William Oram wrote one book, the posthumously-published Precepts and Observations on the Art of Colouring in Landscape Painting. The book was prepared and edited by Charles Clarke from Oram’s original manuscripts notes, and published in 1810. It appears that the notes were mostly compiled in the 1750s and the manuscripts was fairly complete – there are certainly places where Oram may have intended a fuller treatment, but the core chapters are well worked out.
PRECEPTS AND OBSERVATIONS
THE ART OF COLOURING
BY THE LATE WILLIAM ORAM, ESQ.
O.F HIS MAJESTY’S BOARD OF WORKS.
Quid si Naturre fas explorare sagaci
Mente vias. Vanier. Prr.ed. Rust. l. xi.
Arranged from the Author’s original MS. and published
by CHARLES CLARKE, Esq. F. S. A.
PR I NTED FOR WHITE AND COCHRANE, HORACE’s HEAD, FLEET STREET;
BY RICHARD TAYLOR AND CO, SHOE LANE,
The text stays close to the topic of the title. It is principally concerned with the choices and application of colour in painting landscapes, especially the handling of skies and trees. Oram opens with a couple of short chapters giving theoretical background to why the color of sky varies around the horizon and from horizon to zenith at different times of day, and the changing colors and details of trees at different distances from the observer. These early chapters are a little perfunctory and were possibly something he might have revisited before publication. In Chapter 5 he really gets going, with the treatment of skies and how to lay in the colors of skies and clouds for different types of light. The book is a technical manual of the application of oils. Here is a sample paragraph:
Again, for a sky with a warmer horizon, representing a time nearer the evening than the former:– Let the horizon be made with light red and white, and so growing into a bluish colour, with a small mixture of Indian red in that tint between the light red horizon and the bluest part of the sky. The clouds upon the horizon should be made up with blue and white, with lake only in their shades, and terra di sienna and white with a little light ochre in their lights.
Having dealt with sky and clouds, he then gives a detailed treatment of handling trees under different lighting conditions and at different distances. Again, here is a representative sample.
For example:– Viewing Hampstead from St. John’s Wood, the hill and woods about Belsize House appear to be coloured with blue and Indian red or lake, very blue and purple: the trees about a quarter of a mile from the eye, before that distance, seem made with a colour of black and ochre in their lights, which, broken darker with Indian red, makes the shades; so that in proportion to their distances as they come forward the colouring becomes the darker.
In the earlier post about William Oram, I noted how Horace Walpole, in his Anecdotes of Painting said of him that he, “was bred an architect, but taking to landscape-painting, arrived at great merit in that branch..” It is certainly clear from this work, that landscape-painting was near and dear to his heart, and that he had thought carefully about it and made close observations of sky and land under different weather conditions and at different times of year. Oram gives numerous other examples of his observations of the colouring of landscapes.
Oram also describes the treatment in some of his own paintings, and in those of several masters. With respect to his own work it is interesting in the light of Walpole’s further comment, that Oram gained his place at the Board of Works “by the interest of Sir Edward Walpole, who has several of his pictures and drawings” that Oram describes how he proceeded in “the great picture painted for Sir Edward Walpole” with colouring trees and rocks and waterfalls. He dies not go into details of composition, but sticks to colour.
The “Eminent Masters” he discusses are Nicholas Poussin, Domenichino, Swanevelt, Gaspar Poussin, Horisonti, Vanderneer, and Wovermans. He closes the work with a discussion of layout of the palette.
To the body of the work, Clarke appended two letters written by Matthew William Peters to Oram in 1762 and 1763 when Peters was on his first trip to Italy.