Influenced by Delacroix
In Blanc’s handbook Van Gogh also read about the application of Chevreul’s theories by the Romantic artist Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863). Delacroix applied the principle of optical mixing by composing his blocks of colour from strokes of complementary colours placed next to each other. In addition, he also created contrasts between the blocks of colour as a whole, for instance by colouring the walls of a building orange under a blue light. Van Gogh was greatly influenced by Delacroix’s use of colour.
Using colour to reinforce emotions
So Delacroix based himself on the scientific theories of Chevreul, but Van Gogh believed that this artist also used colour quite deliberately to evoke a specific atmosphere and to reinforce emotions. Van Gogh wrote passionately about Delacroix’s famous painting Christ asleep during the tempest: ‘Ah — E. Delacroix’s beautiful painting — Christ’s boat on the sea of Gennesaret, he — with his pale lemon halo — sleeping, luminous — within the dramatic violet, dark blue, blood-red patch of the group of stunned disciples. On the terrifying emerald sea, rising, rising all the way up to the top of the frame. Ah — the brilliant sketch.’
A contribution to modern art
It is striking how Van Gogh describes the colours in Delacroix’s painting in terms of their emotional impact (‘blood-red’, ‘terrifying emerald’). In the next post, I’ll show that he described the colours in his own work in similar emotionally-charged terms. Van Gogh saw his use of colour as one of the most distinctive qualities of his work. He deliberately set out to build on what Delacroix had achieved in this area, and hoped that his personal adaptation would constitute his contribution to modern art.