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I'm feeling BLUE, How About You?

Vic Ritchey | Published on 4/22/2024
Brought to you by the Communications Team
A History of Blue

The history of the color blue in art and painting is rich and diverse, spanning cultures and centuries. It symbolizies different emotions, themes, and movements throughout various periods.

Blue pigments were used by ancient civilizations such as the Egyptians, Mesopotamians, and Mesoamericans. The Egyptians famously used a synthetic blue pigment known as Egyptian blue, made from sand, quartz, copper, and alkali. It also was used in pigments that adorned tombs, statues, and pottery, symbolizing the heavens and rebirth as well as the color for Cleopatra’s eyeshadow.

During the Medieval and Renaissance periods in Europe, blue pigments were scarce and costly. Ultramarine, being the most prized blue pigment, derived from the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli, was once worth more than gold. Due to its expense, Ultramarine was reserved for the most important subjects in religious art, symbolizing divinity, purity, and transcendence. Artists like Giotto, Masaccio, and Michelangelo employed it in their frescoes, altarpieces, and manuscripts. The Virgin Mary and other holy figures were often depicted wearing blue robes, representing their celestial nature. It was so revered among Renaissance artists that Vermeer drove his family into debt because of his frequent Ultramarine use.

The use of blue continued into the Baroque period, with artists like Caravaggio and Rembrandt incorporating it into their compositions. Caravaggio, in particular, employed deep blues to create chiaroscuro effects and to evoke dramatic moods in his paintings.

The Age of Exploration in the 15th and 16th centuries led to the discovery of new pigments, including indigo and smalt. These pigments expanded the range of blues available to artists, leading to greater experimentation and diversity in artworks.

The 19th century saw the development of new synthetic blue pigments, such as Prussian blue and Cerulean blue. It was in 1817 that the French Government awarded the chemist, Jean-Baptiste Guimet for developing French Ultramarine as an alternative to the expensive original Ultramarine blue. This new development changed everything for artists.

French Ultramarine quickly became an essential addition to the artist’s palette. These synthetic pigments were more affordable and versatile, leading to their widespread use by artists of the Romantic and Impressionist movements. Artists like J.M.W. Turner was the first artist to use the new synthetic Ultramarine. Claude Monet used Cerulean blue as well as a mix of French Ultramarine and Cobalt blue to capture the effects of light, atmosphere, and emotion in his landscapes and seascapes.

In the 20th and 21st centuries, artists continued to explore the expressive potential of blue. From the monochromatic blue canvases of Yves Klein, who also developed his version of Ultramarine blue, to the abstract blue compositions of Mark Rothko, blue has been used to evoke a wide range of emotions and concepts, from serenity and spirituality to depth and introspection.

Throughout history, the color blue has held symbolic, cultural, and emotional significance in art and painting, reflecting the evolving beliefs, aesthetics, and techniques of artists across different periods and cultures. Blue's versatility and emotional resonance have made it a beloved and enduring color in the art world, and has been used by artists to convey everything from serenity and spirituality to depth and melancholy.

How do you incorporate blue into your paintings?

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