A while back, I wrote a blog post highlighting ten color palettes based on famous paintings. It's since become my most popular post by a wide margin.
I think it's because studying famous artists' color palettes is a simple way to start learning about color dynamics without needing any background in fine arts.
So to build upon that post, I present you with ten more color palettes based on famous paintings.
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte
By Georges Seurat
Seurat's seven-by-ten foot masterpiece is one of the leading examples of pointillism and neo-impressionism. The small dots of vivid color he used mix with the surrounding dots to form the intended color in your mind when seen from a few feet away.
To create the color palette inspired by this piece, I decided to pick out the dominant colors you see through the effect of pointillism, rather than pulling out the individual vibrant dots. The palette still retains a vibrant quality, but instead of bright colors, they are rich earth tones with slightly warm undertones.
The personality of this palette is: rich, earthy, natural, oldfashioned
By Grant Wood
An often-parodied painting, Grant Wood's painting is one of the most iconic American portraits. Interpretations of the subjects vary wildly, but to the modern American, American Gothic is a reminder of the humble strength of the pioneer.
Grant Wood's color palette is reserved to warm earth tones - even the sky isn't blue, but rather a dusty sage. Contrast between the light and dark shades adds visual interest to the fairly muted palette.
The personality of this palette is: mature, simple, calm, warm
By Andrew Wyeth
Another famous American painting, Christina's World was inspired by Andrew Wyeth's neighbor, who suffered from a neurological disorder and whom Wyeth saw crawling across a field one day.
The color palette is muted and cold. Earth tones add realism to the painting, but by desaturating them and cooling the palette, the usual warmth of earth tones is removed.
The personality of this palette is: soft, sophisticated, feminine, professional
By Roy Lichtenstein
An icon of the pop art movement, Drowning Girl draws from comic book art and Hokusai's Great Wave Off Kanagawa. Lichenstein said of his iconic comic book paintings, "I take a cliche and try to organize its forms to make it monumental."
The black and navy blue dominant Drowning Girl's color scheme, but after looking closer you find pastel shades playing off each other and adding depth and softness to the dramatic piece.
The personality of this palette is: bold, unisex, nuanced
Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow
Painting by Piet Mondrian
Mondrian's most iconic works, including the pictured Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow, feature flat plains of color (often the three primary colors and black and white) and horizontal and vertical lines. This minimalistic style removes all imagery and naturalism from the art, and focuses entirely on composition and theory.
The use of primary colors and black and white is simple, but feels bold and transparently honest.
The personality of this palette is: bold, lively, straightforward
By Georgia O'Keefe
"I paint because color is significant." Georgia O'Keefe is most famous for her close-up paintings of flowers, such as Red Canna. By painting such close-up views and prioritizing vibrant colors over details, O'Keefe's paintings become dynamic abstractions bursting with color.
The bright reds, oranges, and yellows of the painting are balanced out with a deep, earthy red, and white mixed with lavender shadows. Despite being profusely orange, the painting avoids feeling flat due to these balancing shades.
The personality of this palette is: energetic, lively, warm, exciting
The Birth of Venus
Painting by Sandro Botticelli
An icon of the Renaissance, The Birth of Venus depicts a scene from Greek mythology. Beyond that, the meaning behind the painting is debated among scholars. Even the identity of the patron who commissioned the painting is up for debate. Nevertheless, The Birth of Venus is a stunning example of classical Western painting.
Botticelli's color palette balances richness with subtlety. The earth and sea are lush and green, while the skin tones and clothing are delicate and feminine.
The personality of this palette is: welcoming, homey, natural, refined
The Old Guitarist
Painting by Pablo Picasso
Part of his blue period, The Old Guitarist's melancholy tone draws from the experiences of Picasso's life at the time. His roommate and friend had committed suicide, and Picasso was struggling to make ends meet as an artist. The guitar as the center and only warmth of the painting implies that the guitar was the subject's only source of comfort and living; parrallel to Picasso's life.
As mentioned above, the painting is dominated by solemn blues and blacks; even the man's skin is a shade of warm blue. The guitar's medium brown pops against its cold surroundings.
The personality of this palette is: serious, somber, masculine
The Persistence of Memory
By Salvador Dali
Salvador Dali's most recognized work, The Persistence of Memory plays with ideas of softness and hardness, permanence and impermanence. Surrealism, the style portrayed, uses realistic techniques to display a dream-like world filled with metaphor.
The majority of Dali's palette are warm earth tones representative of his home of Catalonia, Spain; but he incorporates a vivid blue in the sky and shadows to temper the intense warm hues.
The personality of this palette is: earthy, upbeat, friendly
The Son of Man
Painting by René Magritte
René Magritte's self portrait is best described by the artist himself:
"At least it hides the face partly well, so you have the apparent face, the apple, hiding the visible but hidden, the face of the person. It's something that happens constantly. Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see. There is an interest in that which is hidden and which the visible does not show us. This interest can take the form of a quite intense feeling, a sort of conflict, one might say, between the visible that is hidden and the visible that is present."
The Son of Man has a fresh and simple color palette with a balance of warm and cool colors of varying shades that makes the palette and painting feel balanced and calming.
The personality of this palette is: fresh, balanced, calm, friendly
What do you think?
Did any of these paintings inspire you to play with color? Or did I woefully leave out your all-time favorite painting? Let me know in the comments!
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