41 artworks, 21 artists
Grisaille (fr. gris — grey) is a painting executed entirely in shades of grey or of another neutral greyish colour. This technique is often used in monumental works to convey the volume of a sculptural image. There are works in which grisaille becomes the main painting technique, and sometimes, along with classical painting, colour is used to depict a compositional detail in the form of a sculpture.

When studying grisaille, a future painter learns to feel the shadind, perceive colour according to its saturation and intensity, build a tonal scale, feel the play of light, and model volume. This technique is, in fact, a drawing that is executed by the pictorial means. After a pencil sketch, a thin layer of paint is applied to the future painting with the exception of light areas. Then the work is allowed to dry. After that, the shades are applied and the drawing is allowed to dry completely. They draw halftones — and dry again. At the end of the work, the lightest tones come to mark glares and light spots. Grisaille paintings require significantly longer execution time due to the mandatory drying of the artwork after intermediate stages. Modern masters prefer to work alla prima, therefore this technique, which involves the intermediate drying of the picture, is today used mainly to teach painters the intricacies of the tone depiction, and very rarely to create finished works.

In the grisaille artworks by the Old Masters, gradations of grey, black or brown were used. The works in shades of brown appeared in the 12th century after the Cistercian Order’s ban on the use of colour images for the decoration of churches. The stained glass windows, that were made in brown tones, were called brunaille (the term itself only appeared in the 17th century). Less common were the works in green shades — verdaille. Today, these distinctions are not relevant, and any painting in one colour is called with the general term grisaille.

Bosch, Vermeer, Titian, Rembrandt, and van Dyck created their works in one colour’s shades. The artists used numerous layers of the same paint in different tones to convey the inner glow of the image, even if it was a sculpture or a human body. Such are, for example, the inner panels of the Ghent Altarpiece with the images of Adam and Eve, the outer panels of the “Adoration of the Magi” triptych by Hieronymus Bosch. Giotto used grisaille to paint the bottom of his frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua. Monochrome painting techniques were used in the works of Hans Memling, François Boucher, Ilya Repin. The grisaille technique was used in wall painting to imitatie niches, sculptures, arches and stucco details that were striking in their realism. Such elements can be found in the paintings of the Louvre and the Hermitage, as well as on the vaults of the Sistine Chapel. The monochrome principle is also used in ceramics when creating enamel shades within the same colour, in mosaic and stained glass art.

Contemporary grisaille artists use the entire colour palette. One of the famous paintings in the monochrome technique is “Guernica” by Pablo Picasso. Grisaille is rarely used, but this technique still allows artists to create wonderful paintings that stand out from the general range of works. Norman Rockwell, Hugo Bastidas, Anton Rakov, Alexey Anikin, Valery Kudrinsky used monochrome in their works.

Significant grisaille paintings:
The Adoration of the Magi” by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, 1632
Arrival in Lyon” by Peter Paul Rubens, 1622
Rest on the Flight into Egypt”, Anthony van Dyck, 1627
Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1565
Guernica” by Pablo Picasso, 1937

Artists who used grisaille technique:
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck, Hans Memling, Hieronymus Bosch, Hugo van der Goes, Louis-Léopold Boilly, Josep Maria Sert, Ilya Repin, Norman Rockwell, Hugo Bastidas, Anton Rakov, Alexey Anikin, Valery Kudrinsky.