This time I decided to colour-pick from one of Claude Monet’s more famous water lilly paintings. Here is the picture:
First of all, while there are undoubtedly pastel colours in abundance, it is possible to see that Monet used pure pigments. The blue and the green run the gamut from washed out with white all the way to straight-from-the-tube pure pigment. Monet seems to have taken delight in blending between various blues, greens and violets for the bulk of the composition, with pinks, reds, yellows and a hint of orange to highlight significant features.
Another surprise is that Monet is traditionally thought of as a painter who sticks to mid tones, no matter what colour he is using. We can see here that that painting contains colours all the way from almost pure white to a chromatic black. I doubt he used a black paint (like carbon black), but I am sure he mixed a black from his available colours which, when applied, might as well have been black. So while there is a predominance of mid tone pastels, that’s not the whole story at all.
It is also received wisdom that the impressionists eschewed the use of black on principle, but this analysis suggests that they did use it, or at least a colour so dark, it was almost black. The colour picker suggests that the colour is three parts red, two parts green and one part blue.
What is also apparent is the artist’s total control over pastel blending, without making the transitions into a muddy mess. The transitions are clean, yet subtle. Tones just effortlessly morph into others of different chroma.
Beyond that, the entire canvas has a colour balance from side to side, top to bottom and corner to corner. There is just enough of every significant thematic colour to keep the others in perfect harmony, no matter where you look on the canvas, even when zoomed in. Like a fractal, the painting looks good at any scale, no matter where you focus your attention. It has a self similarity property to it, it seems.
Once again, a close look at the colours actually in the painting turns up a few surprises. I think this is a really useful way of seeing how the masters worked with colours and their palette. I hope you do too.