The Galaxy 7, 1867
As an artist and a lover of truth, I have long felt myself impelled to make public certain facts which became known to me some years ago, but which have for several reasons been kept unpublished until the present time.
As the Corresponding Secretary to the American School of Ultra-Chinese Art, I am now authorized to inform the public that within the past few years a most startling optical delusion has fallen upon mankind. The sun shines to-day upon a world which to the vast majority of its inhabitants has undergone an essential change in its appearance.
If the reader will close this magazine and examine the illuminated cover, he will see, printed upon light straw-colored paper, a design in green, red and brown. He is in error, so is the friend to whom he turns for confirmation, so are the editors, the designers, the printer and the public. The brown and red parts of the design are respectively light-blue and dark-blue. The green portions and the paper upon which all is printed, he sees correctly.
So important an announcement as this, will not of course be credited unless it, is supported by abundant proofs. In order to establish my position, I must go back some years and relate the leading phenomena of this change in their regular sequence. In tracing the successive steps by which I have arrived at my present comprehension of the laws of color as they exist in the eye of the public, I shall find it convenient to quote from my note-book, in which I noted the various items of interest as they occurred.
I must first state that for several years I have lived the life of a hermit in the wilds of the Adirondack region. My only visitors have been chance hunters and parties of Summer excursionists. In justice to myself, I must state that these visitors have always been welcomed to share the shelter of my cabin, for it is not because I am a man-hater that I choose retirement from his society. Beside these chance visitors, I have, at intervals varying in length from six weeks to three months, instalments of supplies from the settlements. The more bulky of these supplies are brought during the Summer by boat and landed almost at my door. During the Winter it is a journey requiring both strength and courage to visit my cabin from the settlements, and I receive only mail matter and such light articles as can be brought over the snow.
Throughout these years of seclusion I have been diligent, and with Nature alone for my teacher, I have, especially during the past three years, been drawing nearer and nearer to the true standards of art, both in form and color. During my sojourn here I have visited New York but twice, one visit being before the chromatic aberration of which I am about to write took place. I have, however, sent pictures regularly to the exhibitions, and as I subscribe to several of the leading periodicals and papers, I keep up with the general topics which occupy the attention of the public. Of course art matters are of great interest to me, and when I find any commendation of my pictures in the publications which I receive, it is doubly grateful to me here in my mountain solitude, while the merciless and ignorant critic can only make me turn again to Nature with a deeper faith in her teachings, and a more profound pity for him who knows not her charms.
I will now quote from my notes:
JANUARY 20, 1863.
It is now perhaps three or four years since I first knew of an effort on the part of a few persons to establish in this country a school of art, which has for several years been creating a name for itself in England. It styles itself; or is styled, I can hardly tell which, the Ultra-Chinese School The principles advocated by its followers seem to me to be the time ones, and I foresee for them a glorious future if they remain faithful to the doctrines which they profess. After a long attempt to master the rules of perspective and effect, light has at length dawned upon me with the advent of the Ultra-Chinese School I here note my resolution to study and represent nature as I see her, unhampered by rules alike useless and incomprehensible. . . .
JUNE 21, 1863.
It seems impossible, on looking at my drawings and studies of a year ago, that I could ever have looked upon nature with so careless an eye. Yet I remember that I then considered myself a carefid student, and made what I called studies from nature of extended views. Now, after a few short months' study on the true method, so far higher is my reverence for created things, that I find enough to admire and worship in the grass at my feet and the pebbles at the brook-side. Beyond these my eye now seldom wanders, and whenever it does try to grasp an extensive prospect, it soon returns, wearied with its effort and glad once more to rest upon what it can understand. ....
These two quotations I have made to show the probable approximation of two events, to wit, the Chromatic Aberration, and the rise of the Ultra-Chinese School on this continent.
JULY 20, 1863.
I have seen notices of a new periodical which is said to be the official organ of the New School It is entitled "The True Path," and I have written, subscribing to it. . . .
DECEMBER 19, 1 863.
An unusually long time has passed without any news or arrival from the settlements, and I was beginning to fear that I should have to visit the nearest store for supplies, when, this evening, on returning from a walk, I found that a messenger had arrived and departed during my absence. On attempting to use the colors which he brought, I was surprised to find that mistakes had been made by the colorman in labelling the tubes of paint, the reds having been labelled as blues, and vice-versa. This, of course, has occasioned me much inconvenience, but I have re-marked the tubes, and the colors appear to be in themselves excellent. Some combination of circumstances has, undoubtedly, caused this blunder. . ...
Immediately after the receipt of my mislabelled colors, I wrote to Knoehaus and Shandler, informing them of the carelessness of their colorists, and ordering a fresh supply, as the inordinate quantity of red left me somewhat short of blue. This letter I sent by an Indian who passed my cabin bound for the settlements on Christmas Eve, 1863.
FEBRUARY 21, 1864.
A singular thing has happened today, which I am as yet at a loss to account for. I was returning home from a tramp through the snowy woods, and saw from the top of a bill a mile or so from here, a brilliant red object in the sunshine at the door. I could not imagine what it was until I drew near, when I with difficulty recognized a man who had formerly acted as my messenger, but whom I had not seen since he went to the war. My difficulty in recognizing him was not, however, due to his long absence, but to the fact that from head to foot he was dressed in red. His trowsers were a shade or two duller than his coat, and the whole effect was so singular that I almost fancied myself in the presence of a fifteenth-century heads-man. As I am very averse to speaking of peculiarities in dress or person, I affected not to notice this remarkable costume, and after a talk about his war experiences, I asked him to stay with me until to-morrow, as his walk through the woods had been a hard and long one. This he agreed to, and we together set about getting dinner ready.
In spite of my solicitude not to give offence, I must have looked askance at my guest, for I observed that he began after a while to regard me with some suspicion and to grow shy and silent. At our meal, frugal though it was, he unbent somewhat, and by the time that we had half finished our post-prandial pipes we were on such good terms that I ventured to ask him why he were that particular style of garment. He replied that he had the clothes when he was mustered out, and had continued to wear them since. I then naturally inquired when the color of the regulation uniform had been changed. He said that it had not been changed since '61, when he enlisted. I of course expressed some surprise at this, but he, misapprehending the cause of my wonder, said that nobody in the army wanted to give up the old blue, and for his part he thought that it was a very good color. It was evident, then, that he believed that he was dressed in blue, and for an instant I thought him a victim of color blindness. The reflection, however, that among the thousands of blue-clad soldiers, his singularity of costume could not have gone unnoticed, at once 'set me to thinking, and I determined to test his perception of color further before he left. Accoidingly, in the afternoon, as I was painting, a tree trunk from the window, I showed him my palette and asked him to point out different shades of red and blue. He invariably pointed to red when I asked for blue, and vice versa. Greens, yellows, and purples he could distinguish, but when I asked him to select brown he indicated black as being nearest, but not his idea of brown. I told him that black and red mixed would make brown, and desired him to select a red to mix experimentally. He pointed out dark blue, and on my mixing it with black expressed himself satisfied. I would have ended the conversation at this point, but my guest happened to be of an inquiring disposition, and proceeded to question me about the study on which I was at work, and about other canvases which I had tacked to the walls. In the course of his questioning he naturally discovered that colors which I called red were blue to him. His obstinacy at last annoyed me ; and when finally he asked me in what color he was dressed, truth compelled me to answer that it was red, and I then told him that he must be color blind, explaining at the same time that it was not an unusual phenomenon. He muttered something about " all the army being color blind too ; not to mention his folks at home ;" and then he kept silent for some time. He sat down, and for a while, regarded me curiously ; but as the sun sank toward the hill-tops he grew restless and went out of doors uneasily, coming back two or three times as if he had something to say, but did not like to say it. At last he went out abruptly, and at the end of ten minutes, chancing to look out at the window, I saw him just reaching the top of the first hill toward the settlements. Stepping to the door I shouted to him to return ; but, to my surprise, he looked back and then vanished over the crest of the hill at the top of his speed. Half an hour later I climbed the cliff, and could see, by the light of the declining sun, a brilliant red speck making excellent time across the ice of Round Pond, three miles distant.
I have just opened and examined the fresh supply of colors brought by my runaway soldier, and I find the same mistakes as in the last lot.
FEBRUARY 22, 1864.
I have been reflecting upon the events of yesterday, and have concluded that the repeated mistakes in labelling colors made by professional color men, and the coinciding mistakes made by my guest of yesterday, indicate something extraordinary. On making an effort of memory, and consulting my notes, I find that I have been aware of certain peculiarities in the dress of persons whom I have seen. For instance, the red shirts which have been the fashion among hmibermen and hunters have been superseded by blue shirts. The specimens of illuminated printing which have reached me on magazine covers, and in fly-leaf advertisements, have undergone changes.
MARCH 8, 1804.
I procured, some years ago, a glass' prism such as opticians make for experimental purposes, and, after trying some experiments, I threw it into a box of old traps, not expecting to want it again. I have hunted it up to-day and repaired its somewhat damaged sup-ports so that it will now revolve on its axes as formerly. I have likewise prepared a little upright frame in which I can place bits of card-board and so cut off whatever portion of prismatic color I wish. I am now ready to experiment upon the eyesight of my next available visitors.
MARCH 9, 1864.
Tried my prism in the sun this morning and it cast a beautiful spectrum on a sheet of white paper. In looking at it, however, it seemed to me that something was wrong, or, at least, strange. After a long search I found an attempt which I made in water colors long ago to copy the prismatic spectrum by actual matching colors. Of course it was infinitely short of the colors of sunlight, but it would answer my purpose, as I thought. On placing it beside the real spectrum I observed that the spaces occupied by the respective colors had changed. The space, for instance, occupied by blue and its modification was much smaller, and that occupied by red was much larger than on my painted spectrum. This, however, I knew might be caused by a temporary or local state of the atmosphere.
APRIL 20, 1864.
I have just made an experiment upon the optics of a party of homeward-bound lumbermen. They were ignorant of colors, to an extraordinary degree. I at last shut off all the prismatic colors, excepting blue, yellow and red. These they readily distinguished, interchanging, however, blue and red, and disputing over the yellow, some holding that it was yellow, and others that it was flame color. As they were going away, I heard one of them say to his companions, "That chap has lived alone with his paints no long that he's gittin' luny." " That's so," mid another, "did ye see them picters with red mountings into em ? " Well, I have obtained considerable light from these men, and they are welcome to doubt my sanity if they choose. . . . .
It is needless to follow up further the process by which I finally arrived at conclusions which proved to be correct. A classification of items gathered from the lumbermen and from my own observ-tions led me to the following result. To the persons whom I had seen and conversed with, the colors of the prismatic spectrum had been inverted. That is to say,
Violet had become Red,
Indigo had become Orange,
Blue had become Yellow,
Green remained Green,
Yellow had become Blue,
Orange had become Indigo,
Red had become Violet.
To simplify this inversion and reach the fundamental principles of the change, take these two columns, and cancel in each all excepting the three primary colors; writing these again in two columns we find that—
Red has become Blue,
Yellow remains Yellow,
Blue has become Red,
which is precisely the way in which these colors were seen by the lumbermen. One final experiment I waited long to try, in order to satisfy myself whether the change which had taken place was a physical or cosmical one. I knew the order in which the colors appeared in the rainbow, and I saw in several instances that they remained the same ; but I wished to ascertain if to others they were inverted. In July, 1865, I saw a rainbow while a party of excursionists were with me. I ascertained that to them all the order was reversed. This, of course, proved conclusively that the cause was physical; and that my own exemption from the delusion was the result of some suspension of the law, I could hardly doubt. If the reader will notice the next rainbow which appears within his range of observation, he will see violet, indigo, and blue on the inner side of the arch. If he has any memoranda by which he can prove when he last saw the rainbow in its proper order, he will confer a favor by sending the date of the observation to the author, to be used in fixing approximately the time when the aberration began to take effect. At about the time that, by the help of the rainbow, I arrived at a definite conclusion, I began to find with pleasure that I was classed by the art critics as a promising member of that Ultra-Chinese School. I began also to suspect that the members of that school had, like myself, retained a true perception of color. In the Autumn of 1865 I read in the " True Path " the following notices, which I need not say afforded me the keenest satisfaction:
We welcome with gratitude Mr. B. T. Sienna's two charming pictures in this exhibition. The first represents a mudturtle on a log near the bank of a pond. The delicate feeling for nature evident in the entire work is especially noticeable in the texture of the partially-dried mud of the bank. The water-washed log, instead of being that conventional gray color commonly seen in the works of our most celebrated artists, so-called, is of a pure purple, with a suspicion of scarlet in the shadow, which is entirely right. By introducing in his picture the cord which bound the turtle to the log, the artist hos shown a fearlessness that serves the highest praise. The second picture is as true in sentiment as in execution. A graceful group of mulleins is growing near the top of a hill. The rich soil which clothes the red sandstone region with the luxuriant vegetation which it supports, is most earnestly drawn and colored. We cannot too highly reverence the innate poesy of a mind which.could conceive the idea of introduc.ng the feet and knees of the painter in the near foreground, as Mr. Sienna has most feelingly done. This artist, it may b interesting to know, has his studio in the wilds of northern New York. Some years ago, before the true path had been opened in this country, Mr. Sienna, after a long course of study under the so-called best masters of the day, resolved to confine himself to the study of Nature alone, and with that end in view, retired t t his present abode. That he has faithfully followed the light which coot then given him, we may plainly see in his present immunity from the rules of perspective and from the conventional coloring of most city studios. Mr. Sienna's simple history is in itself an overpowering argument in favor of the principles advocated by the " True Path."
The reading of such truthful paragraphs led me to desire the acquaintance of these pioneers in the " True Path," and I accordingly wrote to one or two of them, and after having inaugurated a pleasant correspondence, I had the happiness of a Summer visit from one or two of the leading members.of the school. At their earnest solicitation I consented to visit New York during the Academy Exhibition of the present year, that I might see the practical results of the chromatic change, for I found to my delight that, as I had surmised, the Ultra-Chinese School, with their adherents, were the only ones who retained the correct perception of color. Most of my journey to New York was performed by night, so that I did not see many results of the great change until I reached the city. As I stepped ashore from the Albany boat, I saw the policeman at the landing in a dark red uniform, and almost every person I met had something strange about his or her dress.
Later in the day, when the more fashionable classes began to appear on the sidewalks and in carriages, the most malapropos costumes were to be seen. Blondes invariably wore reds and yellows, while brunettes rejoiced in the cool shades of blue and gray. The most peculiar effects were produced by the chignons, which almost all the ladies wore. As these were composed of alien hair, and dyed at that, I sometimes saw a bluish chignon, attached to a brown head of hair, or a reddish chignon with a head of hair which I should have called blue-black. Candor, however, compels me to state, that in many cases the hair of the head matched that of the chignon.
I presently saw two elegantly-dressed females approaching, exhibiting in their dresses the usual incongruities of color, at which I was curiously looking until I had nearly met them, when, involuntarily raising my eyes, I perceived that their faces were of an indescribable olive-green hue, shading into blue on the cheeks, and cut abruptly by a blue line, where there should have been the red of the lips. The whole effect was no horrible, that I crossed the street at once to avoid a nearer view.
Thus my whole sojourn in the city was full of the most singular sights. A blue-eyed friend, who had lost an eye in the. war, now wears a glass one in its place ; but instead of matching the natural eye which remains, it is a fine shade of crimson. Our national flag has interchanged the colors of its union and its stripes. Many brick homes are painted blue. I asked a policeman, when two cars were approaching, which was the Third Avenue car, and he told me the red one; I inadvertently jumped on the one which was actually red, and in half an hour found myself at some unknown up-town ferry. My former artist acquaintances were painting most atrocious pictures, and could not warmly admire those of the true school. Most happy am I, after a confusion such as I have described, which made me feel as if I was looking through a colored glass, to find myself away from the city, and once more surrounded by the truth of nature. Before I left, however, the Ultra-Chinese School was organized, no that we can begin in a systematic manner to lead back our fellowmen to their former condition. Knowing, as we do, our own correctness, it is, of course, painful to see the errors of mankind. We. have decided that our duty is, to paint Nature as we see her, and I am happy to state that our labor has not been without its fruits. Several of our pictures have been purchased by persons who truly desire to see nature as she is, and who, although they are not yet capable of seeing the resemblance between Ultra-Chinese pictures, and Nature's self, are yet willing to try and educate their organs of vision to the proper standard. Any who may read these pages, and who desire to join the company of those owning pictures that shall be a joy forever, may be set in the true path by sending their commissions to
B. T. SIBWIZA, Coy. See., U. C. S.