Saturday 17 December 2016

Review: The Secret Lives of Colour

The Secret Lives of Colour The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St Clair
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

We take colour for granted these days; where ever you look you have garish clothing and brightly painted items competing for attention. But it was never like that, go back several hundred years ago, and lost people wore grey or brown cloth that had been dyed with the ochres and earth colours. Those that had some colour in their lives were the rich; they could afford the purples and reds that adorned their clothes and the rare blues and yellows that graced their artworks.

In this fascinating book, St Clair has uncovered the history behind 75 different colour shades and hues and tell their individual story. We find out where in the world these colours originated from, who made them popular, just how expensive a vivid blue like ultramarine was and the chemistry behind turning ground rock into artist’s paint and dyes for cloth. Modern colours are fairly robust, but it is a reminder just how lethal some colours were. The historical account of colour is enlightening too, as we find out which have come into fashion, why some prefer blondes, which colour was behind a notorious seduction and which have remained popular and those that currently don’t fit the bill.

Not only is it a nicely written and fascinating book, but it is a beautifully produced book too; each colour group is split into sections and the margins on each page are coloured to match the shade being written about. As you read though each page changes subtly in colour and tone. Just rippling through the pages you transcend from white to yellow to the reds, blues greens and end up at the black, it is a nice effect. The dots on the front are embossed making touching the cover a tactile experience. It was worth reading and would make a good companion volume to Bright Earth: The Invention of Colour by Philip Ball and Colour: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay if you already have those.

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