The National Gallery Presents MAKING COLOUR, 6/18-9/7
Making Colour, the first exhibition of its kind in the UK, offers visitors an exceptional opportunity to discover the wide-ranging materials used to create colour in paintings and other works of art. Using the National Gallery's own paintings and loans from major UK cultural institutions, the exhibition traces the history of making colour in Western paintings, from the Middle Ages to the end of the 19th century.
The exhibition brings together the worlds of art and science to explain how artists overcame the technical challenges involved in creating colour. Work on this subject has long been a specialism of the Gallery's internationally recognised Scientific Department. Making Colour shows the material problems faced by artists in achieving their painterly aims, the breakthroughs they struggled for, and the difficulties they faced in creating works of art that were both beautiful and enduring. Making Colour looks at its subject from multiple perspectives. It examines the origins of paint sources - be it the natural world or human invention - and their supply, manufacture and application, as well as their permanence and colour effect.
The rich and diverse display with National Gallery paintings at its core is part of the 'National Gallery Inspires' programme of exhibitions. Drawn from the National Gallery collection, the exhibitions take a fresh view of National Gallery paintings alongside special loans and featuring world-leading research by Gallery experts. Making Colourshows the central importance of colour to painting, but also incorporates minerals along with textiles, ceramics and glass, demonstrating the material connections in these sister arts.
The exhibition begins by examining how theories of colour - such as an awareness of primary colour, or of the colour spectrum - have influenced painters' use of pigments, and their quest for new materials. Visitors then journey from lapis lazuli to cobalt blue, ancient vermilion to bright cadmium red, through yellow, orange, purple and verdigris to deep green viridian in a series of colour-themed rooms. Finally, they enter a dazzling central room devoted to gold and silver. These metals were of fundamental importance to the colour effects of European painting through many centuries, although they do not appear on the traditional colour wheel.
Making Colour is illustrated at every stage by National Gallery paintings, complemented by selected objects on loan, such as Joseph Mallord William Turner's paintbox. The exhibition includes Claude Monet's Lavacourt under Snow (about 1878-81) on display with lapis lazuli figurines from the British Museum and the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Anthony van Dyck's Lady Elizabeth Thimbelby and Dorothy, Viscountess Andover (1637) and elaborate majolica plates from the British Museum help to illustrate the story of yellow. In the red room Degas's Combing the Hair ('La Coiffure') (about 1896) and Masaccio's Saints Jerome and John the Baptist (about 1428-9) are displayed alongside fragments of beautiful crimson velvet brocade on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.