Extracts from Winifred's writings continued

Unknown Colour

Colour has been used chiefly in the past as a means to display form – form being thought of as its obvious master.

The freedom of abstract thought has come, and shows us a future lying ahead of colour as one of the three great abstract arts.

Mathematics – music – colour. To those artists whose inspiration comes in the form of shape and shape relationships, colour may continue to be the means of expressing those shapes, unless it be that they find that light and shade is a more suitable means for their purpose.

But to those artists whose inspiration comes in the form of colour, of colour alone, without reference to object or object sense, it is no longer necessary to set about seeking some form into which the colour may be tagged to give it being. Naturally colour must have area, space – but let that area be directed by the needs of the colour itself and not by some consideration of form. A large blue square is bluer than a small blue square. A blue pentagon is a different blue from a triangle of the same blue. Let the blueness itself evolve the form which gives its fullest expression. This, the starting-point within secret artistic creation.

From thence, the breadth of the field of colour comes into view – its importance as yet little explored by abstract research. For abstract research a scale is invaluable upon which to base discoveries, and from which to measure them. Mathematics, with its number scale from one to infinity, has been up till now the medium of man's intellectual abstract thought. There is no scale of number discernible in nature. This was born within the intellect of man – not within his emotions, for there is no emotional quality in Mathematics. Music, with its scale from base to treble, has been the medium for abstract emotion. Its scale of sound is not audible in nature and was discovered by the Spirit of man and has been carried to a high pitch of development. It is strange that its sister art of colour has been left in its primitive state. It is only in the last fifty years that its potency has begun to stir in the minds of artists. The scale of colour is visible in nature in the Rainbow and the Prism. Light is one, and can be seen and thought of as one. By prismatic action it can be broken into its component rays, each one a distinct colour. Red, orange, green, blue, violet – a scale line ascending and descending from red hot to violet cold.

But as well as being a line it has a quality also of being a circle of rhythmic change. One can see if one looks intently enough below the hot red a cerise which merges into harmony with the violet, and next to that violet with an almost imperceptible glow of magenta pink which echoes that cerise. This affinity is perceived when one considers that one can have a red with more or less violet in it – and a violet with more or less pink or rose in it. But one cannot have a green with the least bit of either red or violet in it. It can also be seen in nature in the wave-like sequence of double and treble rainbows, following the bright arc of the first rainbow. Music differs from colour in this: you cannot have a sound in which all musical notes are contained. In the simplicity of the great white light all colour lives.

Any true colour picture gives out light like a lamp. In twilight it looks like a luminosity in a better light the difference in the colours begins to tell, and they grow more and more distinct, markedly individual, as the light intensifies, to fall back again into a luminosity, a glow if the light wanes. It is only in the clearest, most unclouded light of the sun that you can see the greatest attenuation and differences of hue. The same yellow is quite a different colour on a clear grey day than it is on a day of Mediterranean sunshine. So, the scale of colour is held within the fullness of sunlight, which is forever breaking apart, revealing its diverse hues, contrasts and affinities and then closing again upon this scale in the oneness of white light.

Further, the colour depends not only upon the quality and quantity of the source of light, but upon the capacity of our human eyes to receive that colour. We do not know whether the eyes of one individual see the same colour as the eyes of another individual, and we have no means of ever knowing this. It has been thought that the eyes of primitive man saw only the bright colours at the base of the spectrum, red and oranges, and that only as our civilization advanced our eyes came to see the range of colour we now see. Whether this be so or not it is certain that at moments of low vitality, however bright the sunlight may be, one sees only dimly the differentiation of colour, one sees light and its degrees but not colour. At moments of high vitality and keen perception the differentiation deepens with intensive power.

We know that there are many rays in light whose chemical action is powerful, but which are not visible as colour to our eyes as they are tuned at present. It may be that in the future our eyes will develop to see ultraviolet and infra-red, but in the meantime we have to take them into account in our scale without seeing them. That is to say, that in thinking of the circle of colours, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, we must not think of it as a finite circle, but as one where there is a gap of unknown, unseen colour, which comes in between the violet and the red, and is necessary to their harmony. Violet is the colour of highest tension, the colour only visible in its beauty at moments of high vitality and clearest sunlight. It is the difficult colour to use, and those artists whose primary interest is form always remain within the safe precincts of the lower notes of the scale, vermilion and blue with brown and neutrals. These artists who have been interested in the potency of colour have always investigated violet – though they have rarely used more than a little of its suspicious magic. We have not yet learnt to correlate it to its unseen neighbour and beyond that to fire past the gap in the circle of our scale. We have then somewhat felt our scale situated somewhere between the orb of the sun and the retina within our eyes, closing and opening - closed it is white light, open it is the prismatic play of pristine colours.

How has this scale been used? Hardly at all – as such. Colour was used as architecture by the old masters, as melody by the Easterns.

The Post-Impressionists started to think scientifically. They separated colour into two halves as with a knife, and taking the two complementaries, red and green, or orange and blue, or yellow and violet, and contrasting them one against the other, thereby very simply made light and darkness.

Since then the development has been towards clarity of colour.

The Neoplastic artists have taken the simplest colours that they could, the three primaries, red, blue, yellow – used them as fixing points and only them. Used their treble accord in counterpoint against the pairs of opposites in the art of shape – horizontal against vertical – mass against line – elevation against plan, etc, etc. The colours wait to be used further. The nature of abstract colour is utter purity – but colours wish to fly, to merge, to change each other by their juxtapositions, to radiate, to shine, to withdraw deep within themselves.

For a long time they have been nailed down like carpets.

Some people think that other mediums than paint will be discovered for the expression of colour – and this is probable – but the one that is offered of artificial light is not sufficient – for artificial light is transitory, and we seek something free, but stable, calculated in clearness.

Meanwhile, as the eyes of man have seen more colour, more precise paint pigments have been invented. After the Impressionists had seen gold glory the cadmiums were invented. After abstract freedom was seen the celestial Monastral Blue was invented. We need a violet paint. But if we had that we should have a range of pigments capable of conveying the tension of sunlight and could go ahead with our investigations. What else will be is the secret of the living present.

Into words they cannot be put, and will never be put. They will be colour, and colours alone will state them. But just as in music, the most abstract music, there are abstract states of human emotion which correspond to the music, so there is in colour.

If I should wish to convey an impression of a piece of music to another person there is no way other than music of doing this – but I can give some slight indication of the kind of music it is by giving an emotional analogy. I can say that the music was solemn – or it expressed joy.

So with colour we can say by analogy with human feeling the type of territory of the human spirit to which we are taken by colour – and very roughly, for we are at the very beginning of our investigations – we know that these will not be intellectual, for colour is not intellectual.

We know also that they will not be dramatic, for colour is not concerned with the clash of opposites and their movements. Very, very tentatively one may speculate that the research of colour may investigate into the territory of the abstract quality of our emotions, that quality of which we know hardly anything, and in the direction of states of being – and being itself. What makes one suggest this to oneself is that those words which evoke colour out of blindness are such words as freedom, wonder, deep content.

(First published under the name Winifred Dacre in Circle – International Survey of Constructive Art, Faber and Faber, London 1937, (reprinted 1971). Also published in Unknown Colour; Paintings, Letters, Writings by Winifred Nicholson, ed. Andrew Nicholson, Faber and Faber, London 1987).

King Pellinore's Wife

When King Pellinore found his castle rocking and tossing and falling down whenever he built it up, none of the magicians or wise men or astrologers could tell him why – until Merlin, god-inspired, told him that there were two dragons in the ground deep down under his castle, unseen by anyone, who fought – and when they fought the castle rocked and he had to use up all his wealth to build it up again.

Very few have recognized the twin dragons of art and life – art in the sense of music, writing, painting here and now, life in the sense of living, home, children, relationships.

Any and every musician, however little distance they have gone, has a potential . . . They one day will have that complete fulfillment of expression, and the musician inside them is a dragon that knows it. If he be a musician (or artist) as close to completion as Johann Sebastian Bach or Cézanne, he lies still and listens to the sons of the morning singing for joy. If he is not as old and wise as that, he may kick up a fight and knock over the conscious castle.

But the other dragon – the perfect, home-loving dragon, the unique, special, family relationship, different from any other, the mother-child relationship that is perfect and allows no intrusion, fights too, and says – "My perfect home is a holy place, and a sanctuary, and don't you come enticing me out into the forest of adventure, unknown, unheard – marvel of music (or art) that takes time away from my perfect home-making work." So the perfect home-making, bringing up children, makes one tired because, heard or unheard, the other dragon is calling . . .

No life practice is wrought out without effort and courage and patience and forbearance and love – and plenty of other graces as well, as many as one can muster – and the work is done in the secret closet of one's own consciousness . . .

The expressing of perfect home, perfect wife, perfect mother is very close to the expressing of perfect musical harmony – and when one reaches that point the two dragons become friends and helpmates. Very few human beings have found that out, and any that have, have taken time over it – and have been supported and 'understood' by those, or by someone, near them.

A man has a creative artist demon beneath him too – but a man in his life-working dragon is often doing a highly disciplined professional job, and the expression of that keeps that dragon in harness. A woman's life is less disciplined and it has no time schedule and is far harder to resolve – especially on the human plane of emotional human love. Which woman up till now has been a creative artist of the first category?

(Published in Unknown Colour; Paintings, Letters, Writings by Winifred Nicholson, ed. Andrew Nicholson, Faber and Faber, London 1987).

I Like To Have A Picture In My Room

I like to have a picture in my room. Why? Without one, my room feels bare however much furniture I may have; and I will tell you the part that a true picture plays, and that nothing else can play, in my room.

Pictures have played many roles. They have been altar-pieces, fetished, idols, the courtly decorations of palaces, historical records, vain fancies, and vain fables. My dwelling room has too much going on in it for such extravagant luxuries. In the morning it is a sanctuary, in the daytime a factory, in the evening a place of festivity, and through the night a place of rest. I want a window in it, I want a telephone, a radio and a television set. All these are contacts and doors in the the outer world, But besides these, and more than all these, I want a focal point, something alive and silent. A bunch of flowers on the window sill? Yes, but they will wither. A cat curled up on the hearth? Yes, but it will go away and prowl upon the rooftops.

A picture will always be there. It will make no sound. It will not expect me to look at it while I am tapping at the type written while I am cleaning the floor with the vacuum cleaner. It will wait. It will always be there. If it is a true picture I shall never grow tired of it. It will have the quality of tirelessness. I shall see something fresh in it when I glance at it tomorrow. However familiar I have grown with it, I shall not come to the end of its friendship. It does not matter in what style it is painted. When I was a child I had a reproduction of a Dutch picture – a girl in a red jacket, reading a book in a shaded interior. I watched her read for long peaceful hours.

I now have a Mondrian on my wall – merely a contrast of horizontal against vertical lines crossing white spaces, and one poised yellow square. I have known busy politicians who cared nothing for art, come and write their speeches in the room where the Mondrian lives. That small canvas expresses the still order behind the turmoil.

For that is the quality that the picture for my room must have. In the ebb and flow of the outer world, I must have a place where the harmony of space is giving its verdict. I like harmony to be expressed in colour. For colour is one of the surest means of expressing joy – the joy that resides in a happy home. If the colours be welded scientifically, they can glow – even make luminosity in the even light of an interior; and added to this light my picture must have recesses within itself, a flower bud or a distinct prospect, expressing the secret within all that is true. For it must certainly be a picture of truth, not photographic nor realistic, the surfaces of appearances – but measure and rhythm and scale that are its inner essence.

So the picture for today's dwelling-house must be an anchor for security, must be a lamp for delight, must be a well of peace, and when it has attained all that – and we are asking much of it – we shall ask something more, we shall ask it to be a ladder – not one of those realistic ladders made of wood, that reach as far as the ceiling, but one of those upheld in places of stones, that have no limit, not even the sky; and upon which translucent thought may travel up and far way and also down and back to the home hearth fire.

That is what I want of a picture in my home. Is it the same as yours?

(Published in the Christian Science Monitor 1954, and Unknown Colour; Paintings, Letters, Writings by Winifred Nicholson, ed. Andrew Nicholson, Faber and Faber, London 1987).

I Like Painting Flowers

I like painting flowers – I have tried to paint many things in many different ways, but my paint brush always gives a tremor of pleasure when I let it paint a flower – and I think I know why this is so.

Flowers mean different things to different people – to some they are trophies to decorate their dwellings (for this plastic flowers will do as well as real ones) – to some they are buttonholes for their conceit – to botanists they are species and tabulated categories – to bees of course they are honey – to me they are the secret of the cosmos.

This secret cannot be put into image, far less into the smallness of words – but I try to. Their silence says to me – 'My rootlets are moving in the dark, in the wet, cold, damp mud – My leaflets are moving in the brightness of the sky – My flowerface has seen the darkness which cannot be seen, and the brightness that is too bright to see – has seen earth to sun and sun to earth.'

Art is the desire to resolve opposites - to find a path in the jungle of phenomena - so artists choose those things that are furthest removed from one another – Mondrian, for instance, chose the Horizontal against the Vertical – and sought the logic between them. But I have seen his eyes when he looked at fields out of the train window. We were travelling between Paris and Calais. He had been 'long in city pent'. He said that it was passing of the verticals of telegraph poles across that horizontal of the horizon that he was watching with such eagerness. But was it? Something below the intellectual vision of abstract constructions was reflected in the eyes of the master artist. Was it the sunset radiance over the spring green meadows?

Some artists find their ultimate opposites in the contrast of the circle against the square – but I wonder whether the measure of the rectangular environment and of human beings, are the true opposites.

The flower world thinks they are not. You never circumscribe within the prison of a square bed even the tamest of flowers. They struggle, they sprawl – and if curtailed, they invite the worst weeds to come and join in the fray with them. They know more geometry than Pythagoras – and all sunflowers practice mathematical law in the spiral arrangement of their seeds. For resolving the ultimate of the universe is not all that they can tell – listen, they will show how to turn light into rainbows. They know even better than Bridget Riley. What would we do for Rose without roses? for violet, for cyclamen, for primrose, without their flowers? Flower hues change and glow and fade and are gone dead like dead leaves, gone but everlasting like the blossoms that Persephone gathered in spite of Pluto, black king of the underworld. High, low, far away, near at hand – what more fundamental opposites can be found – 'Tis my faith that every flower enjoys the air it breathes' – of course it does, for what greater enjoyment than to turn common air into perfume, light into rainbows and the irreconcilable opposites into neighbourliness of brush strokes.

(From The Flowers of Winifred Nicholson, Crane Kalman Gallery, London 1969 and reprinted in Unknown Colour: Paintings, Letters, Writings, by Winifred Nicholson, ed. Andrew Nicholson, Faber and Faber, London, 1987, as 'The Flower's Response').


When I was at art school perched on a high stool with a pigtail down my back, I was painting a shell, its mother-of-pearl captivating me – the principal of the art school, Byam Shaw, came up behind me and said, 'Oh Roberts', that was my maiden name, 'what colours you are seeing today.' The voice was disapproving. I was seeing colours in the iridescence that he did not see – and I have been seing them ever since, or attempting to, beause colours hide, they will only show themselves under the right conditions, and only to certain eyes at certain times.

As Bridget Riley has said: 'I take something – a colour, say yellow – merely a name, an inert motion – but if you put yellow with other colours in different proportions and positions, it starts to show a certain potential. It may appear lighter or darker, expand, flow into other colours, changing them. It could glow or reced and do on, and none of this behaviour you would know until you try. So right at the beginning I think – well, just see what yellow can do.' Such words are near to my inner eyes. I wrote about 'unknown colour' in an article in Circle, a book written in 1937 by the constructive artists Naum Gabo, Ben Nicholson, Leslie Martin and others of that time of vision and clarity.

As a child, and ever since, I have painted rainbows – the mathematics of colour, their sequence as true in painting as in music or the multiplcation table – their appearing and diappearing as unreal as myth or fairy tale. Who can find the pot of gold at the rainbow's foot, where it touches the earth? Who can see the colour at either end of the rainbow beyond ultraviolet, before infra-red? Some people can, some people can't. Goethe called it 'peach colour'. What a name for anything so magic – except that peaches are not the colour that we are speaking of, and so it is as good a word as any of those others that we use for colours – those sensations that are indescribable in words. We speak of them as canaries, as lemons, as sunflowers, if we are trying to evoke yellow. But where does it go when the crimson flashlight blinds it, or the red car I drive comes into the electric illumination of Carlisle and my car becomes neutral dun?

Flowers and jewels are the only things that express colour fairly constantly. That is why I like them, especially flowers, for flowers know how to accord their flower colour to the colour of their foliage. How do they know? I suppose the same knowledge that tells them that bees like scent – and scent means honey. How do they know those things without brain cells? They are as mysterious to us as the rainbow itself. How do they know when we like them so as to respond to our liking? Even the rainbow cannot do that. I can attract a tendril towards me, but I have never been able to call down a rainbow to my hand. Or is that what a halo is? 'Whiter than any fuller can white them.'

Be that as it may, what I have tried to do is paint pictures that can call down colour, so that a picture can be a lamp in one's home, not merely a window. A window is what landscape painters build into the density of the walls of those rectangles with which we surround ourselves and call our homes. The density of our vision of light is what I would like to pierce. Have I done it at all in any small way?

The first of my pictures was painted when I was a girl before the First World War, and last – well, yesterday; and I will try to do a better one tomorrow. There are so many colours that have not yet been seen. The tyranny of forms and recognized forms – can we not let our eyes free to see, to behold, what has not yet been seen of the spiral river of light?

Perhaps only with a blink or two at a time, out of the dimness into focus. These are the blinks I needed – everyone will have their own. It takes several blinks in the dark to see colour.

The first blink was when Byam Shaw told me that the colour the Pre-Raphaelites used had not held purple and cruel green because they had not seen colour as chiaroscuro – the photographer has taught us that light and shade define the space where things stnd - so does colour.

Then I went to India, and noticed how eastern art uses lilac to create sunlight. After I married my eyes were opened by the Post-Impressionists. The third blink was the remark Gauguin made to Van Gogh when his friend wrote to him to ask how to make blue as blue as the Mediterranean sky. Gaugin wrote back: 'A large space of blue is bluer than a small space.'

The fourth blink was from Van Gogh, when I realized how he used the complimentary colours in contrast – red against green, blue against yellow; the duality of cold and hot which leads to madness, as Van Gogh himself found out.

And the fifth blink was when Mondrian said to me: 'Red, Yellow, Blue – these three are pure. Purple, Ornage, Green are impure, not abstract colours.'

And sixth, I said to myself: 'Why? Why halt the river of light at three stations and not at seven? The sevenfold rhythm of the scale of music, and maybe of the universe – so work with seven colours in mind, either visible or invisible, evoked by their absence, and so discover the colours of delight.'

I would like to thank all those people who have helped to open my eyes, all the people who have brought those pictures and taught me by buying them, and to thank all those members of my family who have helped, each in their own way – my grandfather George Howard, friend of the Pre-Raphaelites, of WIlliam Morris and Burne-Jones, with whom we walked hand in hand in the glens of fancy – Ben Nicholson with his eyes of genius, that see reality – our daughter Kate who understands how colours make movement – a grandson who will one day make blackness into a colour. Who else? Many others. But most of all to the wild flowers of Cumberland, of Lugano, of Mycenae, who have blossomed before my eyes and inspired me, whether they knew it or whether they did not.

(Published in Winifred Nicholson; Paintings 1900-1978, Third Eye Centre, Glasgow, 1979, and again in Unknown Colour; Paintings, Letters, Writings, by Winifred Nicholson, ed. Andrew Nicholson, Faber and Faber, London 1987).

Liberation of Colour

What does the man who is not an artist want to know about colour? He likes colour, likes it bright when he is cheerful, sober for work in his office, and new when it is a fresh variety of sweet pea. He knows all about colour and what he likes, and what he dislikes. Music - that is different – he can hum 'God Save the King' and recognize 'The Marseillaise' – if he can't, he leaves music to the musicians.

Yet there is a Music of Colour - an art of colour which is to artists as scientific as the Theory of Musical Harmony. It is so new that few people, except those who are creating it, are aware that it exists. It is abstract and related to no recognizable objects – it is universal as a medium and powerful for the expression of thought and emotion. It is dynamic in that there is a far-reaching future ahead of it – a future of unexplored possibilities. Any reader who wants to know more of it, read on. Those who prefer to use their eyes and trust their eyes alone ( and are they not the wisest?) turn to the pictures, look at them, and read no further. But for those readers who like words, read on – follow me.

To begin with there are no words for colours, only a few flower names, a few jewel names, that is all, and quite inadequate to convey the myriad shades that our eyes perceive each moment. For the colours you must use your inward eye as you read these words in black print, as I call up for you the living, glowing, vibrating tones of the Rainbow Prism that are our medium. I can give you also the key to the structure on which we are working. A structure as scientific, we think, as the octave in music or the ladder of numbers of the number table.

I have set this key out in the diagram and this is how to read it. In the centre column, reading across, you will read the seven names of the colours of the rainbow. Substitute in your mind's eye their bright hues for the written words. Now these colours are to many people, may be to you, isolated phenomena, connected with known objects. Green, that's for grass; red, that's for letter boxes, etc. If one speaks of the rainbow sequence, you have to say a childish rhyme to remember the order in which the colours run – 'Richard Of York Gains Battles In Vain'. If that is your conception of colour, you must change your notions, and accept colours in their relation to one another, each in its own place as part of white light. As this snow-white light is shattered they appear one after the other as a river sequence. Each colour takes it place, and merges into its neighbour, just as each note merges into the next note in the river of sound from bass to treble. Musicians have made halts or stations along this river of sound, and called these halts notes - the notes of the scale. Just in the same way artists have made halts in the river of light and called these halts Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet. There are seen of them just as there are seven notes in the musical scale, and this is not mere coincidence, but a fundamental of the Law of Proportion.

To go back to the diagram. You will see that colour has seven halts below indicating seven degrees of depth or density, descending from the light tones of each particular colour to its darkest hue. Above each rainbow colour you will see seven more names, these rise from the highest transparency or shade of each hue to its neutralization.

These scales are the chart on which colour artists build the conceptions of their painting. They play their melodies and their harmonies to and fro, and up and down on such a chart, very much as the composer uses the keyboard of the piano or a mathematician uses the number table in the science of calculation.

Each colour is unique, but no colour can stand alone. To get the full value of its unique colour it must have other hues by its side, not for mere contrast, as black, say, contrasts with white, or square with circle, but prismatically to break up the rays of colour, as a shuttlecock is tossed, to and from the waves of light. Thus all the most brilliant things of nature are composed of tiny facets or mirrors which reflect and re-reflect each other – kingfisher's breast, jay's feather, butterfly's wing, fish's scales, flower petals in all their transparency – each may appear one hue, but in reality under a microscope are made up of many varied hues in true harmony, heightening each other's brilliance. So we cull our colours here and there, up and down the scale to create the particular colour we have in mind.

Yesterday I set out to pick a yellow bunch to place as a lamp on my table in dull, rainy weather. I picked Iceland poppies, marigolds, yellow iris; my bunch would not tell yellow. I added sunflowers, canary pansies, buttercups, dandelions; no yellower. I added to my butter-like mass, two everlasting peas, magenta pink, and all my yellows broke into luminosity. Orange and gold and lemon and primrose each singing its note. Pleased with my success I added more sweet peas and drowned my yellow completely. Another colour emerged, not yellow. Each colour thus created by a supremacy over the other colours it finds itself among, has its own message, and this message is sufficient for the gamut of human thought, and corresponds to it; as music can correspond to it. The same science of intervals plays upon human emotion.

Red is always an assault, an insult, a danger cry, shouting Revolution! Robbery! and paradoxically, 'Homage to the King'. It is the taunting flame out of the primal volcano. It is the easiest colour to see. Man saw it first. Orange is an open colour expressing prosperity and plenty, sunbaked universe, and laughter under the sun. Yellow is the atmosphere of wisdom, reflection and calm. Green is quieter still, rest and content, the emerald ripple of wave and flow. Blue is the colour we love most, its suggestion is the lark's song, hope that soars into the stratosphere. Indigo is tragedy, like red it can stand almost alone, crying to Pluto's intense blackness, to death, and to Faith.

This conjures violet, whose magic is perceived only by keen-eyed men, but it is known by song birds and honey bees. Its wish can only be used by the great colour masters, and it is a safe indication of their mastery. It has been caught best by the Eastern painters, seeing in psychic sunlight, and it is being sought by painters such as Christopher Wood, for it calls to a colour beyond itself on the sale, a colour that our eyes cannot see, although we know that it is there by the power of its ultraviolet rays. Maybe we shall see this colour some day when we have trained our eyes more precisely. Some eyes even now, looking at a rainbow or prism, can see beyond the violet, a faint trace of fuchsia pink, the indication of the red, the first colour of the rainbow into which the colours flow in their completed cycle. For past the gap we cannot see, the violet flows back into red again. Look at the double rainbow in the stormy sky. Can your eyes see a hint of this unknown colour between the outer bright rainbow and its echo?

In music we can hear the full circle of the octave, but the colour scale differs in that there is this ultraviolet we cannot see, and in that lies the poignancy of violet. We have said that each colour is unique under the sun, and so it is, but the rhythm of the scale of them is not unique, it is on the contrary the universal beat of life; the sevenfold rhythmic breaks, rests, pauses, and beats on the current of sound in music corresponding to the current of time through space on the river of rainbow in light. All that we can see, all that we can feel, if our feelings are in rhythmic harmony, falls into this sevenfold rhythm, the rhythm of our universe.

It is strange that our ears detached sounds from objects so long ago, and made the art of music; while it is so recent that our eyes have detached colour from objects and made the abstract art of colour – painting. True there have always been great colourists, but the old masters used colour to denote objects. Look at Duccio's The Annunciation, how marvelously its blues tell the story of the Annunciation. It is the tale of the Annunciation that is being told, not the tale of the blueness. The angel blue – heaven's message-bringer – coming to earth blue, reception – in the world of browns and russets. Marcoussis tells me nothing of guitars, his picture is charged with the full variety of hyacinth sky contrasted with the cloistered blueness of interior blue. If I think of the great colourists, of the Italian Primitives, Vermeer, El Greco, Rubens, I think of the subjects of their pictures, I cannot forget their subjects. But I can recall the acid green of a Picasso I saw many years ago, a green as swift as the sting of a viper, while I cannot recall what form the green took, or whether the picture was representational, abstract, cubist or surrealist.

The old masters used colours as servants to express form and the colours were limited by this. I was told when I was a student that it was not possible to paint the blue of the sky. I remember reading a letter of Gauguin's which said that you could paint the sky much bluer if you painted a larger area of blue, that the blueness depended on the the proportion of the area to the other colours. I felt my eyes beginning to open. Then I read a letter of Van Gogh's which said that the blueness of the sky depended on the contrast of the blue to its complimentary colour, orange, and that colours could be made brilliant by contrasting each colour to its complimentary, red to green, orange to blue, yellow to violet. It was not only the quantity of the area of the blueness which told, but the quality of the complementary colour. So as to get his Provence sky blue he concentrated on golden-orange, cornfields, and orange-red soil. He painted in couples, in duality, and produced great masterpieces of colour, its furnace, and its fury, but he found no sanity, for colour is not a duality, and art cannot be based on two contrasting opposites, any more than life can. Duality is no solution. But he was the first of the new colour seekers who sought colour for its own sake.

Next amongst the seekers came the abstract painters. They were the men, who, having been chased out of their comfortable lodgings of Academic Representation by the camera, sought out new fields and hunting grounds where no camera could follow them. They gave up representing objects, and sought for proportion, balance, poise. They abstracted from the scale the three primary colours, red, yellow, blue, and though a Mondrian may only contain one red or one yellow and a blue, the other one or two of the three are always in mind, evoked by their very absence, if not by their presence. To these new pioneers all other colours except the three primaries were taboo. They said to me in Paris, 'You must not use green – green is not an abstract colour,' and as for using violet, that was anathema. Colour was used by then abstractly, apart from objects, but it was used to denote form, to denote the extent of their geometry. Their form and geometry were not used to denote colour as an end in itself. That remaind to be done, but they did liberate colour from objects and colour as a living art sprang out, and artists realized its potentialities.

See how a Mondrian expresses the open-hearted sunlight of the brave new thought – basing its beauty on reality and proportion. Discarding the old mystic beauty of the past, where the great visionaries like El Greco glimpsed with ecstatic eyes the dread and awesome unseen – Mondrian's gaze is quiet and confident. He does not blink. The Old Masters nailed colour, like a carpet, tight down over forms. The abstract thought released it, and its inherent power for expression became apparent. The full power of that art is still to be made visible, and the colour artists of today are working along these tones, each in his or her own vision. Matisse still works representationally, but in full chromatic scale. He uses objects to denote colours. I should think of a pink Matisse or a jade Matisse, not of a girl or a basket of fruit. Kandinsky and Miró have given up recognizable objects and use their colour free as experiment. Matthew Smith and Graham Sutherland explore transparent intensities, Frances Hodgkins the dusky, honeyed sequences, and Paul Nash the pastel scale that closely relates itself to line. Ben Nicholson touches the duns and greys and oatmeals, the mid-tones of the neutral scales.

The present generation is not working in duality nor in triplicate, but in the sevenfold harmony of the rainbow scale, and as yet they have only ventured a little way along the road to the use of the full vitality of colour. But the way is open. Colour is free to use. You can paint 'Bluer Than The Sky'. Blueness is your aim, the sky falls below. Use the scales travelling from red to violet and the simultaneous ones from brilliance to neutral and thence to dusk. Use their sevenfold brilliance, their sevenfold depths, their sevenfold rhythm in space as geometry, not in time as in music. There is unlimited scope here. The colour will call shapes, forms and masses, recognizable if you wish, abstract if you prefer. Think in terms of intervals - wide intervals for clarion calls – red to green of vermillion to dun, close intervals for lullaby music – sea-blue to sea-green, or pearl to opal. Conjure for yourself such a picture, you will find it sheer delight, and within the range and possibility of anyone without training at an art school. Art schools teach one how to copy nature, but the joy of colour is inborn within each one of us from the child with its silver scarlet toy to the old man in his rose garden.

There is a great deal waiting to be painted, and many roads to voyage. I will leave it to you to paint new colour pictures for yourself. I hope I have obliterated for you for ever the old conception that colour must be a slave to form and must be tacked down on to objects. I hope I have shown you that colour is the vital power out of which forms, objects, images, thoughts themselves, can be created.

I have built for you the scaffolding of the artist's science upon which the new colour art is being built everywhere, even in the fiery crucible of war, because colour is as much a need for man as freedom. The savage puts a parrot's feather in his hair, the modern man paints a colour harmony, and because he is a free man of unlimited possibilities he needs a free art whose range is neither limited nor hampered in scope and yet one that meets his needs as scientifically true. He wants no nightmare nor dream fancy. Such art is search, and he wants nourishment. Nourishment of Truth, and art that answers his own inward rhythm. Such rhythm as he knows to be the rhythm of space – the heart beat of the universe.

Pictures reproduced with the original article:

Cover; Joan Miró, Painting, Red; Graham Sutherland, Part of a Row of Solicitors' Offices, Swansea, Orange; Van Gogh, Sunflowers, Yellow, Mondrian, Composition with Red, Blue, Yellow, Green; El Greco, Toledo in a Storm, Blue; Duccio, The Annunciation, Indigo; Marcoussis, Painting, Violet; Christopher Wood, The Plage, Hotel Ty-Mad, Tréboul