Spotlight On Color Vs. Monochrome Part 2: Matisse, Merriam, Picasso, Walinska

By Amy Nelder, June 2015

"Color is everything. When color is right, form is right." (Marc Chagall)

(left) Self-Portrait ,Seated Nude (c.1937), Anna Walinska, charcoal & oil on board, 39" x 29"
(right) Self-Portrait, Seated Nude (c.1949-51), Anna Walinska, oil on board, 39"x29" (SOLD, private collection)

“When the world was first created, there was black fire on white, white fire on black…” - Anna Walinska

We continue our investigation of how artists see, and how color theory, emotions, psychology, and even religion can help an artist decide what they want others to see in an image. 

 Whether or not they have become known for one particular style or another, many artists throughout history have taken multiple paths to get to an image – taking some of those paths through light, some through line, some through color. A great artist is often one who knows how to use the color spectrum to make the viewer focus their eyes on one area, or else move their eyes around an image.   

Many famous and beloved artists throughout art history have investigated decisions about color and line by creating more than one version of the same visual story, prolific in both their simple, elegant graphite or charcoal line drawings, as well as their thickly-colored paintings.

(left) Contour drawing, Henri Matisse, graphite on paper;
(center) Odalisque with magnolias (c. 1924), Henri Matisse;
(right) Blue Nude ii, (c. 1952), Henri Matisse, Gouache Paper Cutout

“Creativity takes courage” said Henri Matisse.  Matisse, one of the most famous and beloved colorists in art history, was an explorer of mediums – not only moving between monochromatic and fuller-spectrum images, like Anna Walinska, above, but also moving from line drawings to fuller, more fleshed-out imagery and even his famous works made from just cut paper and glue late in life.  Matisse was, in fact, a huge influence on the work of one of our favorite Chloe Gallery artists, Anna Walinska, a tremendous early 20th-century Modernist who created many of her works work in both monochromatic and fuller-color spectrums and straddled many mediums to do so.

(left) Paris Nude #14 (c. 1929), Anna Walinska, ink on paper, 9"x6” 
(center) Still Life (c. 1928), Anna Walinska, ink on canvas, 12"x10”
(right) Triana (c. 1936), oil on canvas, 18"x10”

“From the beginning, Anna saw the world in both color and black & white,” says Rosina Rubin, niece of Anna Walinska and the representative of Atelier Anna Walinska. “The early work from the Paris period includes both black & white line drawings, and colorful pastels, particularly still life.  There are dozens of black & white line simple line drawings of nude figures. At the same time, she was going to Galleries Lafayette to purchase fabrics to drape over chairs to compose the perfect still life to paint.

“Anna often went back to the same subject again and again – sometimes making something more developed based on a sketch, sometimes returning to a theme and sketching anew before moving on.

(left) seated nude (c. 1928), Anna Walinska, charcoal on paper, 11" x 8”, (SOLD, private collection)
(right) Pose (c. 1928), Anna Walinska,  ink and watercolor on paper”, 10" x 6”

“Or she occasionally did several different portrayals of the same subject within a short time span.  For example, she notes in her diary (Jan. 6, 1955) that in painting the portrait of Lucy Hla Maung, wife of the Burmese Ambassador to China,  she began with a color sketch and then: ‘I have done one large line drawing from her portrait – one expressionist black and white study – and a cubistic study as well.  Plan to show them all at Hla Shain’s to illustrate to the artists the simplification of line, abstraction and use of distortion.  It was a good deal of work – at the same time I discovered how much I have learned.  Although based on cubism – with a tight technical organization – my forms are personal, free, spontaneous.’”

But while Walinska is an example of an artist who thought of images in several formats simultaneously, some other artists think of color placement more strictly. Pablo Picasso, who created so many works of art it is difficult to find a single consensus of the total number of pieces, asserted that “ ‘Color weakens’, (and) purged it from his work in order to highlight the formal structure and autonomy of form inherent in his art.”[2]  As his life and his art progressed, Picasso pruned his palette, more and more frequently producing monochromatic works in order to concentrate and investigate the significance and clarity of his forms.  “You could take the red away, and there would always be the painting,” he told his muse and lover, Françoise Gilot.

(left) Marie-Thérèse, Face and Profile (Marie-Thérèse, face et profil), Paris (c. 1931), Pablo Picasso
(center) Second Opinion, Daniel Merriam, Graphite on Paper, 14" x 11"
(right) Sea Blossom, Daniel Merriam, limited edition giclee on canvas, 40" x 30.5"

“Pencil drawings are the foundation for most visual art,” says internationally-celebrated Magic Realist Daniel Merriam. “You must learn to crawl before you can walk. The monochromatic aspect of pencil or charcoal drawing gives it a simplicity and honesty that commands a very focused logic. So much can be said with a simple line, one can be beheaded for exercising free speech with the stroke of a pen. Of the many skills I employed to survive as a young artist, political cartooning was the most dangerous. I learned that we do not live in the free world and that every line is criticized. Drawing utilizes figure ground (the white paper becomes the object by power of suggestion). Most Asian art utilizes negative space in this way. Less is more, but in regards to painting, more is definitely more and less is still a drawing.”

For some artists, the process of experiencing color is an inspiration in itself.  Daniel Merriam is an artist of multiple mediums whose opulent compositional structures often juxtapose areas of monochrome within contexts of richly colored and meticulously detailed form.  “I usually mix all of my colors from the three primaries. It's exciting to watch the spectrum dance between different hews of black as you twist your brush through the dark shadows of brilliance. Many of my paintings will have a monochromatic underpinning, an intention to anchor it in the roots of solid draftsmanship, but I enjoy exploring a full range of color, playing theory off of chance.”

Historically, great movements of art have been inspired by movements in the world; understandably, great movements in an artist’s expression are often caused by actions in their personal lives.  Picasso’s own work was famously affected by war and a sense of helplessness and hopelessness, resulting in pieces like “Guernica”, understood to be the artist’s reaction to Hitler’s bombing of the town of the same name in Spain. His emotionally dark period, his monochromatic Blue Period, is understood to be a reaction to war, to world events, to the suicide of a good friend, and a reflection of his monochromatic emotional tone at the time: melancholy, misery, a sense of loneliness – and the work at that time successfully reflects that.  The work of the next period, his Rose Period, is broader and more colorful, reflecting a happier period in his life – he was happy with his lover, he was inspired by the place he was in, the war was over – and the work at this next epoch of his life reflected that.

Like Picasso with the deep gray scales of his “Guernica”, Anna Walinska also used monochrome to reflect, define, and communicate her emotional directions.  “She  respected the significance of Black and White, especially in the depiction of the tragic themes of her Holocaust works,” says Rubin.  “In an interview in 1979, she said: “I used brown which is a metaphor of the earth to which we return.  White and black are used symbolically: white denotes silence, and black denotes oblivion which is the final silence.”  And again, like Picasso, the advent of that reduced palette, for her a black and white one, would become a hallmark of her work in later years.

“Anna’s first major one-woman exhibition took place at the Jewish Museum in New York in 1957” says Rubin.  “The art critic Bennett Schiff wrote in the NY Post: ‘It is fascinating to see the transition from her early work, filled with rich, almost sensuous color, to the full realization of what Cezanne was after in his late watercolors.’”

For many artists, decisions about color and its significance can even become inextricably entwined with one’s spiritual beliefs.  “Anna also embarked upon the study of Kabbalah long before it became popular with the trendy set.  She was struck by the concept that, ‘when the world was first created, there was black fire on white, white fire on black… I was in awe, because I was painting in black & white.’”

“Color is all”, said Marc Chagall.“ When color is right, form is right.”

For more details on these and other exquisite works of color and light, please contact Chloe Gallery San Francisco at (415) 749-1000, or write your Chloe Gallery Consultant.


Amy Nelder
Founder / Artist / Vice President
Chloe Gallery San Francisco


  1. Genn, Robert; “Art Quotes Presented by The Painter’s Keys;; copyright 2015 Robert Genn;
  2. Giménez, Carmen; Swid, Stephen; Vail, Karole, “Picasso Black and White”, © 2012 The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation (SRGF),
  3. Oisteanu, Valery ; "Picasso Black and White"; The Brooklyn Rail,; December 10, 2012;
  4. Wikipedia, “Blue Nude ii”, last modified April 2015,