Dirty Colors

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I’m looking at the only Rococo painting I could find at the AGO and doing some non-academic writing about the colors. This one is a Boucher. 1768.

These are dirty colors. The description right next to the painting stated that Boucher used bright colors – and I do see a lot of pinks, blues, grays, greens and brown but there is a dinginess in all of them. There are no hard flashy colors here, everything is soft and creamy and a little bit exhausted. Chewed gum. Low flavor.  A little yucky. The sky is not blue – it’s a grimy blue with grey and gloomy pinks and it looks like old bath water…filthy and cold. The landscape is not a lush green and brown …but khaki brown and green, army colors…grungy. The fabrics appear rich and colorful but there is something dingy about them.

The skin tones are not as gloomy as the rest of the scene. They glow. Especially the woman who is white and untanned. He skin is a baby pink, plump and doughy. There is a healthy pinkish tone under the skin surface which probably has to do more with the throbbing and flirty content of the painting.

All these toned down colors are offset by bits of bright highlights. Sparkly bits here and there. You see it everywhere: in the dark clouds, the fabrics and the foliage there are little pick-ups of light. So I think this fools the viewer into thinking that the artist used bright colors.

Despite the fact that I was only able to find one painting in the collection at the AGO, this one has been recently restored so it was well worth looking at.

I have always been attracted to French painting but never really explored the colors and so I never positioned my work with this research. I think there is more to explore here. And I really enjoyed looking at the work live, and writing in a non academic format, so I think it would be worthwhile to find more works in public collections and continue. Looking at my own work which uses a lot of pastel and flirty colors, I have often toned down the saturation with greenish casts by shooting in the reflection of a mirror, or simply added a mucky cast in Photoshop. I would like to experiment with this further by adding bright highlights over some of the dingy areas.



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