The story dates back many years to an early Sunday morning in Sam's studio, in his atelier class. I was painting a still life. I was very engaged in all of the colors lit by the artificial light. Sam looked at my canvas, stood back, and told me I shouldn't paint one more thing until I understood more about grey. If I wanted to be a good colorist, I needed to appreciate and show the importance of grey. He told me to go look long and hard at Sorolla (that is Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida, 1863-1923). He recommended Sorolla's painting at the Metropolitan, his Castle of San Servando, Toledo.
On the left is the painting that I found. Amazing. Sam was right, I learned a lot by looking at this work. I had always thought about Sorolla's paintings in terms of their bright colors, but there is actually a lot of grey here. And it is the grey that makes his wonderful colors sing. This painting teaches a good lesson about painting. I am also sure that it provides a wonderful metaphor for life. We all need more color, but we also need the grey that enables the color. The grey allows color to have the powerful effect it can have in the world.
Yesterday, we revisited the marvelous Sorolla paintings at the much too neglected Hispanic Society of America, on Broadway between 155th and 156th Streets in Manhattan. Their Sorolla room contains a panoramic series of 14 canvases by Spain's "painter of light." The room is filled with color supported and enhanced by grey. Here are some details from a few of the canvases.