene shows it. The landscape itself is rather sombre in coloring, but it is largely the diffusion of broken light that produces the gray atmospheric effect of the whole. It changes and subdues by its touch, and no matter what local colors there may be in the trees, the houses, or the grasses, the gray will tinge them all. The light of early morning and twilight may like-wise produce color-tone effects, the half-light sib vering everything until the whole scene presents a uniformity of complexion such as we have often observed in the landscapes of Corot and Daubigny. Yellow sunlight again, if properly diffused so that every color in the picture is touched and modified by it, as we may see in Millet’s “Gleaners”, and in some of the landscapes of Cuyp ; or even yellow lamplight as seen in the interiors of the Dutch painters and some of the moderns like Besnard and Kroyer, may either of them produce a color-tone effect. Such lights as these furnish us with tone in both our own and the English sense ; but color-tone (the American sense) in full clear sunlight is hardly a possibility. Under the direct rays of the sun every color may jump to its highest pitch, and, by comparison, every shadow may sink to its lowest depth. There is contrast rather than uniformity, and just here is the American point of departure from the English meaning. For the proper diffusion of sunlight, regardless of any uniformity of tint or hue, and the maintenance of each shadow in proper relation to the chief light make up one, perhaps the principal, English meaning of tone—make up light-tone. In a landscape, for instance, a white house, one-half of which is in shadow and one-half in light, must not only show in itself the properly related tones or qualities of white under light and white under shadow, but its light and its shadow must be pitched in relationship to every other light and shadow in the scene ; and all the lights and shadows must pay a relative allegiance to the highest light, whatever that may be—sky, water, or snow-clad mountain – top. If this perfect relationship were shown in every object and in every light and shade throughout the whole scene the result would be a sense or feeling that everything in view was illumined by one kind of light and in one atmosphere ; and that would be what an Englishman might call ” good tone ” (light-tone), though it might not reveal that uniformity of hue which an American might call ” good tone ” (color-tone).

There is another, or rather an accompanying meaning of tone, from the English point of view, which deals with color and which requires a moment’s consideration. This is the second feature of tone as laid down by Mr. Ruskin, and its successful treatment requires the painting of a given color in different intensities of light, showing the different intensities, but still maintaining the original quality of the color. It is not an easy thing for the painter to do. A red cloth, one part of which is in sunlight and one part in shadow, remains unchanged in its quality though changed in its shades. We instinctively feel that it is one and the same cloth under different intensities of light. But to paint it that way, to give the intensities yet preserve the quality, that is not easy of accomplishment. It requires a well-trained eye to see, in the first place, and a well-trained hand to re-cord, in the second place. Trickery, chic, and studio receipts are of little avail. The artists have a maxim, “Paint it as you see it,” which is whole-some advice indeed, but in this case rather difficult to follow. Some try to evade this direct method by scumblings or glazings, with the idea of putting in the shadow over the original hue, but I believe the success of this at the present time is often questioned.

Whatsoever the artist’s method, or howsoever difficult the problem may be of accomplishment, there can be no question about the necessity of a colored object showing light-and-shade the same as one de-void of color, and that, too, without wrecking local character or hue. To be sure there have been some remarkable exceptions to such a rule. The painter’s law of preserving color-quality in light and in shadow has been broken again and again by geniuses who have made laws unto themselves, but in our count we cannot reckon with such cases. Rembrandt is an excellent example of the law-breaker. While painting perhaps the most penetrating lights and the most luminous shadows ever placed upon canvas, he nevertheless distorted them both for purposes of effect by sacrificing color in the most merciless manner. He did this continually, kneading colors under shadow into grays and browns, and under light pitching them in abnormally high keys. The effect was powerful, if “forced,” and, of course, permissible in the hands of genius.

The Florentines and the Romans worked in a similar though less violent manner. Thus you will frequently see in the pictures of Raphael, Giulio Romano, and the Bolognese painters that a red or a blue robe in full light, where stretched across the arm or the leg, will be bleached or faded out nearly to a white ; while in shadow, as where it falls in folds, the same robe will be pitched down many degrees until it is nearly black, and of an entirely different quality. Whatever their object in doing this (it was probably to gain relief) it did not proceed from ignorance, for they did not always do it. Nevertheless it was a falsification of nature and destructive of luminosity in shadow, of quality, of local color. The pictures of the Venetians, Titian and Paolo Veronese, where not only the shadows are warm and deep, but the colors under them are given their proper qualities, show much truer and better work.

This secondary meaning of light-tone will be understood better perhaps if we again call up to mind the landscape with the white house, only changing the color of the house from white to red. If it be still half in shadow and half in light, it must be apparent that there will be two very different intensities of red, but only one quality of it. In other words, it would be a peculiar kind of red, no matter whether in shadow or out of it; and to paint It with the two intensities and only one quality, showing it a matter of varying illumination and not difference in hue, would be realizing tone in this last meaning of the word. Furthermore, for the light-tone of the whole picture this shadowed red should be exactly related to all the other shadowed colors of the scene and to the highest color, precisely as the house when white was related in its shade to all the other shades in the scene and to the highest light.

Finally, then, and by way of recapitulation, the English view of tone concerns itself, first, with the effect of light on lights and darks and their relations, and secondly, with the effect of light on colors and their relations. The American view concerns itself with the prevailing quantity of hue or tint which may, and often does, arise from effects of light-distribution. For the French view, which considers tone as the enveloppe, it is so close of kin to what I shall speak of under aerial perspective and values, that for the present it may be passed by.

The making of color-tone a picture motive is of modern origin. For though some of the pictures of the ancients are not without good light-tone effects, yet that color-tone was especially sought for by them, or that much importance was attached to it, may well be doubted. Formerly the painter was scheduled in his profession as either a draughtsman or a colorist ; now he may be a texture-painter, a chiaroscurist, a luminarist, a tonalist, or what he pleases. For art like the other professions has, in the present century, been split up into many sections, and the place of the painter strong in all departments is being occupied by the specialist skilful in one thing alone. There is no reason why ‘color-tone should not be chosen as a painter’s motive, for it is a charming, if not a startling, quality of art. It pleases by a subdued, yet pervading beauty, as does the blue of a clear sky, the sea-green of the ocean, the sound of an AEolian harp, or the stir of the night-winds through the trees. It neither violently vibrates nor wearies the nerves of the eye, but is restful, good to live with, cheering at times, and soothing always. Its accompanying features in painting, such as atmosphere, soft broken light, and values, are, moreover, unfailing excellences of art, full of subtile problems of technic and delicate gradations of color which continually unfold new pleasures to us the more we study them. True enough it is not fitted by its nature to present us with those ideas of a literary or an historical kind which some people seem to think the chief aim of art. But then, perhaps, it would be as well for us if we should know less about the triumphs of Scipio dead and gone, and more about the triumphs of nature as she passes before us day after day, robed in such garments as never monarch wore, and accompanied by such a procession of changing beauties as never conqueror knew.

Light-and-Shade.—Night and day, light and dark, sun and shade are opposing forces. Antithetical, they counteract and restrain each other ; complementary, they emphasize and relieve each other. Each shade is a light to a darker shade ; each light is a shade to a higher light. A gray is a light to a brown ; an orange is a shadow to a yellow. Each acts as a foil for the other, and by the continual. play of change and interchange are we enabled to distinguish in space the things of the visible world about us. Without shade all things would be flat and formless ; a cock of hay would be no thicker than a knife-blade, a forest would be merely a thin silhouette against the sky. Without light not only the problem of painting, but the problem of life it-self , would be a great deal more perplexing than we at present find it.

Light-and-shade, or, as it is sometimes called, chiaroscuro, is in painting a means whereby objects are cast in relief upon flat surface and made to assume the appearance of reality. It is, of course, of great importance, and one can hardly imagine how painting could exist without it except as decoration, or in those crude forms which mark the picture-writings of the barbarous tribes and the early civilizations. The Egyptian and the Assyrian wall-paintings, and many of the mediaeval paintings of Italy are quite devoid of it, and in them we recognize its necessity by its absence. For though modern painting is not an imitation of nature, yet it is a representation of it seen from an individual point of view ; and no individual has ever been able to see nature in any form except by the means of light-and-shade. The smallest objects about us possess it, a grain of sand as well as a mountain, a match or a pencil as well as a forest of hemlocks. It needs no argument to prove this. An object, no matter what, receiving light upon one side of it rejects, absorbs, or obstructs the light, and thus produces shadow on its opposite side. An eclipse of the sun, and the earth in its changes from day to night are simply large illustrations of the truth.