Henri’s analysis of Alizarin

Robert Henri, Mary Gallagher, 1924

Robert Henri, Mary Gallagher, 1924

One of the most difficult tasks for every artist is determining which pigments in their oil paints are permanent and can be intermixed. The science behind pigment permanency is not always clear. Much of our understanding of pigment permanency is derived from artists like Henri, who, through the centuries, have conducted their own experiments in order to develop a permanent palette in oils or watercolors and then pass this knowledge on to their students.

In the recent past, there have been chemists who have acted as authorities on pigment permanency, such as A.H. Church, “The Chemistry of Paints and Painting” (1890) and “Color: an Elementary Manual for Students (1907); Maximilian Toch, “The Chemistry and Technology of Mixed Paints” (1907), “Materials for a Permanent Painting” (1911), and “How to Paint a Permanent Picture” (1922); as well as some older names such as Jacques Blockx, and Winsor and Newton, both paint manufacturers. Ralph Mayer’s “The Artist’s Handbook” (1940) is a more contemporary analysis of artists’ paints. This type of research is crucial as the integrity of one’s work depends on the quality and permanency of the pigments. I use the Color of Art Pigment Database to determine how permanent a pigment is and whether there are any issues with mixing that pigment with others on my palette. Modern dyes, introduced in the 20th century, are often mixed into cheaper artists’ paint, affecting the lightfastness and the overall permanency of the paint.

Henri spent much time seeking a permanent palette that could be used with or without Alizarin Crimson. This pigment is very popular today as it was in Henri’s time. Although Permanent Alizarin was recently developed, this pigment is unlike the original Alizarin Crimson. And once you have used the original, replacing it with the pinker Permanent Alizarin is hard.

Henri used Alizarin Crimson briefly in his palettes focused on intensity in the early 1920s. When I experimented with these intensity palettes, I got addicted to Alizarin Crimson all over again and had to ween myself from its use. Note Alizarin tends to darken in contact with many pigments, such as Aureolin Yellow. I have seen artists work produced in the ’70s-’80s already darkened by the Alizarin coming in contact with pigments that it is incompatible with. I would urge all artists using this pigment to ensure their palette is archival by conducting the proper research. Henri later abandons using Alizarin for other pigments that are known to be permanent and can easily be intermixed.

Henri spent two-plus years researching and experimenting with pigment permanency to produce a document for members of The League of American Artists. George Bellows and H.G. Maratta also participated in generating this book for the League, Bellows as an editor and Maratta as an advisor. It was never published, as the League disbanded shortly after its completion.

Robert Henri Archive, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, CT

Robert Henri, Artists Pigment Notebook, Box 25, f. 580, p. 5. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, CT. [Not to be reproduced for commercial purposes].

I want to share Henri’s permanent palettes that he developed through this research and experimentation with my readers. Henri ends the document for the League by providing two permanent palettes- a permanent palette safe with Alizarin and a permanent palette that does not use Alizarin. You may or may not be someone who uses Alizarin; either way, these palettes describe a series of pigments that are fully compatible.

The palette which may be used safely in conjunction with Madders and Alizarin:

  • Madders, such as Rose Madder
  • Alizarin, such as Alizarin Crimson
  • Mars Violet
  • Indian Red
  • Vermilion
  • Light Red
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Burnt Umber
  • Cadmium
  • Viridian
  • Davy Grey
  • Ultramarine blues
  • Paynes Gray
  • Black
  • Zinc White

The palette which excludes Madders and Alizarin:

  • Indian Red
  • Venetian Red
  • Vermilion- cannot be used with lead white
  • Mars Violet
  • Mars Red
  • Light Red
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Mars Orange
  • Burnt Umber
  • Cadmium
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Raw Sienna
  • Mars Yellow
  • Viridian
  • Davey Grey
  • Raw Umber
  • Mars Brown
  • Ultramarine Blues
  • Paynes Gray
  • Lamp Black
  • Ivory Black
  • Zinc white
  • Lead White- Henri notes there might be an issue with ultramarine and lead white

These palettes contain a more extensive array of colors than one would need. Henri indicates within his document that he would develop limited palettes that would be more practical for painting. From the second palette, Henri selects three possible versions:

Zinc W.- Vermilion- Cadmium- Ultramarine

Zinc W.- Vermilion- Cadmium- Viridian-Ultramarine

Lead W.- Indian R./or Mars V.-Venetian R./ or Bt. Sienna- Cadmium/ or Yellow Ochre- Viridian/ or Davey Grey- Black

Henri provides these limited palettes as suggestions for working palettes. Because each palette is permanent, the artist may choose any combination of the selected pigments to build his working palette. One is not obligated to choose those pigments that Henri has selected.

I hope Henri’s experimentation can provide some insight into the pigments you have already chosen to work with on your palette, or if there is a problem of permanency on your palette, you might be able to remedy the issue. Any questions about these palettes? Use the contact page to reach out.

A Color Temperature Practical

Judith Reeve, A Palette of Three Primaries and the Neutral.

I have been teaching a drapery study class in my studio this fall. Besides instructing my students on the fundamentals of drapery- design, proper construction, characterization, and dynamic rhythm- I wanted to explore color temperature modeling since my students were painting. To effectively allow the color temperature on the drape to be evident, I used a white cotton drape. I also manipulated or exaggerated the color by adding red fabric below the arrangement to add a vivid red reflected light. This reflected light is more intense closer to the bottom of the drape. The red reflected light then loses intensity progressively toward the top, infiltrated by a yellow tone of reflected light.

Judith Reeve, Photo of the Drapery in my studio.

What is not evident from the photo is the warm, yellowish direct light from my lamp. This warmed the general light side but allowed for a blasted, cooler highlight. There is also a cool blue form shadow edge meeting the halftones on the light side. The cast shadows are also cool, tending toward a green-grey. This color relates to the tone of the wall.

My purpose for this arrangement was to allow each primary, red, yellow, and blue an evident area within the drape. This created structure for my students to explore how a white ( i.e.-neutral) drape is affected by color temperature variations that reflect a change in the plane and the directional source of the light.

I next created a simplified palette design that would establish certain limitations. The primaries used are:

  • Red- cadmium red vermilion (Old Holland)
  • Yellow- a mix of raw sienna deep (Old Holland) + cadmium yellow (W&N). This mix contains more raw sienna than cadmium yellow.
  • Blue- Indanthrene blue (W&N) + Ivory black (Old Holland). One could substitute Ultramarine blue for Indanthrene blue, as some of my students did. This mix contains more black than blue.

You will notice that these primaries are not balanced through intensity. I have created a hierarchy of intensity where red is the most intense, followed by yellow, then blue. Remember that the drape is primarily neutral. So I had my students create a neutral mix from these three primaries that they then set on the palette to use during the painting process (this is the mix to the top, far left on the palette). Sometimes white was added to this neutral (N + W) to create a lighter value that was then added to the lighter tones. The additional yellow mix (to the right under the blue) contained a little more cadmium yellow and was used in some of the brighter areas on the light side to pump the color up, as one was apt to add more white to the mixtures to increase the values.

The method: The goal is to produce a painting of a white drape that perceptively shifts in color temperature to achieve the modeling of the forms not just through black/white value changes but also color temperature changes. Color temperature modeling consists in varying the color temperature to “turn the forms.” That means alternating the temperature warm, cool, warm, cool, etc. Secondly, the students will use the neutral to subtly harmonize these colors, adding the neutral to lower the value and shift the color temperature. Some of this neutral is mixed into most of the colors, and a harmonious unity is created in the painting through this shared neutral color.

An example: I begin with the higher values and cooler highlight areas using the lightest version of the yellow + white. As I move to the warm general light area (yellow), I will add more of the neutral as the halftones move toward the form shadow edge. This will effectively cool and lower the value of those halftones while simultaneously maintaining a coherent relationship with the generally warm light area. The shadow edge will be cool and bluer, with more of the neutral added to darken the value. Then, the reflected lights will be lighter and warmer, varying from a yellow/orange tone to an intense red tone. Again, the neutral is added to each of these tones unifying the shadow area. Lastly, the cast shadows on the drape are darker/cooler toward the green, again, with more of the neutral added. The demo of mixes on the palette demonstrates only some of the possibilities for shifting the color temperature inherent in this method.

Some of my students working on drapery.

This lesson allowed me to share some of Robert Henri’s techniques from the early 1920s. Henri went through a period of experimenting with a series of neutrals derived from the primaries in order to control the values while simultaneously he sought to model the forms through color temperature. Henri found these studies very successful, opening him up to a new understanding of color technique in his work.

Form can be modeled in black and white, but there are infinitely greater possibilities in modeling through the warmth and coolness of color.

Robert Henri, The Art Spirit, p. 62.

Henri may have initially explored this idea because Albert Munsell’s Color Notation, 1905, was gaining interest among artists in the teens and early twenties. Through my own experience, I have found that color temperature modeling adds incredible vitality to a painting. The eye is scintillated by the juxtaposition of the opposites keeping the surface of the canvas activated. It also creates a greater feeling of form even when the values are nearly identical.

Try this color temperature practical and let me know in the comments if you found it effective or if you have any additional insights through your practice. Enjoy painting!