Contextual research: Broken or muted Colors

My tutor suggested me after assignment 2 to look into using broken colors by other artists.

Broken or muted colors are colors mixed by tertiary or complementary secondary colors (see exercises from part 2 – click here)

Walter Sickert (1860 – 1942) was born in Munich, Germany, a printmaker and painter and was a member of the Camden Town Group (other members: Lucien Pissarro and Robert Bevan). The group peak period was around 1905-1918. One key feature of the group activity were the relatively small scale paintings, favourable for outdoor on on location sketching.  Sickert is considered as on key artist in the transition from Impressionism towards Modernism. Influenced by Edgar Degas and the Fauves.

Sickert’s painting approach: Considered as an academic portraitist of his time and working in a studio he premixed diligently tube colors down to subtle gradations of colors and tone. Earth pigments were mixed into the paint to reduce further tone and at times ivory black was added. Through mixing of each pigment into each color the artist could achieve a certain colour harmony preventing that single hues would stand out. This method followed the French Academy and was applied by Whistler. By that the artist could control the image and obtain subtle gradations in tone. Sickert worked mainly on mid- or dark-ground that made it difficult to bring colour and luminosity into the shadows despite his efforts to lighten up his palette. Although he created a chiaroscuro effect in the shadows leaving only the lighter parts to convey colour and define form. Contrasting to Sickert’s paintings are those of his fellow artist Spencer Gore who did work rather on light grounds.

Example: -‘La Hollandaise‘, 1906. Oil on canvas (511 x 406 mm) Available from:

=> painted with thick paint turning the picture relief like

Later and based on learnings from the colourist technique Sickert applied a different method to shadows and light (1915). He called this new method camaieu (two or three tints of a single color for a monochromatic painting regardless local or realistic color,  if those are grey it is called grisaille, if those are yellow it is called cirageWikipedia)

Sickert blocked in for his first application of paint on a white ground areas with red mixed with white, or green or blue mixed with white, each in several different strengths, to designate light and shade. He mentioned to have used up to four tints of each color. For the shadows he avoided now dark grounds by keeping the underpaint for the shadow relatively light but in a contrasting hue to that used in the lighter passage. To represent a cool light source, say, from a window, his shadows were light red and his reflections a cool blue; for a warm light source his shadows were green or blue and his lighter patches pink. In his usual way he left the camaieu paint to dry for several weeks and then painted over this with his dry scumbles to put in the local colour and detail. He deliberately brushed over his drawn lines and flat underpaint quickly with viscous paint so that the bristles bounced and split across the surface leaving evidence of the colour underneath showing through, in order to give his shapes form and movement. He frequently chose the local colour to contrast with the camaieu underpaint in order to emphasise the simultaneous contrast of the underpaint which remained partly visible, ‘grinning through’”. (Hackney, 2012)

Example: – ‘Brighton Pierrots‘, 1915. Oil on canvas (635 x 762 mm). Available from:
=> contrasting to Sickert’s earlier paintings the paint is thinned down with turp, mostly tonally painted and with thin color washes at the end of the process

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye (b. 1977), influenced by Sickert, as well as Louise Wallace (b. ?) are using dark broken colors (mostly browns) and creating as well a chiaroscuro effect in the shadows. She doesn’t work from models as she says “The thing is that if you use a model, the painting becomes about capturing that particular person, and it’s disappointing if you can’t.” (Cooke, 2015) Something I can relate to but would still discuss this point for my own practice. Her figure are composites, pure imaginative images, based on various sources and found images, at the end they still convey a certain atmosphere. At time I would miss certain vivid character. I find her approach to using titles for paintings quite interesting:  “..the title of a painting is an extension, not an explanation. ” She use a palette with a wide range of earth tones and at times she combines those tonal gradations with white, yellow or other pure colors. Yiadem-Boakye evokes at times a certain narrative to her painting without being too specific leaving enough space for the viewer’s imagination.  (Biennale, 2013) For me this is mainly because she adds intense facial expressions and character to the figures.

Example: -‘Flex‘, 2011. Oil on canvas (40 x 35 cm). Available from:

Gwen John (1876 – 1939) as a painter stood longtime in the shadow of his painter brother Augustus. She was posing as a model, was a mistress of Auguste Rodin, and her paintings were valued by his brother above his own work and more than by others. Only recently her work become more known and published (Tate, 2004) Gwen John was rather shy and standing in the shadow. Some her self portraits do show this attitude clearly. John’s palette is rather light with it seems pure or secondary colors blended down with white for a muted tone.

Example: – ‘Self portrait’, 1902. Oil on canvas (448 x 349 mm)  Available from:

At times Gwen John worked on plaster ground (example ‘The Nun’, 1915-2. Oil on board (707 x 446 mm) Available from: )

Euan Uglow (1932 – 2000) british artist who went to Slade school and the Camberwell College of the Arts (as Frank Auerbach and Ron Kitaj), studied and applied learnings from William Coldstream. His unique method of painting is based on a careful measuring and clear outlines. He combined this approach with geometric precision and bright colour contrasts reminiscent of Italian Quattrocento painting. (Marlborough) The measuring lines are still visible in most of his paintings. His geometric precise compositions were reflected in his approach to paint a figure (life model) without the distortion of the artist’s eye moving up and down. Often Uglow placed his models in awkward and uncomfortable poses. Studying forms and shapes with its geometric relationship. Overall I find Uglow’s painting rather dull, lifeless. I believe this is subject to his methodical approach. The paint applied, muted in colors with white, look still strange – like a mix of realistic and expressive colors.  I am wondering what influence his studio light had on his color choice.

Example: – ‘Standing Nude’, 1960-1. Oil on canvas (483 x 343 mm). Available from: 

I searched the internet for pictures of those artists and collected them in different Pinterest boards. An overview about resources of images:

Some selection of paintings down with muted and broken colors.

Walter Sickert – ‘One of Madame Villains Sons

Available from:

Sickert, Walter Richard; One of Madame Villain's Sons; Charleston;

Sickert, Walter Richard; One of Madame Villain’s Sons; Charleston;

Gwen John – ‘The Precious Book‘, 1910-1926


Euan Uglow – ‘Nude’, 1962-3
Available from:

Nude 1962-3 Euan Uglow 1932-2000 Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1964

Nude 1962-3 Euan Uglow 1932-2000 Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1964

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye 

Available from:




  • Broken and muted colors can be achieved either from mixing secondary, complementaries and tertiary colors and perhaps black for the darkest values or with white to create softer tones.
  • I will clearly use more broken colors for my figurative paintings in part 3.
  • Sickert’s method of camaieu is something I want to explore more.
  • Applying a methodical approach (Euan Uglow) can make portraits rather deprived and lifeless



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