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Two plates from James Sowerby's A New Elucidation of Colours, Original, Prismatic, and Material (1809). Prism-like colour studies; abstract drawings with rainbow shapes, concentric rings of colour and a diamond pattern.

Two plates from James Sowerby's A New Elucidation of Colours, Original, Prismatic, and Material (1809) -Source.

Through history artists have used colour to different effect; to express emotion, to communicate ideas, stories and symbolic meaning, and to reflect the world in which we live. Musicians, artists, psychiatrists, medics and philosophers have meditated on the subject of colour over the centuries. 

Here is a collection of paintings, songs, writing, film and art that celebrates and explores our relationship to colour. 



"The term ‘Scottish Colourists’ describes four Scottish painters, Samuel John Peploe, F.C.B. Cadell, G.L Hunter and J.D. Fergusson, a set of radical artists in their day who enlivened the Scottish art scene with the fresh vibrancy of French Fauvist colours. Although the name suggests they were all living and working together in Scotland, they were not a close knit group with a specific set of aims, and only exhibited together on three occasions while they were all still alive.

It was not until 1950 that the group were linked together, initially by art historian T.J. Honeyman in his book Three Scottish Colourists, 1950, bringing together Peploe, Cadell and Hunter; by the 1980s the group had expanded to include Fergusson."

National Galleries Scotland.

A vivid still life painting with blue jug, rust coloured chair, lilac fan, small pink bowl, large white flowery bowl and leaf pattern background patterns.

CLICK HERE to watch a short film from the National Galleries about 

F.C.B. Cadell

Expressive, loosely painted sunny street scene with vivid colours. We can see tress, buildings in the background and a figure walking along.

CLICK HERE to watch a short film from the National Galleries about Samuel John Peploe

Colourful painting by George Leslie Hunter of a view from the water to Balloch; trees are reflected on the water, a steam boat sits resting and yellow and white coloured buildings are in the background.

CLICK HERE to watch a short film from the National Galleries about

JD Ferguson



"Born in Guyana (then British Guiana) in 1934, at 19 years old Frank Bowling moved to London. He went on to study painting at the Royal College of Art alongside David Hockney and R.B. Kitaj.

As Bowling reflects on his long career, he remarks that his shift from figuration to abstraction came when he moved from London to New York.

'As I became more involved in the making of paintings, I realised that one of the main ingredients in making paintings was colour and geometry. And in New York I found ways of proceeding to deepen my investigations in that area', says the artist. 'New York was very much the place where it was all happening.' "




" The term colour field painting is applied to a style of abstract painting that emerged in New York City during the 1940s and 1950s. It was inspired by European modernism and closely related to abstract expressionism, while many of its notable early proponents were among the pioneering abstract expressionists. Color field is characterized primarily by large fields of flat, solid color spread across or stained into the canvas creating areas of unbroken surface and a flat picture plane. The movement places less emphasis on gesture, brushstrokes and action in favour of an overall consistency of form and process. In color field painting "color is freed from objective context and becomes the subject in itself."

During the late 1950s and 1960s, color field painters emerged in parts of Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and the United States, particularly New York, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, using formats of stripes, targets, simple geometric patterns and references to landscape imagery and to nature."


Mark Rothko,Violet, Black, Orange, Yellow on White and Red, 1949. Abstract painting with large rectangular shapes, a black line bisecting them, and contrasting rough border.





Michael Derek Elsworthy Jarman (31 January 1942 – 19 February 1994) was an English film director, stage designer, diarist, artist, gardener, and author.

Jarman was outspoken about homosexuality, his public fight for gay rights, and his personal struggle with AIDS.

On 22 December 1986, Jarman was diagnosed as HIV positive and discussed his condition in public. His illness prompted him to move to Prospect Cottage, Dungeness in Kent, near the nuclear power station. In 1994, he died of an AIDS-related illness in London, aged 52. He is buried in the graveyard at St Clement's Church, Old Romney, Kent.


Front cover of the book Chroma by Derek Jarman, with a black and white photo of Jarman with his eyes closed and cropped nature photos along the top.

In 1993 Jarman wrote Chroma, a poetic and lyrical meditation on the uses of colour. Shifting across the spectrum from the medieval to the modern, he draws on the work of great colour theorists from Pliny to Leonardo. Interwoven with these musings are evocative memories from Jarman's childhood and illustrious career, along with reflections on his deteriorating health.

Written a year before Jarman's death, and as his eyesight was failing, Chroma is an intensely personal work; a paean from an artist seeking to memorialise the extraordinary power of colour even while it receded from his own life.

See recent exhibition CHROMA  at IMMA, Dublin centring around Jarman's work.

In this interview with Kirsty Wark filmed in 1993 for Edinburgh Festival, Jarman discusses his film Blue, a seminal work, that features a single static shot of the colour blue with a voiceover and musical soundtrack. The voiceover, written by Jarman, consists of a diaristic and poetic text documenting his AIDS-related illness and impending death at a time that he had become partially blind, his vision often interrupted by blue light. The film is Jarman’s last feature and was completed only a few months before he died.

Derek Jarman's garden, Prospect Cottage,  Dungeness. A wooden house painted black with bright yellow window frames, low level plants in the foreground and a sandy surround.




IKB 191, monochromatic painting by Yves Klein. A painting solely consisting of a very strong blue.

This film was made for the Walker Arts Center's show Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers, a major retrospective of the French artist who is an important figure in post-war European art. In it they look back over the artist's life and career and discuss some of his most famous works of art; The Monochrome Works and International Klein Blue.

 "'Proposte Monocrome, Epoca Blu' (Proposition Monochrome; Blue Epoch) was an exhibition of Klein's works at the Gallery Apollinaire, Milan, (January 1957) featuring 11 identical blue canvases, using ultramarine pigment suspended in a synthetic resin 'Rhodopas', described by Klein as "The Medium". Discovered with the help of Edouard Adam, a Parisian paint dealer, the optical effect retained the brilliance of the pigment which, when suspended in linseed oil, tended to become dull. Klein later deposited a Soleau envelope for this recipe to maintain the "authenticity of the pure idea.". This colour, reminiscent of the lapis lazuli used to paint the Madonna's robes in medieval paintings, was to become known as International Klein Blue (IKB). The paintings were attached to poles placed 20 cm away from the walls to increase their spatial ambiguities. All 11 of the canvases were priced differently. The buyers would go through the gallery, observing each canvas and purchase the one that was deemed best in their own eyes specifically. Klein's idea was that each buyer would see something unique in the canvas that they bought that other buyers may not have seen. So while each painting visually looked the same, the impact each had on the buyer was completely unique. "






Bluets is a book by American author Maggie Nelson, published by Wave Books in 2009. The work hybridizes several prose and poetry styles as it documents Nelson's multifaceted experience with the colour blue, and is often referred to as lyric essay or prose poetry. It was written between 2003 and 2006. The book is a philosophical and personal meditation on the colour blue, lost love, grief and existential solitude. The book is full of references to other writers, philosophers and artists. The title refers to the painting Bluets by the artist Joan Mitchell.




(Computer drawing, understanding colour) 

"Harold Cohen grew up in London, where he studied painting at the Slade School of Fine Art. In the 1960s he exhibited widely, representing the UK in the Venice Bienalle in 1966.

In 1968 he went to California for a one-year visiting professorship at UC San Diego, met his first computer and never returned to London. From 1972-74 he was a visiting scholar at the AI Lab at Stanford, and began work on the AARON program. 

AARON began more than thirty years ago as research directed to a deeper understanding of how we make images and how we read them, than twenty years as a professional artist had revealed. AARON was a drawing program, its structure loosely following the then-current "expert system" paradigm, that exhibited a distinctive "art personality" of its own, and the program—not just its output—was widely exhibited during its first ten years. Of the many thousands of original drawings it generated, some were colored by hand and a few turned into paintings and murals. The problem of having a sightless program control something as fundamentally visual as color appeared intractable, however, and it was the mid-eighties before the first rule-based version showed that it might be possible. It took twenty years more for AARON to become the world-class colorist it is today. This talk provides some background on the technology of color control, and presents an overview of how the program's expertise developed, resting finally upon a change from the implicit representation of knowledge in the rules provided by the author, to the explicit representation of that knowledge in structures made available to the program itself. That change has made it possible to replace the program's extensive rule-base with a remarkably simple algorithm that not only performs as well as the previous rule-intensive versions, but commands a much wider range of coloring strategies."



COLOUR WHEELS, Charts, and Tables Through History

A shaded colour wheel from the pen of British entomologist Moses Harris, featured in his The Natural System of Colours (1766)

A shaded colour wheel from the pen of British entomologist Moses Harris, featured in his The Natural System of Colours (1766) - Source.



Fauvism is the name applied to the work produced by a group of artists (which included Henri Matisse and André Derain) from around 1905 to 1910, which is characterised by strong colours and fierce brushwork



Making Painting: Helen Frankenthaler and JMW Turner

Helen Frankenthaler, Summerscene Provincetown, 1961. A lively and loose abstract watercolour painting with reds and corflower blues.

In this short film from the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation; their guest curator James Hamilton gives a walk through of the installation of  ''Making Painting: Helen Frankenthaler and JMW Turner.'' Comparing the work of the two artists, who were centuries apart, but whose paintings share similarities in style and in their approach to working with colour.

J. M. William Turner, Zwingenberg on the Neckar, 1844. Subtle warm colours feature in this soft drawing of a hilly landscape.

Image: J. M. William Turner, Zwingenberg on the Neckar, 1844. Tate archive. Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

To view more of Helen Frankenthaler's work


Helen Frankenthaler, Contentment Island 2004, Bright turquoise and blue shades make this abstract painting, with white dashes and a subtle black verticle line which appears to be distant.



Joseph Mallord William Turner RA (23 April 1775 – 19 December 1851), known contemporarily as William Turner, was an English Romantic painter, printmaker and watercolourist. He is known for his expressive colourisations, imaginative landscapes and turbulent, often violent marine paintings.



JMW Turner, Burning Ship, 1830, watercolour on paper. Sparingly rendered, the burning ship is a strong black and subtle plumes of orange dominate the right half of the painting.

Image: JMW Turner, Burning Ship, 1830, watercolour on paper, Tate Britain, Public Domain

To read about the Danish artist Olafur Eliasson's  abstract paintings called 'Colour Experiments' inspired by the work of JMW Turner CLICK HERE

Olafur Eliasson (Icelandic: Ólafur Elíasson; born 1967) is a DanishIcelandic artist known for sculptures and large-scale installation art employing elemental materials such as light, water, and air temperature to enhance the viewer’s experience. To view more Eliasson's artwork  CLICK HERE



(by Professor Jill Morton)

Different coloured tablets in blister packs.

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels

In this short article on the Munsell Color Blog, Colour Professor Jill Morton, whose primary focus is on colour pyschology and branding, discusses people's associations with certain colours and how differences in pill colours may affect patient's adherence to medications.





Front cover of Chromaphobia by David Bachelor. A bright pink colour with abstract image reminiscent of cells under a micropscope.

"The central argument of Chromophobia is that a chromophobic impulse – a fear of corruption or contamination through colour – lurks within much Western cultural and intellectual thought. This is apparent in the many and varied attempts to purge colour, either by making it the property of some ‘foreign body’ – the oriental, the feminine, the infantile, the vulgar, or the pathological – or by relegating it to the realm of the superficial, the supplementary, the inessential, or the cosmetic.

Chromophobia has been a cultural phenomenon since ancient Greek times; this book is concerned with forms of resistance to it. Writers have tended to look no further than the end of the nineteenth century. David Batchelor seeks to go beyond the limits of earlier studies, analysing the motivations behind chromophobia and considering the work of writers and artists who have been prepared to look at colour as a positive value. Exploring a wide range of imagery including Melville’s ‘great white whale’, Huxley’s reflections on mescaline, and Le Corbusier’s ‘journey to the East’, Batchelor also discusses the use of colour in Pop, Minimal, and more recent art."

David Batchelor is an artist and writer based in London, and the author of Chromophobia (Reaktion, 2001) and The Luminous and the Grey (Reaktion, 2014)."



(The colourists and early pioneers)


Documentary from Imagine series, with Alan Yentob, looking at the photographer William Eggleston, who is widely credited with increasing recognition for colour photography as a legitimate artistic medium. 

CLICK HERE for part 2 of this documentary

CLICK HERE for part 3 of this documentary

CLICK HERE for part 4 of this documentary

CLICK HERE for part 5 of this documentary


Ted Forbes of the Youtube channel The Art of Photography discusses three influential colour photographers Luigi Ghirri, Ernst Haas and Dan Winters


Click on the link above to take you to the Saul Leiter Foundation, where you can view the beautiful work of one of earliest pioneers of colour photography.

Saul Leiter was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His father was a well known Talmud scholar and Saul studied to become a rabbi. His mother gave him his first camera at age 12.  At age 23, he left theology school and moved to New York City to become an artist. He had developed an early interest in painting and was fortunate to meet the Abstract Expressionist painter Richard Pousette-Dart.

Pousette-Dart and W. Eugene Smith encouraged Leiter to pursue photography and he was soon taking black and white pictures with a 35 mm Leica, which he acquired for a few Eugene Smith prints. In 1948, he started taking colour photographs. 

Martin Harrison, editor and author of Saul Leiter Early Color (2006),[5] writes, "Leiter’s sensibility . . . placed him outside the visceral confrontations with urban anxiety associated with photographers such as Robert Frank or William Klein. Instead, for him the camera provided an alternate way of seeing, of framing events and interpreting reality. He sought out moments of quiet humanity in the Manhattan maelstrom, forging a unique urban pastoral from the most unlikely of circumstances."

Leiter died on 26 November 2013 in New York City.



Levitt received her first grant in 1946 from the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 1959 and 1960, she received two grants from Guggenheim Foundation for her pioneering work in color photography.[18] In 1965 she published her first major collection, A Way of Seeing.[19] Much of her work in color from 1959 to 1960 was stolen in a 1970 burglary of her East 12th Street apartment. The remaining photos, and others taken in the following years, can be seen in the 2005 book Slide Show: The Color Photographs of Helen Levitt.[20] However, she felt equally comfortable working with black and white, as she did both in the 1980s. In 1976, she was a Photography Fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts.[21]



Online Exhibition

Victoria Miro

The Sky was Blue the Sea was Blue and the Boy was Blue

" Titled after an eponymous 2017 work by Paula Rego, The Sky was Blue the Sea was Blue and the Boy was Blue presents blue works by nineteen Victoria Miro artists and explores the colour’s broad symbolic and conceptual associations through a range of media. The exhibition looks at artists working with blue not merely as a colour, but as an essential element to the work’s meaning and interpretation, as a compositional device, or to suggest a particular mood or atmosphere."

Victoria Miro

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