As much as we love to have reached the end of January and its blues, our negative attitude towards the colour blue is somewhat unjustified. It seems that the sombre connotations of sadness and melancholy become embedded in the very pigments of the multitude of its shades this time of year. Having said that, many an artist saw the colour blue in a completely different light. To them, its enigmatic celestial pull represented the link between the earthly and the divine. Joan Miro created a series of paintings that were fundamentally different form all his other work. One of his ‘peinture-poésie’ large canvases is almost completely blank for the exception of a blot of light blue paint with a neatly written phrase underneath: this is the colour of my dreams.
Joan Miro, The Colour of My Dreams, 1925
As precious as one’s dreams and almost as unique, the raw ingredient of ultramarine, lapis lazuli, commanded exorbitant prices due to its provenance during Renaissance. First carried along the Silk Road from the mountains of Afghanistan, then loaded onto ships to reach the shores of Europe, it was praised for its extraordinary longevity. Cennino Cennini, the Italian painter famed for his extensive use of ultramarine viewed it as ‘illustrious, beautiful and most perfect, beyond all other colours; one could not say anything about it, or do anything about it, that its quality would not surpass.'
The notions of chastity, purity and innocence were also brought to life through the use of ultramarine. The Virgin Mary’s cloak was increasingly depicted in deep blue tones by Italian painters whereas Johannes Vermeer chose it for the turban in the Girl with a Pearl Earring painting.
Johannes Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring, 1665
Interestingly, the colour blue lends itself to be rendered both vibrant and dramatic when matched with other colours. This is the case in the renowned Blue Room bar at the Berkley hotel designed by the late David Collins. The interior is imbued with understated dynamism punctuated with the dominant addition of red wall lights. Albeit its restricted colour palette, the Blue Room delivers an iconic and memorable environment eschewing melancholy tones attributed to blue colour schemes.
David Collins Studio, The Blue Bar at the Berkley, 2001
After all, our January despondency so prevalent at this time of year could be felt even in the most considered surroundings. The colour blue with its serene tonal wealth does, perhaps, fall victim to our projected ennui, dejection and trepidation. If anything, we should embrace the colour’s calming properties and ethereal magic to navigate the mysteries of the year lying ahead.
Cennini, Craftsman’s Handbook, p.38
The Secret Lives of Colour, Kassia St Clair