Making Colour – National Gallery, August 2014

Making Colour exhibition at the National Gallery (August 2014)
© National Gallery

Making Colour.

I often wonder how curators come up with new exhibitions. In this instance, scientists have taken some of the works the gallery owns and shed light on how the colours were made or used. It’s a clever way of showcasing works you have in your collection.

The exhibition is organised around blue, green, orange, yellow, red, purple, silver and gold.

Without thinking about it, you have an opinion on colours. You instinctively like some colours and not others.

I am partial to red, orange and grey. And I’m not keen on purple and green. As in green to wear. I love green in nature. All these amazing shades of green. Green is great, just not on clothes.

If you think about it, there are emotions and references associated with particular colours. Such as blood, passion, kings, danger, cardinals for red or nobility and luxury for purple.

This caught my eye, and is of course the basis for the exhibition:

Prismatic Colour Wheel, from Moses Harris' 'The natural system of colours', London [c.1785]
Prismatic Colour Wheel, from Moses Harris’ ‘The natural system of colours’, London [c.1785]
© Royal Academy of Arts, London. Photographer: John Hammond

‘I want it’, said the Other Half, when he laid eyes on Sir Théodore Turquet de Mayerne’s manuscript. Yes, it is a lovely thing. A compilation of all the methods of making paints and their relative stabilities, based on experiments and chats with painters.

And that’s the other really interesting thing. Colours don’t all last. Colours are derived from natural sources, or created. And pigment which is pure lasts, but any impurities will make your colour fade.

Let’s go back to green for a moment. Green we learn is unstable, turning to brown or blue. And so many of the paintings we see now are in fact quite unlike how they were intended to look.

Turner’s palette and paint box are on display.

And also of interest, the section of primary colours and how they work best when balanced. Something some artists knew instinctively, before the primary colour wheel was even a thing.

Imagine a life with no colour in it.


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I'm an inquisitive being. Everything is an adventure: art, architecture, colours, food, patterns, people... and travel! And I love elephants. That's what I mostly write about.
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