This is the second post of my “sketchbook” from my visit to the Art Institute of Chicago. French painter Jean-Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940) has always been recommended to me as a colorist, but in this painting “Vuillard’s Room at the Château des Clayes”, I really saw it for the first time.
The warmth of the shadows, juxtaposed with the harsh cold gray of the raking sunlight is striking. The mirror reflects the same yellow-brown of the the room with just enough contrast so that the light is believable. The painting is really remarkable for its dramatic simplicity.
As a painter and painting teacher I often try to analyze a painting in terms of the color wheel. Why do I find the color relationships in this painting pleasing?
Essentially, our eyes desire color harmony: balanced color from the color wheel. This is why we so often see red paired with green, or orange paired with blue — these color pairs are called “complementary”, because they are opposite each other on the color wheel, and as a pair they give our eyes the warm/cool harmony they desire. In Vuillard’s painting he uses a triadic color scheme – meaning that the colors used in the painting create an equilateral triangle on the color wheel.
Here we have a beautiful harmony of Blue-Violet (that steel grey of the stone mantle is bluish-purple), Red-Orange (the warm brick of the fireplace), and Yellow-Green (the dark warm walls). I love breaking down something beautiful to its elements to discover why it “works”.
My (color-less) study of Vuillard’s painting while at the museum: