Tuesday, 28 October 2014


“Colour has taken possession of me; no longer do I have to chase after it. I know that it has hold of me forever... Colour and I are one. I am a painter.” - Paul Klee

For Literary Tuesday today I have an extremely interesting book for you. It is written by Victoria Finlay and it is called “Colour: Travels Through the Paintbox.” (2002). I recommend it highly for reading by anyone who has an interest in art, painting, anthropology, history, politics, social science or anyone who has a curious and active mind. It is well written and full of charming anecdotes, picaresque details, interesting trivia and scholarly (yet never dull!) research.

The book is a history of colour, especially the colours used by artists - but not only. Finlay takes us through ancient times in her travels in Northern and Central Australia in order to uncover the secrets of the most fundamental of colours, the earthy ochres. In Prehistorical and Classical Europe looking at the origins of our blacks and browns. She then shifts to the elusive and often deadly searches for the perfect white.

We travel to exotic places for encounters with the fiery reds and oranges, with many secret recipes for these pigments still remaining unknown. We are exposed to unsavoury practices in the manufacture of Indian yellow, while we delight in the joys of saffron and the mystery of Chinese green and the deadly arsenical greens. Precious blue is sought in Afghanistan and the book finishes with the various synthetic pigments that have given us magnificent purples and magentas, by the way of Tyrian purples and Indigo plants.

I was fascinated by this book and it proved to be unputtable-down! There is romance and intrigue, mystery and adventure, murder and passion in colour. A wealth of information is in the book, but the erudite work is presented in an engaging and amusing way, with many anecdotes involving famous (an infamous!) people.

If this subject interests you, here is a web site about colour:

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