Henri’s Early Palettes of Color Analogies

An evaluation of Robert Henri’s 1910-1913 palettes, based on the color analogies proposed by H.G. Maratta, which are built on one dominant color.

Robert Henri, "The Green Fan", 1912
Robert Henri, “The Green Fan”, 1912

This summer I wrote about Analogies in the Key of Green in which I gave some examples of those type of color analogies that Henri used as part of his late palettes. In this blog, I would like to evaluate Henri’s early, 1910-1913, palettes based on color analogies as proposed by H.G. Maratta. These analogies are built on one dominant color. This dominant color controls the effect of all the other colors on the palette.

The purpose of such a palette, where one limits and manipulates the character of the non-dominant colors, is to create a heightened feeling of the dominant color as it radiates through the spectrum palette. Chevreul states that a color is intensified by being juxtaposed by those colors adjacent to that color on the palette. An example would be: If my dominant color was yellow, the yellow can be heightened by the juxtaposition of orange-yellow and yellow green, which reside on either side of yellow along the spectrum band.

These early palettes are based on a simple formula of mixing the pigments in a certain percentage with the dominant color. This proportion of the dominant color added to all the other colors can be from 10%-25%, 25%-50%. Greater than 50% addition of a dominant color may end up as impracticable.  An example of a red analogy using 50% red added to the other colors of the palette:

VR+50%R, R, RO+ 50%R, O+50%R, OY+50%R, Y+50%R, YG+50%R, G+50%R, GB+50%R, B+50%R, BV+50%R, V+50%R

This results in:

 VRR,  R,  RRO,  RO, ROO, O, RObi, Rhue, VRbi, V, BVV, VR

One can see clearly how the red dominates the palette to the exclusion of the yellows, greens and blues. That is why adding more than 50% of a dominant color reduces the flexibility of the palette. Henri seems to recommend up to 25% addition of the dominant color. At 25% of a red analogy, the Y, YG maintain yellow-ness and the B, BV maintain some blue-ness and the neutrals of G, GB are more semi-neutrals. This reduction in the addition of red adds more flexibility to the red analogy palette.

In regards to the composition of an image, one can feel the dominant color radiating throughout. An example of a yellow analogy exists in Henri’s painting of “The Green Fan (Girl of Toledo, Spain)”, 1912, Gibbes Museum of Art. One can see the dominant yellow in the skirt and the back wall (slightly neutralized with violet). It is evident in a more neutral way in the flesh. The violets of the shawl and apron are semi-neutralized by the yellow. The reds are slightly effected and the ones on the apron tend toward orange. Henri maintains some reds on the lips and carnations and roses on the shawl. There are no blues (except that the green is derived from the blue+yellow) or clear violets. Instead black plays as an anchor of dark neutrality.

My guess in regards to what percentage of yellow has been added to the other colors on the spectrum would be 25% or less. One can feel the golden glow of the yellow throughout the composition and it is what gives this image particular resonance. This palette differs from the late palettes based on analogies because it uses all the colors across the spectrum (which have been manipulated), rather than a selection of 7 colors (3 adjacent colors, 3 Bi colors/Hues; plus the complement). Plus, the late palettes emphasize the complement as a counterpoint to the dominant color. This acts as a visual relief, as well as, another form of heightening the dominant color.

I find the late palettes more successful because of this introduction of the complement, but it is important to understand the foundation on which those late color insights of Henri are built.

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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