Charles Blanc


Chalres Blanc


Charles Blanc was born in 1813 in Castre, France. He was very involved in art early on, starting off as an engraver and writing art critiques and articles for several publications. He then went on to become the director of two publications and president of the Commission of Historic Monuments.

Blanc was politically active, seeking increased government support for the arts. In 1848, he was appointed the director of the Beaux Arts of France where he remained until 1852. While there, he became the director of the newly created Gazette of the Beaux Arts.

He was also a professor and taught art history both at the École Spéciale d’Architecture and the College of France. Teaching and spreading art history knowledge to the general public, rather than having this knowledge be, as it had been until that time, mostly reserved for the elite, were very important to him.

In 1869, he had the honor of being admitted to the Academy of the Beaux Arts. Up until that point, most were awarded this high honor due to their prestigious name or political clout. Blanc was the first to be awarded this position on his talent alone. His books helped earn him this distinctive position. Furthermore, he was the first writer, due to his art history and color theory writings, to earn the position previously awarded only to painters, sculpters and architects.

Grammaire des Arts du Dessin coverBlanc’s books the Grammar of Painting and Engraving (Grammaire des Arts du Dessin) and the Grammar of Decorative Arts (Grammaire des Arts Décoratifs), where he laid out, amongst other things, his color theory, were studied by artists of that period including Van Gogh, Gaugin and Seurat. Blanc’s writings are stated as being “the most influencial texts on color theory to come from the second half of the 19th century”  ( and he and his theories had significant influence on the artists of that time, especially those that became part of the Chromoluminarism movement.

In 1870, Blanc was reappointed director of the Beaux Arts. He thus oversaw French art during two of France’s most troubled periods of the 19th century.

Blanc wrote many books and articles on art history, including a huge undertaking, 14 volume History of All of the Painters of all of the Schools since the Renaissance until our time (Histoire des peintres de toutes les écoles depuis la Renaissance jusqu’à nos jours) which was published over several years.

In 1876, Blanc had the additional honor of becoming a member of the presitigious Acadamie Française. This was not only in honor of his great work, but also a nod of recognition toward the discipline of art history. .

Simultaneous Contrast and Influence on Chromoluminarism

Charles Blanc's Color WheelCharles Blanc contributed to color theory through his further development of the laws of simultaneous contrast originally put forth by Michel Eugène Chevreul and Eugène Delacroix. He, along with Chevreul and Ogden Rood, were very important in their influence of the Chromoluminarism and Neo-Impressionism movements. Blanc’s work introduced Seurat, who was the leader of Chromoluminarism, to theories about light and color that became some of the key elements of this movement.

A Neo-impressionist styple of painting, Chromoluminarism (also called Divisionism) used individual dots or patches of color which interacted optically to create colors rather than mixing the colors on the palette. Chromoluminarists believed this gave their paintings the maximum luminosity scientifically possible. It was this use of the scientific rules and theories of colors that separated the Chromoluminariists from the Impressionists who used instinct and intuition to create colors in their paintings.

Blanc merged the development of science and aesthetics.  Several of his assertions were that:

  • Mixing colors optically would create more chromatically pure and vibrant colors than the traditional method of mixing them on the palette.
  • White light is the union of all colors.
  • The three primary colors, added together, would create white light, therefore, a primary plus its complement would also create white light.  For example:  Yellow + Red = Orange,
    so Blue + (Yellow + Red) = Blue + Orange = white light.
  • Colors achieve their maximum intensity next to their complement.
  • A color plus its complement will destroy each other.
    He thus spoke of complements as being either “friendly” or “hostile” to each other.  He said that they will either “triumphantly sustain or utterly destroy each other.”
  • Adding a complement to a color softens it rather than “soils it” by adding black.  Another way to soften a color is to place a softening color next to it.

These theories are part of what so interested the ‘Chromoluminarists about Blanc’s theories and what they used in their work.

To help explain his theory about color, Blanc created a color circle from triangles, without including black or white. He used three chromatic triangles, one with the primary colors, one with their complementary colors. Blanc described the complementary color pairs as “victorious allies when they appear side by side”and “deadly enemies” when mixed together. Due to this, Van Gogh used the combinations in his paintings to portray struglgle and antithesis.

Georges Seurat-Un dimanche après-midi à l'Île de la Grande JatteGeorges Seurat, Un dimanche après-midi à l’île de la Grande Jatte
Portrait Félix Fénéon -SignacSignac, Portrait Félix Fénéon

Thanks to Blanc and the others, Neo-impressionists sought to provide a more scientific basis for the use of colors, maintaining that, “if they did not become more involved in a science which could explain the optical effects which formed its basis, art would remain intellectually unsatisfying.” (



My Color Wheel Interpretation

With this interpretation, I sought to incorporate Blanc’s theory of simultaneous contrast with the complementary colors neutralizing each other as they grow closer. Color wheel interpretation


Grammaire des Arts du Dessin, Charles Blanc
the Grammar of Painting and Engraving (translation), Charles Blanc