Tag Archives: Art

Colourblind Designers – A Hidden Blessing

Jacqueline Duncan, OBE

I recall an interesting conversation which took place long ago between an ex RAF officer and a designer, both of them colour blind.   The officer, Peter Dudgeon, had recently founded an upholstery business, and in doing so had extended his knowledge of colour, its versatility and the surprising effects that could be achieved by its manipulation.

The RAF roundel for example, he assured designer Michael Inchbald, looks as if the colours are all exactly similar in proportion to each other but they are not – the white, which to the normal eye spreads and thus looks larger by comparison, is slightly reduced to give conformity to the whole.   Peter claimed that it had been devised by a colour blind artist (and yes, they do exist!).

The conversation led on to the fascination of camouflage, used so extensively in nature and adapted by man, sometimes for protection and at other times extended to decoration in the form of trompe l’oeil, a painting skill devised to ‘deceive the eye’.   Where camouflage  is concerned, the “handicap” of colour blindness becomes a desirable skill.   Colourblind personnel were recruited in war to design the patterns, and indeed to detect those of the enemy, since the fact of colourblindness indicates a totally different perception of what appears to be the fact observed by normal vision.

Until the end of the 19th century the English army wore scarlet, and were known as redcoats for that reason – it is said that the colour choice did not show the blood!    Red, an aggressive colour in itself, is a subliminal alert to danger, and several hundred scarlet clad soldiers bearing down on their opponents would in itself be a daunting sight.   Interestingly, the gunners wore blue, a colour similar to their weapons and one that would draw less attention to their position.   The guns were not only vital but very expensive.   To a colourblind observer, however, both men and guns would be individually visible.

Scarlet morphed to green and finally around 1902, to the familiar khaki of modern warfare.  This in turn led to the development of military camouflage as we know it, widely used throughout the first and second world wars to obscure and confuse, unless of course, the opposing officer was colour blind himself!

In decoration, the skills of trompe l’oeil artists have been extensively deployed to confuse and deceive the observer, using both painterly and architectural talents.   Wallpaper manufacturers such as Zuber, have taken advantage of this style to produce paper panels that can transform a small room into a garden, or offer an amazing vista on a featureless wall.   And the violin, hung rather nonchalantly with its bow on a paneled door in Chatsworth, is in fact painted on to the door, over the paneling.   The first time I saw this I was astonished to discover that the violin and its shadow were no more than flat paint.

The Chatsworth House violin, which ‘hangs’ from the back of the door to the State Music Room. The trompe l’oeil was painted by Jan van der Vaardt (c.1650-1727).  Photo Diane Naylor © Devonshire Collection, Chatsworth.  Reproduced by permission of Chatsworth Settlement Trustees.

Colour, space, light can all be manipulated to provoke the imagination, or even provide a gentle joke!

Birds still flying at the Tryon Gallery

Birding and Sporting Art: 21st Century Update

On June 22nd I was invited to the Rountree Tryon Gallery for the Charles Stanley Summer party.   I hadn’t been to the Gallery for many years, perhaps when Aylmer was still alive; the collection has widened a bit since his inspired limitation of subject to sporting and wildlife.

My particular interest is in bird painters and I found an enchanting little Thorburn in the back of the gallery, featuring ducks. I note from the website that they have number of distinguished bird painters in their collection.   I am personally interested in Harry Bright, a 19th century illustrator whose bird paintings I have collected for several years.   In my view, he is as good as Thorburn where the subject is similar, in some respects better, but I am not aware he ever took an interest in sporting subjects.   It is in this respect of course that Thorburn so engaged his English public and his popularity has still not waned.

Mallard – Archibald Thorburn (1932)

Aylmer Tryon was as active in his sporting life as he was in his chosen profession and I believe he was responsible for the group who inaugurated the English interest in the River Hofsa in Iceland.

I once spent a very happy week there with friends in the late summer.   The river was as seductive as are all rivers, but allied to the flat landscape, the breadth of the sky and the birds, so unused to human presence that they lacked any fear, I found something very special about Iceland.   And we did catch fish!

The ducks remain in their gallery – Thorburn’s popularity has become exceedingly expensive, but it was a lovely party.

Jacqueline Duncan, Dean

Gluck; A Fascinating Artist No Longer Forgotten

This week saw the opening of an exhibition at the Fine Art Society, devoted to three women artists, one of them Gluck.

I went especially to see Gluck’s paintings which I have long admired – indeed we once had one in the family and to my eternal regret it was sold.   She was an extraordinary woman, with a wondrously classical profile belied by her tiny figure – she was only 5’2” tall, dressed elegantly like a man, and when I visited her studio was living with her partner Edith Head.   Edith was no taller than Gluck, with hazel curls, and a sweetness of manner that indicated, on brief acquaintance, a softer and perhaps less demanding  personality.

Gluck; Lilies, c. 1932-6

Gluck’s landscapes were challenging and I have always thought most successful,  her still lives concise and jewel brilliant.   The large Arum Lilies was painted for a client of Syrie Maugham and framed in a design of Gluck’s own which she took the rouble to patent, perhaps an interesting comment on her attitude to her art and her possessive attitude to it.    All the Glucks in the Exhibition are in private collections, with a waiting list of buyers should any come onto the market.   Ours was not there, sold some years ago for £3,000 at Christies.   It was originally purchased at the Gluck Exhibition in the thirties by horologist Courtenay Ilbert, the  only modern art work he ever bought, and like all the other owners he was devoted to it.   When he died Gluck rang up to ask if she could have it back!

Gluck’s world was the circle of Syrie Maugham, Oliver Hill and so many other luminaries of the thirties for whom she painted and with whom she collaborated.

WW2 caused a dramatic slippage in art and fashion and her achievements, like those  of her contemporaries, seem to have been quite overlooked in the rage for French and American painters.   Further, the break-up of so many English Mansions and their collections put a treasury of popular 18th century works on the market which became closely linked to the English Style and the ubiquitous Colefax and Fowler influence.   Thus the elegant designs of the artists and designers of the inter war era sank out of fashion, but as in all matters of design, only temporarily

I was delighted to see this incredibly talented woman’s work revived and re-assessed, even though this higher profile will make her paintings even more difficult to obtain.


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