As with line, color can be applied analytically (naturalistically) or expressively. Analytic color clearly matches the true perception of the objects by the human eye. If the bark on a tree trunk is a shade of brown, then the artist will naturalistically study that color to get it correct in his painting. This is called local color; the artist represents the color of the object up-close. However, due to atmosphere and issues of distance, objects may not appear as they truly are. Why do distant mountains appear shrouded in a purplish mist (“purple mountains’ majesty”)? This is perceptual color; the artist paints the colors as he sees them. From such-and-such a distance, the mountain actually does look purple, the leaves of the sun-drenched tree do look yellow, or a women’s white dress looks green as she strolls through a grassy meadow.  Lastly, some artists prefer expressive color. In the last case, artists are not bound by the actuality of the objects or visual perception. Color can be chosen to enhance the narrative or create feelings or emotions.




 Don Eddy’s Imminent Desire/Distant Longing II, 1993, is a painting of cropped or cut views of nature: petunias, a waterfall, and a cloudy sky. The colors chosen are local. They are the actual colors of the objects represented. Not only are the petunias fucshia and leaves green, but the bright sunlight correctly bleaches out those colors creating a very high value appearance. The water cascading off the rocks, in the central zone, is perfectly painted in tones of high value white and lower value grays. The green moss and dark gray-brown of the trees are correct to the objects shown. Above, the tone of the sky and dark/light contrast in the clouds are also true to nature.

Berthe Morisot, in her View of Paris from the Trocadero, 1872, used perceptual color. She may have painted the grass a richer shade of green due to the hazy sunshine. The distant skyline is purplish-gray, not the true colors of white, tan and gray of the actual materials used to construct those buildings. Even the people in the foreground and into the distance are colored as they would be perceived from her vantage point. They appear as blobs of color, dark or light, as they move across the tan pavement.