In Search of Color


“The more ugly, older, more cantankerous,

more ill and poorer I become,

the more I try to make amends

by making my colors more vibrant,

more balanced and beaming.”

~Vincent van Gogh

Faced with a dearth of ideas on what to do to infuse a little color in one’s life, it’s easy to get the feeling that it might be better to simply call the whole wretched thing off despite the need or, depending on your personality, the angst-ridden compulsion, for something new, novel, and different. Before settling into the doldrums of despair, take heart via van Gogh and think about painting the cave. Following a long winter’s hibernation and a cataclysmic future, consider matching the flowers in the garden or duplicating the blush on the cheeks of your beloved. I’ve tried both which elicited astonished murmurs of approval.

An excellent source of inspiration is to be found in the paintings of John Singer Sargent (1856–1925). Although known as a portraitist of the social elite, Sargent was nonetheless a brilliant colorist who rendered his masterpieces indoors, thus providing the unimaginative with true-to-life examples. (JSSGallery has virtually all his work).

Pictured above is the lovely Lady Agnew of Lochnaw (1892-3).


Next consider the possibilities to be found in pottery. This art nouveau Weller umbrella stand, for example, exudes springtime color inspiration. What may be the definitive book on Weller is called, oddly enough, Weller Pottery (Schiffer Books). Or Google “Weller” or “American Art Pottery.”


Exquisite artistry in the form of Japanese kimonos is another unexpected source providing rapturous and visually stunning color schemes. An excellent website for folk, tribal, and Asian textiles is


A beloved classic for ornithologists the world over are the bird prints of John James Audubon (1785­-1851). Pictured is the Louisiana Heron. Audubon Society (


And finally, consider the wallpapers of William Morris (1834–1896), the British artist and designer of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and master of the Arts & Crafts style. Morris’s earthy tones, both understated and remarkable, are favorite collections with museums.

Metropolitan Home




~ by eaesthete on 05/06/09.

2 Responses to “In Search of Color”

  1. Beautiful post — the Sargent is one of my very favorite paintings, I love the lilac sash.

  2. Bart,

    Thank you for your post. This painting has always been one of my own personal favorites and I discovered much on it in doing this post that I had not known before.

    For example, Sargent was often confronted by patrons that were displeased with the image he gave them. “This happened so often that he used to define a portrait as ‘a likeness in which there was something wrong about the mouth'”

    In the case of Lady Agnew, I feel he did her great justice. This is a portrait of what she really looked like.

    Other points I discovered regarded his feeling towards women and his own appearance:

    The thing that strikes me over and over about his life is that John Sargent loved women — women who were strong in character, intelligent and of course beautiful women. He didn’t feel threatened by strong women (as some men can), and above all he truly enjoyed their presence. Yet John was not, by anyone’s measure, a wilting violet. In fact, he was a true man’s man (this comes from many sources) — over six feet tall and strong in physique and sporting a full beard.

    As this writer summed it up:

    Are John Singer Sargent’s portraits too flattering? Is this one too evocative? Or is it the subtle interplay between a beautiful woman sitting before a very charming man — faithfully captured — truthfully told?

    Definitely makes for interesting reading, no?

    For more on this painting:

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