Painting Shadows

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Painting Shadows
Impressionists gave up the use of black and white because they thought that they were not real colours. Making use of these colours to paint shadows doesn’t take you anywhere. The end result is not subtle enough to capture a realistic shadow. The Impressionist Renoir is quoted as saying “No shadow is black. It always has a colour. Nature knows only colours.” So if black was to be banished from their palettes, what did the Impressionists use for shadows?
The True Colours of Shadows
The impressionists made an extensive use of the Complementary colour theory, so violet is the obvious choice, as it is the complementary of yellow which is colour of sunlight. Monet said: “Colours look brighter when contrasted with their complementary, rather than their inherent values” The Impressionists created violet by glazing cobalt blue or ultramarine with red, or by using new cobalt and manganese violet pigments that had become available to artists.
Monet painted his moody interiors of a train station, where the steam trains and glass roof created dramatic highlights and shadows, without earth pigments. He created his rich array of browns and greys by combining new synthetic oil-paint colours (colours we today take for granted) such as cobalt blue, cerulean blue, synthetic ultramarine, emerald green, viridian, chrome yellow, vermilion, and crimson lake. He also used touches of lead white and a little ivory black. No shadow was considered as being without colour, and the deepest shadows are tinged with green and purple.
Ogden Rood, the author of a book on colour theory that greatly influenced the Impressionists, is said to have despised their paintings, saying “If that is all I have done for art, I wish I had never written that book!” Well, I’m sure am glad he did.
Trying to Observe Colour
Monet described his attempts to observe and capture the colours in nature thus: “I’m chasing colour all the time. It’s my own fault, since I want to grasp the intangible. It’s terrible how the light runs out, taking colour with it. Colour, any colour, lasts a second, sometimes three or four minutes at a time. What to do, what to paint in three or four minutes. They’re gone, you have to stop. Ah, how I suffer, how painting makes me suffer! It tortures me.”
Monet also said: “It’s only through observation and reflection that one finds a way. So we must try unceasingly.” “When you go out to paint, try to forget what objects you have before you, a tree, a house, a field or whatever. Merely think here is a little square of blue, here an oblong of red, here a streak of yellow, and paint it just as it looks to you, the exact colour and shape, until it gives you own naïve impression of the scene before you.” Doesn’t he make it seem easy?!