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Paintings can provide a strong effect by their colour and many modern painters have used colour with some power. In all the examples here you can see how the colour really forms the basis of the pictures' impact and has obviously been designed to do so.

Colour used in an abstract way to give a picture a strong presence is shown on this page by two painters of the Impressionist era.

First Vuillard who, with his amazing eye, produced this extraordinary piece of graphic painting The Goose in the 1890s. The white goose in the centre frustrates his hunters - two baffled gentlemen in top hats and cloaks - and two other helpers over on the horizon. The flat expanse of orange-yellow grass or gravel sets off the white shape of the bird, making it look very poised and confident. The deep-blue sky with its white clouds looks very close. The two black-clad figures in the foreground seem isolated by the strong colour of the ground. There is no attempt to portray depth, although the warm colour of the ground does advance strongly in front of the blue.

In this scene, after Manet's Boating (1874), the water forms the entire background. We can see only the stern section of the sailing boat. In it are a young man steering by the tiller and, lying back, a young woman in a blue summer dress with a hat and a veil. The man, all in white, is set against the blue of water almost like a cut-out. The use of white and blue to set the scene of a sunny day is very evocative.

Matisse was a supreme colourist, one who made colour work for him. In The Pink Studio (1911) he floods the scene with one dominant colour, against which all the other colours have to take their place. The strong pink of the floor space sets the scene. Somewhat surprisingly, the yellow rug reinforces the power of the floor space. The rest of the scene seems muted in comparison, even though some of the objects are quite strong in colour. Oddly enough, the device works very well and you do actually perceive the floor as flat.

Here too, in David Hockney's swimming pool scene Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) (1971), there is no attempt to create depth in the picture with tonal harmonies or perspective. The colour of the pink jacket brings the young man forward from the green background, the flat colour alone creating the form in space; the modelling is not strong enough to have much effect. The blue patterns of the pool create a sense of volume against the bright creamy white of the poolside with, once again, the colour giving the major clue to the depth.

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Freehand Sketching An Introduction

Freehand Sketching An Introduction

Learn to sketch by working through these quick, simple lessons. This Learn to Sketch course will help you learn to draw what you see and develop your skills.

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