In the paperback book field, there’s an old saying that “green covers don’t sell.” Costume designers have told me that green often looks ghastly in stage lighting. Gallery directors have reported that clients aren’t attracted to paintings with a strong greenish cast, especially if the color tends toward a bright yellow-green.
Evidently this was an issue even 150 years ago, when Asher B. Durand commented on “the common prejudice against green.” “I can well understand why it has been denounced by the Artist,” he wrote, “for no other color is attended with equal embarrassments.”
Here is a plein-air study where I tried to match the colors that I saw without modifying them.
There is no doubt that green is a fundamentally important color. Many modern psychologists and color theorists regard it as a primary, not a secondary, color: indeed green is a primary color of light. The word “green” is occurs more than twice as frequently as “yellow” in modern written English. The human eye is more sensitive to green wavelengths than to any other; that’s one reason why flourescent lights are designed to give a peak output in the green range.
So why do many painters recoil in horror from certain pigments, like permanent green light or pthalo yellow green? Why do many artists banish green from the palette?
A friend of mine who is a landscape painter said, “One thing I've been noticing in doing studies outdoors recently is that the greens are very intense, often a pale acid yellow green in the grass when sunlight is on it. Yet I rarely see that intensity in past plein studies except perhaps in the later Impressionists. I think there must have been a conscious decision by artists to mute the greens they see in Nature towards gray or a warm brown. I find myself tempted to impose upon nature a more moderate interpretation of color sensation based on some aesthetic / psychological convention.”
For those of us trying to be true to Nature, should we be faithful to our mistress, or is there a legitimate reason to neutralize the strength of green? Why should there be a problem with green? What has been your experience?
One more bit of trivia: 79% of the flags of Europe contain red, while only 16% contain green.
Thanks to Handprint.com for the color diagram.