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.

Author: Judith Reeve

For nearly 30 years I've developed my painting practice in the studio, building on what I leaned from my student days at the Lyme Academy of Fine Art. Along with my daily journey creating images which I write about here on this blog, I am also currently writing a book on the color practice of Robert Henri.

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