Monday, February 9, 2015

Tales About Color

Art... must do something more than give pleasure: it should relate 
to our own life so as to increase our energy of spirit.
- Sir Kenneth Clark, Looking at Pictures

Thanks to a referral from Rachel Biel, I have been reading the fascinating Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay.  Did you know that ochre - iron oxide - was the first color used, showing up internationally in palettes through history?  Or that carmine red comes from the blood of insects?  Or that the word indigo means "from India"?

Indian Collecting Cochineal with a Deer Tail by José Antonio de Alzate y Ramírez (1777)
Indian Collecting Cochineal with a Deer Tail by José Antonio de Alzate y Ramírez (1777)

Victoria Finlay traveled the world researching material for this book.  It is both history and travel log, informative and eye opening.  The book covers what pigments were made of , where they originated as well as social history. Interesting to learn that some artwork seen today is not as the artist originally intended it due to chemical interactions, fading etc.  J.M.W. Turner was just one artist who did not heed warnings against using certain colors.  Thus none of his work "is seen in perfection a month after it is painted" according to art critic John Ruskin.  The fact of impermanence is nothing new, however Finlay's stories are intriguing.   May you enjoy them as much as I did.


  1. Yes, it's fascinating. She has a page on Facebook, too, which I am now following as she wrote a follow up book and is just an interesting person. The other book that I am reading is "A Perfect Red", by Amy Butler Greenfield. Also well written and looks in depth at the history of red.

    1. Thanks I will look into this more....

  2. I love the color ochre and didn't know it was from iron oxide. Thanks for that info.


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