Why it is that the American people run so much to the somber colors in the painting of houses and outbuildings, is an assthetical question we leave for others to discuss. The general lack of taste generally displayed in the selection of tints is, however, only too palpable. One has only to take a ramble through one of our cities to demonstrate this fact. Rows upon rows of dull and dismal looking dwellings may be met with, painted dark-brown or a dirty-looking drab, with blinds of a color suggestive of nothing but mud. The combinations of color frequently met with are positively hideous. There is a drab colored house which we are obliged to pass freqently, with sky-blue window casings and blinds, and a sort of balcony in front with an utterly unheard of color, one might suppose to have been compounded of all the pigments scraped from the bottoms of the pots in some painter's establishment for a year, ground together into a dauby, dingy hue altogether indescribable. This house is enough to throw a man of good taste into spasms of disgust. Nor is it a solitary instance except in the depth of depravity to which the taste of its would-be decorator has sunk. Summer relieves the eye somewhat when its soft green covers the earth, but when winter comes these abortions of color stand out in revolting deformity. Here is a frame house which the painter has attempted to make look like a brown-stone, and in doing so has made it look like a prison house of woe. There is what would have been a pretty little cottage if it had not been spoiled by Spanish brown. Back of it stands a carriage house of a leaden blue color. Yonder is a large mansion of brown stone, stately in its proportions and with a well designed front, the eff'ect of which is spoiled by interior blinds with white frames and yellow slats. In rural districts these defects are carried still further, so far as outside work is concerned, while the inside work is for the most part left bare and plain. Where any attempt at decoration is made, however, neutral tints without meaning are generally employed. Nothing like attention to a general tone, and no reference, whatever to the colors of carpets or furniture, is to be dis covered in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred. All is a mass, of incongruity from beginning to end. The grossness of the fault being admitted, to what is it, chargeable ? In part to the bad taste of people at large, but most to the imperfect knowledge of painters, who, as a class, are sadly deficient in the knowledge of harmony in color, and whose instruction is mainly confined to grinding colors and manipulation of the brush. If house painters could only be made to realize the value of the study of color, and to understand that the really great in the art are so chiefly because of their superior knowledge in this respect, improvement might be expected. There is no longer any excuse for ignorance. The researches and works of Chevreul, and others, have provided the necessary means whereby any intelligent painter may obtain the proper instruction. Much doubtless depends upon natural talent in this as in other arts ; but still we feel justified in asserting that in this, country, at least, the house painters are far more deficient in the knowledge necessary to a high degree of skill than mechanics in other occupations. We do not suppose all house painters will become artists even with the knowledge which all ought to possess, but it is certain that no one will ever perform superior work without it.
This article was originally published with the title "Ornamental Painting of Buildings" in Scientific American 21, 10, 153 (September 1869)