Light, color and vision
Color interactions: Simultaneous contrast
Peripheral vision
Luminance and equiluminance
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    mood of a painting

The mood of a painting can be strongly influenced by the colors. Interestingly, there are several cases where the colors are quite abnormal, but the luminance is correct. Our Where system sees the paintings fine, but our What system is confused by the coloring.


"Self-Portrait," Picasso, 1901. Here, he presents himself as a romantic, bohemian figure - a moody young artist who fixes the viewer with ahypnotic stare.

In Picasso’s so-called “Blue Period” (1901-4), his blue paintings portrayed destitute human beings. Blue was chosen deliberately – deep, cold, signifying misery and despair – to intensify the hopelessness of the figures depicted – beggars, prostitutes, the blind, out-of-work actors and circus folk, not least Picasso himself and his penniless friends. At that time Picasso even wore blue clothes.

"La Celestina," Picasso, 1904. Celestina, a notorious procuress from a fifteenth-century Spanish play. This was one of the last great works of Picasso's Blue Period.


The “Blue Period” dramatizes the artist as an outcast from society. Indeed, in Paris at that time, far from family and home, Picasso was unrecognized, unappreciated and in extreme poverty. Moreover as Sabartés, his closest friend at the time, wrote, “Picasso believed Art to the son of Sadness and Suffering…that sadness lent itself to meditation and that suffering was fundamental to life…If we demand sincerity of an artist, we must remember that sincerity is not to be found outside the realm of grief.” Picasso’s “Blue Period” was further triggered by the fate of his closest friend Casagemas -- his infatuation with a girl, his rejection, his subsequent attempt to kill her and finally his own suicide. “It was thinking about Casagemas”, Picasso said later, “that got me started painting in blue.”


"Family of Saltimbanques," Picasso, 1905. These wandering acrobats camped on the outskirts of Paris and appeared in its small circuses.

Gradually, Picasso's colors brightened, in what has somewhat misleadingly been termed the “Rose Period” (1904-6). Not only soft pinks, but blues, reds, and greens complement these images. The emaciated figures became fuller. The new color expressed warmth and life. Picasso’s paintings were beginning to sell; he now had a studio, a lover, a life. The two periods – the “Blue” and the “Pink” – form a transition between the conventional art of his youth and the iconoclastic art of his maturity. In 1907, he introduced Cubism where form was no longer representational. The “Blue” and “Rose” periods remain popular because, there, the human figure is still undistorted and recognizable.

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