Color: A Natural History of the Palette

Front Cover
Random House Publishing Group, Dec 18, 2007 - History - 464 pages
452 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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Review: Color: A Natural History of the Palette

User Review  - Goodreads

Love this exploration into the story of color. The combination of science, folklore, history, and travelogue makes it not only an entertaining tale but and educational one. It makes me want to discover the colors all over again in my own world trip! Read full review

Review: Color: A Natural History of the Palette

User Review  - Goodreads

I was hoping for more on the meaning of color but this book was heavy on the methods of how colors are made...almost technical and read like a bunch of short stories put together in ROY G BIV order. Creative concept for a book, just not a creative nor engaging end product. Read full review


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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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