Color: A Natural History of the Palette

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Random House Publishing Group, Dec 18, 2007 - Art - 464 pages
6 Reviews
In this vivid and captivating journey through the colors of an artist’s palette, Victoria Finlay takes us on an enthralling adventure around the world and through the ages, illuminating how the colors we choose to value have determined the history of culture itself.

How did the most precious color blue travel all the way from remote lapis mines in Afghanistan to Michelangelo’s brush? What is the connection between brown paint and ancient Egyptian mummies? Why did Robin Hood wear Lincoln green? In Color, Finlay explores the physical materials that color our world, such as precious minerals and insect blood, as well as the social and political meanings that color has carried through time.

Roman emperors used to wear togas dyed with a purple color that was made from an odorous Lebanese shellfish–which probably meant their scent preceded them. In the eighteenth century, black dye was called logwood and grew along the Spanish Main. Some of the first indigo plantations were started in America, amazingly enough, by a seventeen-year-old girl named Eliza. And the popular van Gogh painting White Roses at Washington’s National Gallery had to be renamed after a researcher discovered that the flowers were originally done in a pink paint that had faded nearly a century ago. Color is full of extraordinary people, events, and anecdotes–painted all the more dazzling by Finlay’s engaging style.

Embark upon a thrilling adventure with this intrepid journalist as she travels on a donkey along ancient silk trade routes; with the Phoenicians sailing the Mediterranean in search of a special purple shell that garners wealth, sustenance, and prestige; with modern Chilean farmers breeding and bleeding insects for their viscous red blood. The colors that craft our world have never looked so bright.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Color: a natural history of the palette

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A personal travelog that attempts to provide a history of artists' pigments, this first book by Hong Kong-based journalist Finlay is organized by color: ochre, red, orange, etc. Each chapter ... Read full review

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This is, by far, one of my favorite books.
"With color, one obtains an energy that seems to stem from witchcraft." --Henri Matisse
In high school, I loved painting. But when I went off to college I decided to study graphic design; I wanted a relatively steady career. This book filled a bit of the void left by my decision to study something other than painting.
If you like history and art, you will love this book. If you've ever wondered how artists created their colors before you could go to the store and pick up a tube of paint, this book is for you.
What I enjoyed about this book almost more than the information within was Victoria Finlay's storytelling. I loved hearing about her adventures, trying to discover the origins of each color. My favorite chapters were the yellow and violet chapters. I will never see purple the same way, or a particular food spice.


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The Paintbox

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About the author (2007)

A British citizen living in Hong Kong, Victoria Finlay has worked for Reuters and was the arts editor for the South China Morning Post for four and a half years before leaving to write this book. She writes regularly about arts and travel for Hong Kong newspapers and international media.

From the Hardcover edition.

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