Art Quiz: The Answer is Camaieu Painting

Until I came to this art quiz, I had never heard of camaieu painting. For what it’s worth, the plural is camaieux and the word is related to cameo.

From Encyclopedia Britannica:

Originating in the ancient world, camaieu was used in miniature painting to simulate cameos and in architectural decoration to simulate relief sculpture.”

I found this especially interesting since I’ve been using monochromatic “color family” studies in my art practice. In the past, I’ve painted several monochromatic paintings, and not once did I ever know that I was creating paintings that could be defined as camaieu. With art, I definitely learn something new every day.

Surprisingly — or maybe not so surprisingly — I had to do a bit of searching to come up with examples of camaieu paintings. Here is one I found, attributed to Francois van de Buch (1756-1803), and titled “Grande Chinoiserie en Camaieu Rose”.

My guess is that monochromatic paintings aren’t usually “best sellers”, so perhaps artists tend to avoid them other than as studies, such as the ones I’ve done.

On a similar note, a monochromatic painting or camaieu done entirely in gray is known as a grisaille. One done all in yellow is called a cirage. If there are specific terms for blue monochromatic or red monochromatic paintings, I haven’t yet come across them.

My understanding is that two elements are important in camaieu painting:

  1. The painting uses a single hue.
  2. The hue chosen is unusual for the subject matter.

What this means is that while all camaieu paintings are monochromatic, not all monochromatic paintings are camaieu. So now, if you will, hold that thought… until tomorrow.




    1. It differs from “monochromatic” in that the color used is unnatural for the subject. If you painted an orange using shades and tints of orange, it would be monochromatic. If you painted the same orange using only shades and tints of blue, it would be monochromatic and an example of camaieu. Camaieu is monochromatic, but monochromatic isn’t always camaieu.


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