Denman Ross’ Rubens Palette 10

Palette Mixes from the Rubens Palette 10 by Judith Reeve

This week I spent time experimenting with Robert Henri’s version of the Rubens Palette 10 of Denman Ross. The palette I worked with was the 1919 version in which Ross’ student, Moulton, demonstrated the mixing of the colors on the palette in Henri’s studio on June 28, 1919. Henri had made his own version of the palette in 1914 and used it between 1914-1915. At that time, Henri created his palette from Ross’ book, On Drawing and Painting which appeared in 1912. The Rubens Palette experiments came after Henri’s use of some of the simpler palettes presented in On Drawing and Painting. Ross considered the Rubens Palette his most complex set-palette. Its complexity lies in that most of the colors in the spectrum are used and they are presented in the palette in the value in which they are the most intense. The only colors that do not appear are the violets, since Ross believed that violet was not used during the Renaissance.

The schematic diagram of the Rubens Palette 10:

Rubens Palette 10 Diagram by Denman Ross

In the diagram, colors are established in registers of value that begin in blue (GB) and descend through yellow to red. I have indicated the values of each register on the right. These value indications are taken from Ross’ Diagram of the Triangles, which appears in On Drawing and Painting and in The Painter’s Palette. White is at the top of the palette and black is at the bottom. All colors within the palette fall within these extremes. In regard to mixing, each register acts as a palette in itself. So mixing between colors is restricted to each register. One does not mix between registers. So all mixing is confined to its value register. One can mix more intermediate colors beyond those first established in the basic palette. Also, each register forms a neutral. Here is palette 10, which surprisingly, was easy to achieve from Henri’s color notes and paint samples:

Rubens Palette Created in Henri’s Studio with Moulton, recreated by Judith Reeve

I used most of the colors that Henri used with a few exceptions. I also mixed the neutrals for each register on the right. Here is a list of Henri’s color mixes taken from his notebook:

  1. Zinc Wht + Aureolin Yellow
  2. Cobalt B. + W with Au Y or Viridian or both
  3. Au Y + W +trace of Yel Ocher + trace of Viridian
  4. Au Y + Rose Madder + W
  5. Cob + W
  6. Au Y + W + trace YO + trace Vir
  7. Venetian R + RM + W  [I used Light Red (Old Holland) + RM + W (this was almost exactly the same)]
  8. Cob + W + trace of Au Y and Vir
  9. Au Y + Vir + YO (no W)
  10. YO + Au Y + trace of Bt. Sienna
  11. RM + Au Y (no W)
  12. Cob + W
  13. Raw Sienna + Vir + Au Y
  14. Indian Red + RM (no W) [I used Bt.s +RM (this was almost exactly the same)]
  15. Cob (no W)
  16. Vir (Hatfield brand) [I used Vir + a touch of Ivory Black because the value of my Viridian was too light]
  17. Bt.s [I used Raw Umber + Bt.s because the value was too light and too red and should reflect a Y/O sensation]
  18. Ultramarine B + Mars V. + RM (no W)
  19. Cassel Earth
  20. Blue Blk [I used Ivory Blk + a touch of Ultra]

The added color of XX (which appears on my diagram above), Henri mixed notes 9 + 16 to make an additional green in that register. If one looks at the neutrals, one can observe that they alternate beginning at the top warm-cool-warm-cool-warm as the registers descend toward black. A very beautiful and appealing palette. Henri used the Rubens Palette on a painting of Florencia from 1918. I believe this image, although it was painted earlier, was repainted by Henri with this palette in 1918 [Henri’s Pigment Notebook has an entry dated June 30, 1918 for this painting], but he maintained its original record number.

Henri’s, Florencia, 1918 with the Rubens Palette colors below

At the top of this post is another view of these palette mixes placed in a color composition. These color combinations are so enticing that I hope to experiment with this palette in the near future on an original composition.

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.

6 thoughts on “Denman Ross’ Rubens Palette 10”

  1. How to obtain the list of colors by name? e.g; cad yellow lt, cad red md, yellow ochre, allizron crimson, Viridian, ultramarine blue, cerulean, burnt umber, terra Rosa, ivory blk. Yes?
    Zinc white

    1. I have listed the color names in the blog. But remember, Henri would more often mix his own colors from the tubed colors. There is also confusion because even though the name of the color is the same, such as cadmium, the purity of the chemical process is much different now. When I have looked at some of these cadmium samples in the archive, they only imperfectly resemble our modern colors. Plus, Henri frequently used Maratta’s colors which were very specific to his spectrum palette. I think it is more important to understand the method that Henri experimented with rather than relying on a specific index of color.

    1. Actually your warms and cools are in your control. e.g lay out 11 boards tape off 5 rows and 10 columns. Start, 1st board cad yellow light upper corner. Then mix cad yellow lt with yellow ochre pure then graduate down each row adding white until last row is the mixture with mostly white.
      The most important part of this exercise is to mix each color in each square individually. Therefore first top column is cad yellow lt with yellow ochre pure. Down one square to cad yellow lt with yellow ochre and white.
      Finished product is 10 boards of 50 colors and you have a lifetime index of color

      1. That only works if you intend on using the same combination of colors. Plus, just adding white definitely cools the color off, but solely using white only as a cooling agent has its limitations. Value is also raised but intensity is lowered. White is primarily a neutralizer most of all.

        1. Yes, because you, as you state, are mixing a chromatic circle from a limited set of colors which then controls for both value and intensity. Thank you Judith for helping me understand this concept. For years I have struggled to understand how chroma and value interrelate and this finally makes sense. Gives great freedom. I guess some people get this on instinct but, for me, the structure for mixing is eye-opening.

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