What is Grisaille

Grisaille (play /ɡrɨˈz/ or /ɡrɨˈzl/Frenchgris [ɡʁizaj] ‘grey’) is a term for painting executed entirely in monochrome or near-monochrome, usually in shades of grey.
It is particularly used in large decorative schemes in imitation of sculpture. Many grisailles in fact include a slightly wider colour range, like the Andrea del Sarto fresco illustrated. Paintings executed in brown are sometimes referred to by the more specific term brunaille, and paintings executed in green are sometimes called verdaille.[1]
A grisaille may be executed for its own sake, as underpainting for an oil painting (in preparation for glazing layers of colour over it), or as a model for an engraver to work from. “Rubens and his school sometimes use monochrome techniques in sketching compositions for engravers.”[2] Full colouring of a subject makes many more demands of an artist, and working in grisaille was often chosen as being quicker and cheaper, although the effect was sometimes deliberately chosen for aesthetic reasons. Grisaille paintings resemble the drawings, normally in monochrome, that artists from the Renaissance on were trained to produce; like drawings they can also betray the hand of a less talented assistant more easily than a fully coloured painting.
Frans Francken II by Anthony van Dyck, one of a series of studies for portrait prints

Using Grisaille Underpainting to Reproduce Titian’s “Venus Anadyomene”


Grisaille is a fine arts term applied to a monochromatic, grayscale style of painting.Grisaille painting is often used in decorative art or to reproduce the appearance of relief sculpture, however it can also be used as an underpainting for portraiture, still life, and other genres of art. Grisaille as an underpainting is similar to verdaccio, which I discuss on my page “What is Verdaccio and How to Use It in Your Paintings.” Whereas verdaccio is typically used under fleshtones to add a deep warmth and contrast to the earth tones applied over it, grisaille tends to have a cooling effect when used in such a fashion.


  • This version of "La Grande Odalisque" has been changed to a grisaille underpainting.
    To use glazing successfully, masters such as Vermeer would have created a grisaille—from gris, gray in French–an opaque under painting using mainly black, white and gray paints. (Under paintings can be made using a variety of colors, but the colors should be monochromatic.) A good way to understand an underpainting is to think of a color photo that has been converted to a black and white photo in a computer program. After the photo has been lightened several shades, what’s left would be akin to the underpainting. A first layer of glazed transparent paint would be applied and left to dry. Another glazed color would be applied next. The process would be repeated until the desired color has been achieved.

Read more: Old Master Glazing Techniques | eHow.com http://www.ehow.com/way_5467879_old-master-glazing-techniques.html#ixzz2COEAHeVZ

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For more info contact Leonie on: leonie@lifeart.co.za

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Author: LifeArt School

Leonie has been painting for 30 years. she has a degree in Art as well as a Teaching diploma. Her dream has always been to help other reach their full potential, in art as well as in daily life. LifeArt School has been in operation since 2004 and has managed to help various students become full time artists. Leonie is also a well know local and international artist. She paints three days a week and her work is available in various galleries.

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