The Complexity of Color

Image of color conbination used in the painting by Robert Henri discussed in post
Image of color chord used in the painting by Robert Henri discussed in post

I recently attended an exhibition at the New Britain Museum of  American Art in Ct. The show was called The Eight and American Modernism. There were several paintings by Robert Henri from the Milwaukee Museum of Art that I have only seen in reproductions. How refreshing to view them up close. There was one painting from a private collector that I had never seen before but had read some of Henri’s color notes regarding it in his archive. This painting, The Dancer of Delhi (Betalo Rubino), was truly magnificent. It contained in a summary form all that Henri was about and much of what he strived for.

In this piece Henri uses the model as a vehicle to explore  the complex color relationships in a chord with multiple intensities for each color in the triad. Dancer of Delhi was built on the chord of R-YG-BP with the subordinate triad as RO bi, GB bi, PR c. Each color appears in several intensities- the R approaches a pure state in the lips and adornments and appears in a lower intensity in the large drape on which the model is reclining; it is present in the flesh, neutralized by white and by the YG. The flesh tone was achieved through the main chord of primarily the YG and the BP with touches of the R in the warmer passages; the shadow area containing RO bi with warm accents of PR c and the cast shadows overlaid with the BP. The BP and the GB bi appear in different intensities throughout- combined in the foreground and side by side in the background and neutralized with white in the top of the model. And touches of pure color appear in the jewelry and beads (very like Frans Hals). It was amazing to see so much color in a piece yet still appear very realistic- realism with the inner intensity of the artist very much present.

What I found most striking about the piece other than its marvelous and sensuous color is the amazing simplicity inherent in it. The figure is simply painted and the flesh tones varying only in temperature to achieve form- the value (in regards to black and white) having very little variation. Color temperature being the primary means to achieve the modeling. This is one of Henri’s insights-” The effect of brilliancy is to be obtained principally from the oppositions of cool colors with warm colors, and the opposition of grave colors with bright colors… Form can be modeled in black and white, but there are infinitely greater possibilities in modeling through the warmth and coolness of color.” ( Henri, The Art Spirit, p.57 and p.62)

(If you end up viewing the painting on-line or in the catalogue reproduction, it is very dark and too warm with too much contrast- although it is imperfect it will at least give one an idea of the painting.)