Book of the Month: Colours of Art

Book of the Month: Colours of Art

11 Aug 2022

Enjoy a fascinating journey through 80 artist palettes 

The latest book from Arts Society contributor Chloë Ashby explores the fascinating subject of colour in art. She reveals why artists choose a particular palette, the invention of new hues, and the symbolic meaning of particular shades, whether it be religious, political or a sign of considerable wealth. 

She considers everything from ancient cave paintings to Picasso’s Blue Period, as well as a Rococo obsession with creamy pastels. For example, she recalls when François Boucher declared, ‘nature is too green, and badly lit’, which explains a palette dominated by coral pinks and baby blues. 

Group of Three Girls, by Amrita Sher-Gil

Insight is also given into the more scientific elements of the palette, such as the formation of the colour wheel, the alarming toxicity of pigments that included lead and arsenic, and the relatively new invention of the Pantone universal colour system. In fact, each page features several Pantone swatches, which break up the works of art in question into key components.

Antoine Vollon, Mound of Butter, 1875-85

Why we love it

Ashby has made a huge amount of information easy to digest, not only through accessible text but by offering new ways to access each work of art, through swatches, palette descriptors and a list of ‘complementary’ paintings. Eschewing anything overly academic, she pinpoints the influence of colour, offering a whole new way to understand how David Hockney’s A Bigger Splash harnesses the LA sunshine, or how Helene Schjerfbeck’s fairly abstract still life manages to capture the essence of decay.


Colours of Art: The Story of Art in 80 Palettes, by Chloë Ashby

About the Author

Holly Black

Holly Black is The Arts Society's Digital Editor


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