This is, hands down, one of the best art books I have ever read.
From the stunning cover photo to the end of the acknowledgements, this book informs and entertains and is rich with illustrations.
Author Victoria Finlay explores (and shares with us the results of her research) the history behind a variety of colors … colors used primarily in painting. Who knew, or would have guessed, that there would be such rich history in the development of colors?
The book begins with a visit to the Lascaux Caves in France and only two pages in to the book and we’re off on a remarkable journey:
French scientists took a tiny sample from the snout of the Great Bull. They found that some of the black was not just soot or charcoal but also contained a rare kind of manganese oxide called hausmannite. This can be made artificially by heating rocks that are rich with manganese, but the process requires temperatures of around 1650 degrees Fahrenheit, and it’s hard to see how prehistoric people could have generated that kind of heat from their open-pit fires. There could have been a local source we don’t know about anymore, but it is also possible that the Lascaux hausmannite came from the Pyrenees Mountains, 150 miles away.
Every color that Finlay explores has some interesting development — just look at some of these chapter titles: “Mauve: Chemistry Project Gone Wrong“; “Prussian Blue: The Blue That Was Supposed to Be Red“; “Manganese Violet: Monet Goes Outside“; “Cadmium Yellow: Listening to Colors with Kandinsky.” At the end of each chapter, I was eager to read on to see what I would learn next. Because you will learn something.
This is not a standard, dull history text-book about colors. This is a well researched, well written art book.
Finlay also uses a great many sidebars to complement the book, on topics such as “Pigments vs. Dyes” and “Red Ocher and Dying Stars” and “How We Perceive Colors” and so forth. These little capsule of knowledge are wonderful and often just the sort of trivia (if I may use that term without it being demeaning) that I enjoy.
The only downside to this book pertains specifically to my free digital edition. Some of the photographs in my copy are so badly pixellated that I couldn’t make out the images. I would hope that this is fixed for any future digital release but really, this is the sort of book that you WANT to hold in your hands and to thumb through. You will want a physical copy of this book. I want a physical copy of this book. There are things in here that I intend to refer back to, whether for my painting or for my writing, or simply to refresh my memory.
Anyone interested in history or in art will want to have this book, and it’s precisely the sort of book that, if sitting on a library (or home) shelf, will get picked up and thumbed through simply because it is so stunning.
Looking for a good book? The Brilliant History of Color in Art by Victoria Finlay is a stunningly beautiful book to look at and is packed, cover to cover, with interesting and sometimes unusual information about the development of colors throughout history, and is written in a very approachable style.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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The Brilliant History of Color in Art
author: Victoria Finlay
publisher: J. Paul Getty Museum
hardcover, 128 pages