A Mammoth Book Catalogs a Vibrant Spectrum of Color Charts Spanning 600 Years



Art
Books
History

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January 29, 2024

Grace Ebert

Detail of Astrolin Color Card, Établissement Georget Fils Peintures Laquées et Vernis, Chantenay-Lès-Nantes (c. 1906). Image courtesy of Bibliothèque Forney, Paris. All images courtesy of Princeton University Press, shared with permission

From chemists’ plant-derived dyes to consumer paint swatches displayed at the hardware store, the history of color charts reflects a varied relationship between pigments, science, culture, and commerce. Anne Varichon in her forthcoming book explores the entwined evolution of this categorization through nearly 200 vibrant samples from the 15th century to modern day.

Translated by Kate Demling, Color Charts: A History is a hefty survey of hundreds of grids and illustrations cataloging a remarkable spectrum of hues, materials, and uses. Inside its pages are swatches of 19th-century silk ribbons, thin fragments of wool roving, and a 1960s diagram featuring a linoleum collection that appears like a celestial map. While many of the charts included haven’t been published previously, the book also references classics like Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours, a wildly popular guide of hues for naturalists and artists.

Published by Princeton University Press, Color Charts outlines the way color has always informed consumer choice, from hand-dyed fabrics to the vast options of mass-produced goods we know today. Dive further into the history by pre-ordering your copy from Bookshop.

 

a chart with concentric half circles and small spheres with various linoleum colors on it

Detail of Sarlino Reims’ ‘Linoleum Collection’ (1966-1967). Image courtesy of Bibliothèque Forney, Paris

Four pages of yellow, blue, green, and purple silk swatches

Detail of color chart of silk velvet ribbons, G.G. & Cie, France, Leporello, late nineteenth century. Image courtesy of Bibliothèque Forney, Paris

a chart of dyed wool with numbers next to each swatch

M. D. Gonfreville’s ‘Art of Dyeing Wools in Fleece, Yarn, and Fabrics,’ Librairie Scientifique, Industrielle et Agricole Lacroix et Baudry, Paris (1848). Image courtesy of Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris

three images with felt swaches in blues, purples, and greens shaped like hats

Acid Dyes for Felt Pile, Base Colors, Société Anonyme des Matières Colorantes et Produits Chimiques de Saint-Denis, Saint-Denis, November 1930, leporella. Image courtesy of Anne Varichon

Four pages of pink, blue, green, and purple silk swatches

Detail of color chart of silk velvet ribbons, G.G. & Cie, France, Leporello, late nineteenth century. Image courtesy of Bibliothèque Forney, Paris

three illustrations from an l'astrolin pamphlet, on the right is an illustration of a man in yellow painting the moon

Detail of Astrolin Color Card, Établissement Georget Fils Peintures Laquées et Vernis, Chantenay-Lès-Nantes (c. 1906). Image courtesy of Bibliothèque Forney, Paris

six book pages open to reveal color charts made of fabric

Detail of Oscar Piéquet’s ‘The Chemistry of Dyers, New Theoretical and Practical Treatise on the Art of Dyeing and Printing Fabrics’ (1892), Paris. Image courtesy of Ôkhra-Ecomuseum of Ocher, Roussillon

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