Delacroix’s Double Triangle- Part 2

Palette of Eugene Delacroix at the Musee Delacroix, Paris

In my previous post, I reflected on Delacroix’s Double Triangle and this post is a continuation of my reflections on Henri’s and Delacroix’s understanding of the color spectrum. The Double Triangle and The Full Spectrum Palette are intertwined with the same ideas but are expressed uniquely through each artist’s modality of creativity.

Delacroix was a virtuoso colorist and in the Musee Delacroix in Paris, a palette is on display. This palette dates from Delacroix’s late work, his murals at Saint Sulpice, and his late easel paintings. One can see the complexity of his color arrangements. This late palette reflects Delacroix’s complete grasp of color relationships and color interactions. The palette is laid out in groups of spectrum intervals that are adjusted for intensity, neutralization, and value. Each grouping also reflects its possible use- light and dark flesh tones, background, drapery, etc. The color arrangement exhibited in this palette corresponds to many of the Delacroix paintings I have seen in American Museums [Delacroix at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2018 and The Late Work, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1998].

In the Metropolitan show, a study of the Apollo Ceiling was on display. This study was beautiful and harmonious. It was built on the complements of Red-Green. Delacroix was quite partial to this arrangement, specifically, Red to Green Blue, and on the palette at the Musee Delacroix, one can see this complementary relationship in the grouped arrangements. These colors are in most of the groupings in some form- pure, high intensity to neutralized muted tones. Looking at the Double Triangle, I have observed several things that may help unlock Delacroix’s use of the R-G complementary palette.

Let’s begin with the Double Triangle set with R color (most intense) at the apex and G color (most intense) at the bottom. Note that the top bar between O-V reveals the scale of R: RO + VR= R Bi (semi-neutral); O + V= R Hue (more neutralized). Below this bar, we have the Neutral center. In the R-G complementary scale, the OY + BV= N is the appropriate neutral to use in this R-G scale. One can certainly use the mix R + G= N, but realize the added variety, and increased color range with the OY + BV= N.

The red end of the scale is set. Now let’s look at the green end of the scale. G is a secondary color, not a primary, so its scale must be built differently. If we look at the central hexagon, the bottom half between Y and B, reside the YG and GB at the intersections above G. Note that Y-YG-G-GB-B are in sequential order [If I mixed any combination of these colors, the result would be a green that has no neutralization, hence, we need to mix differently]. First, we must find the Y Bi and the B Bi and mix these to create the G Bi (semi-neutral). OY + YG= Y Bi; GB + BV= B Bi. These Bi colors follow the bars between O-G and V-G emphasizing the triangle of secondaries, O-G-V. Next, G Bi is mixed: Y Bi + B Bi = G Bi. Next, mix the Y Hue and the B Hue: O + G= Y Hue; V + G= B Hue. G Hue is mixed: Y Hue + B Hue= G Hue. This G Hue is closer to the neutral center than the G Bi and reflects the progression in the green scale from G color to G Bi to G Hue to the Neutral.

The Y Hue and the B Hue can effectively replace the pure colors of Y and B. By cutting off the pure primaries of Y and B (the grey areas), and replacing them with the Y Hue and B Hue, I maintain the dominance of the R-G complementary scale and arrangement. I still have a semblance of the Y and B but at a reduced intensity (closer to the Neutral center), allowing the R and G to act as the more intense colors. Note that the triangle of secondaries remains intact. Note that both O and V contain R and these colors are also present in the G Bi and the G Hue. This type of interaction creates an internal harmony between the colors.

Let’s examine the near-complements within the R-G complementary arrangement. If I draw a dotted red line between R and the near complement, GB, I effectively draw a line closer to the Neutral center. This near complement of R + GB= V (semi-neutral) will appear V/BV because it is between this Neutral center and the V/BV area of the graph. Subsequently, the more R, I add, the closer to V the mix will appear, and the more GB I add, the closer to BV it will appear. The same is true for the R + YG= O (semi-neutral). The dotted line between the near complements approaches the Neutral center. The more R, I add, the more O this mix will appear and the more YG, I add, the more it will approach the OY area of the graph. This, again, focuses the palette toward the R-G axis, subduing the O at high intensity and the V at high intensity. These near-complementary combinations needn’t replace the O-V but can be used to add variety within the semi-neutral range of tones.

Note from this straightforward complementary arrangement there is a complexity of color revealed. There is also a feeling of the predominance of the R-G scale and an innate harmony that can be achieved through the various mixes that I have detailed. Complexity wrapped in a simple arrangement with various tones in several intensities subtly drawn to the R-G axis in less obvious ways. There is much to meditate on as I imagine Delacroix had done. There was a reason he had this Double Triangle drawn directly on the wall of his studio- so that in the quiet moments of working on a painting he could reflect on the possibilities lying beneath the surface of color interaction.

Judith Reeve, R-G Complementary Palette in the format of the Double Triangle.

Judith Reeve, R-G Complementary Palette set in the format of Delacroix’s Double Triangle. The position of the G Bi and the G Hue should be reversed. See the graph above.

Delacroix’s Double Triangle- some thoughts

I teach a college class on color, and in my lectures, I compare the many ways painters have visually described the color spectrum. This includes the typical color wheel, Henri’s sequential layout of the color spectrum, and Delacroix’s double triangle. My students gain the most understanding from Delacroix’s double triangle. The two triangles interlock. The first triangle displays the primaries, red, yellow, and blue. The second triangle displays the secondaries, orange, green, and violet. These triangles interlock in a way that displays the complementary pairs- the point of say, red, is directly across from its complement, green.

Alexander Dumas visited Delacroix’s studio and related how this double triangle was drawn on the wall. Delacroix meditated on this arrangement daily. So last semester, when I drew this double triangle on the chalkboard, I too had some insight as I meditated on this diagram set side-by-side to Henri’s Full Spectrum arrangement. I began to reflect on the intersections that lie within the double triangle. These intersections reveal the tertiary mixes. Below yellow at the apex lies the OY and the YG. But I found it interesting that each primary color’s scale rests on that bar just under the apex of the primary that it describes- O, OY, YG, and G. The Y appears at the apex at the highest intensity. Below this, the combination of the OY and YG [Henri’s Y Bi color] is lower in intensity. On the wings of the bar, O and G display the lowest intensity of the Y on the yellow scale [Henri’s Y Hue]. Note that the OY and YG are closer to the Y and therefore, have a greater intensity than O and G which lie further out.

If I follow the perimeter of the triangle, I arrive at the RO and the GB near the center. When combined, these colors form a neutral and follow Henri’s ideas on a color’s scale. If we examine Henri’s Intensity Palettes, he allows for the transition of a color’s scale to travel through a set of neutrals before passing into the complementary scale, in this case, violet. The RO + GB is the proper neutral for this Y scale. As the triangle descends beyond this neutral, we arrive at the violet complement through the R + B, the VR + BV , and the V itself. Note, that there is no visual scale for the secondaries. To arrive at these scales of O, G, and V, one needs to mix the B + R; the B Bi + R Bi; and the B Hue + the R Hue. This is reflected in both Delacroix’s and Henri’s versions because if we examine the V end, all combinations give you V without any reduction in the intensity. Hence, one can only arrive at the secondary color scales by mixing combinations within the primary scales.

Another thought that struck me was the idea of “near-complements”. Henri spent much time in his Late Palettes investigating the use of “near-complementary” combinations. These near-complementary mixes add a greater vitality to the paint mix versus just using the complement to reduce the intensity within a complementary pair. Mixing Y + VR creates the OY, O, RO, and R sides of the chromatic circle; and Y + BV creates the YG, G, GB, and B sides of the chromatic circle. This also reflects Walter Sargent’s idea of the Chromatic Circle as evidenced in his book, “The Enjoyment and Use of Color.” Henri’s late Irish portraits of children are painted using this idea of a chromatic circle based on near-complementary relationships. This method allows the painting to be seen through a ‘colored lens’ concentrating and actualizing the power of the complements without excessive neutralization [which dulls the effectiveness of mixing the complements. I am not including laying the complements side-by-side, which itself is an activation that takes place in the mind of the viewer, and hence, has vitality].

The ideas of a color’s scale and a chromatic circle must have been in the mind of Delacroix as he reflected on this double triangle on his studio wall. I imagine him, very much like Henri, spending time mixing color combinations on his palette in an attempt to unlock a greater understanding of the power of color.