Writing in her blog on the Telegraph in an article titled Why preserve Van Gogh’s palette?, Lucy Davies points to some of the considerations for artists learning from the palettes of the masters, both in choice and arrangement of colors.
Those fascinated by the techniques of the great painters would benefit from understanding their palettes. Even when learning from contemporary artists, the palette plays a greater part than is often acknowledged.
I always find instructional videos exasperating when they ignore color mixing and act as though the brush is always magically loaded with the the proper color, with little thought or work on the part of the artist. This seems to apply to a great majority of the instructional videos one encounters on the web, though those that are professionally prepared often address color mixing more thoroughly (as in the instructional videos of Richard Schmid).
There has, of course, been an effort to preserve the palettes of master artists when possible, even if only as historic artifacts. Davies’ article shows several, including those of Eugene Delacroix (image above, top), Gustave Moreau, Auguste Renoir, Georges Seurat and Edgar Degas (image above, bottom) .
If you look around, you can find other photos of famous artists’ palettes, as well as much verbal discussion and listing of the colors used by individual artists, including those of Delacroix, Whistler, Vermeer, Degas and Monet. Often these discussions will make a point of mentioning modern equivalents to fugitive colors used in the originals.
In general, the range of colors available to artists has increased over time, with significant additions in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries as the range of materials increased and artificial pigments became widely explored, importantly reducing reliance on pigments that are not lightfast.
The article is peppered with links and is a nice jumping off point on the subject, including links to discussion of color theory, another aspect of artists’ practice that has changed over time (see my post on the History of the Color Wheel).