Color doesn’t have be used in a literal or naturalistic way. Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939), best known for his Art Nouveau posters, was also an accomplished oil painter with an unusually evocative sense of color.
His color conception for “Madonna of the Lilies” (1905) changed from the sketch stage (left) to the finished painting. In the sketch, which appears to be created from his imagination, he keeps everything pale and warm, with reds, greens, and oranges giving a spiritual glow to the figures.
In the finished work, painted over a careful drawing after the benefit of models, the background stays high-key, but relatively cool. The warm notes and dark accents are reserved for the figures and for the areas of the picture nearer the earth.
He restricts the values mainly in the light or middle range, avoiding strong tonal contrasts and large expanses of dark. The adjacent tints take on a richness beyond reality. Mucha wrote in his “Lectures on Art,” (Academy Editions, London): “If we wish to add to the luminosity of a color, it is placed in a higher key.”
Above is one of his Slav Epic paintings. The color scheme is extremely disciplined, just pale blue and orange. The dreamy feeling comes from the light value range, reserving the darks for the upper left and lower right of the composition.
Mucha’s artistic choices serve emotion rather than illusionism for its own sake. “The expression of beauty is by emotion,” he said. “The person who can communicate his emotions to the soul of the other is the artist.”
Alphonse Mucha Foundation website, link.
Article in Lines and Colors, link.