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Color Charts: A History

Color Charts: A History

Color Charts: A History

By Anne Varichon
Translated by Kate Deimling

"One of the most richly illustrated, beautifully designed and intelligently researched books of 2024."—Steven Heller, Print Magazine

"In Color Charts: A History, French author Anne Varichon reveals the inventive and poetic ways in which colour has been collectively understood, telling the story of the transformation from pigment makers and craftworkers, dependent on their charts, to the age of synthetic colour, through which the ‘western world began to become colourful, and finally, colourful for everyone’."—Alexander James, Financial Times

"This radiantly beautiful book takes us on a journey through the methods and devices used in Western cultures to catalogue colours developed since the 15th century by doctors, naturalists, dyers and painters."—Jad Adams, The Art Newspaper

The need to categorize and communicate color has mobilized practitioners and scholars for centuries. Color Charts describes the many different methods and ingenious devices developed since the fifteenth century by doctors, naturalists, dyers, and painters to catalog fragments of colors. With the advent of industrial society, manufacturers and merchants developed some of the most beautiful and varied tools ever designed to present all the available colors. Thanks to them, society has discovered the abundance of color embodied in a plethora of materials: cuts of fabric, leather, paper, and rubber; slats of wood and linoleum; delicate skeins of silk; careful deposits of paint and pastels; fragments of lipstick; and arrangements of flower petals. These samples shape a visual culture and a chromatic vocabulary and instill a deep desire for color.

Anne Varichon traces the emergence of modern color charts from a set of processes developed over the centuries in various contexts. She presents illuminating examples that bring this remarkable story to life, from ancient writings revealing attention to precise shade to contemporary designers’ color charts, dyers’ notebooks, and Werner’s famous color nomenclature. Varichon argues that color charts have linked generations of artists, artisans, scientists, industrialists, and merchants, and have played an essential and enduring role in the way societies think about color.

Drawing on nearly two hundred documents from public and private collections, almost all of them previously unpublished, this wonderfully illustrated book shows how the color chart, in its many distinct forms and expressions, is a practical tool that has transcended its original purpose to become an educational aid and subject of contemplation worthy of being studied and admired.

284 pages | 355 color illustrations 
Princeton University Press, 2024
9.8 x 11.3 inches 
ISBN 9780691255170
Art History

$55.00 $55.00