Making Colour



National Gallery

Until Sun Sep 7

  • Possibly by Girolamo Genga

    'A Jesse Tree', c1535

    © The National Gallery, London

    Possibly by Girolamo Genga
  • Gherardo di Jacopo Starnina

    'The Beheading of Saint Margaret', c1409

    © The National Gallery, London

    Gherardo di Jacopo Starnina
  • Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo

    'Mary Magdalene', c1535-40

    © The National Gallery, London

    Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo
  • Giovanni Battista Moroni

    'Portrait of a Lady, perhaps Contessa Lucia Albani Avogadro ('La Dama in Rosso')', c1556 60

    © The National Gallery, London

    Giovanni Battista Moroni
  • Philippe Rousseau

    'A Valley', c1860

    © The National Gallery, London

    Philippe Rousseau
  • Sandro Botticelli

    'Saint Francis of Assisi with Angels', c 1475-80

    © The National Gallery, London

    Sandro Botticelli

Possibly by Girolamo Genga

'A Jesse Tree', c1535

© The National Gallery, London

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Who knew that blue paint used to be harder to get hold of and more expensive than gold, that orange pigment contains arsenic, and that real gold leaf doesn't always look as good as the fake stuff... This is a cracking exhibition, and one of the highlights of the summer in London - enough science to make you feel like you're learning something, but not so much that you think you're at the Science Museum.  Highly recommended, and make time for the interactive film at the end.  And if you're interested, full feature here:

Curated London

Making Colour tells the story of Western European art through the prism of colour. The exhibition gives a fascinating insight into the way colour was used and why, from the days when pigment was mixed with egg (to make tempera) through to the Impressionists, when colours could be faithfully reproduced using stable, affordable, artificial pigments.

An introductory room gives a grounding in colour theory and the evolution of colour in art, before subsequent rooms are given over in turn to blue, green, red, yellow, purple, silver and gold. Each room features beautiful paintings that use the colour in question. There are explanations of the technical challenges of producing the different colours, as well the allegorical reasons artists choose one over another.

Contemporary photography and samples of the raw materials from which pigments are made brings the exhibition to life, while a collection of pots and ornaments shows the different challenges facing painters and ceramicists. A matte charcoal finish on all the walls, combined with inventive lighting, makes the artwork really pop. An audio guide, which is highly recommended, gives additional insight through interviews, short films and other bonus content. Not to be missed.

For more art in plain English, check out