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Color: A Natural History of the Palette

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  48,477 Ratings  ·  531 Reviews
In this vivid and captivating journey through the colors of an artist’s palette, Victoria Finlay takes us on an enthralling adventure around the world and through the ages, illuminating how the colors we choose to value have determined the history of culture itself.

How did the most precious color blue travel all the way from remote lapis mines in Afghanistan to Michelangel
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ebook, 464 pages
Published December 18th 2007 by Random House (first published January 1st 2003)
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Michael Martin
The disclaimers "I imagine", "perhaps", "possibly", "it could be that" appear in this NON-FICTION book far more times than they should.

While I liked the content of about three-quarters of the book, it infuriated me at times when the author would suddenly start presenting the material through the eyes of a character, "imagining" their experiences, travels, and accomplishments. This first rears its head around page 81, when the tone of her book changes to speculate about an imaginary Corinthian a
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Maura
Apr 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: artists, craftspeople, historians
Funny story with this book - got to page 112 and discovered that pages 113 to 146 were missing! Thankfully, Random House (publisher) came to the rescue and sent me a replacement copy. Until it came I was in suspense about how ladies used to poison themselves (by accident) with white cosmetics that were made from lead.

This book was interesting not only for the information about colors, but also for the author's travels. She went to great lengths to get to the source of some colors, and along the
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Kiwiflora
Jan 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I remember when I was a child getting a box of paints in small tubes. I was fascinated by the names of the colours, words I had never heard of before - vermillion, magenta, aquamarine, cochineal, carmine. They might have been only shades of orange, purple, blue and red, but those exotic names gave those paints just a little more magic. Didn't do much for my art work, but never mind.

Victoria Finlay would appear to have had a similar early interest in colour when her father took her to Chartres C
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Jenny
Oct 10, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Having an affinity for all things color, I was attracted to the cover of Color: A Natural History of the Palette while visiting the Met one afternoon about a year ago. I bought it and have been reading it for the past year.

I'm sad to say that I found the cover to be the best part of this book. The book wasn't bad, but it also was nowhere near great. Finlay sets about the task of researching the origins of the pigments of the paintbox: Ochre, Black & Brown, White, Red, Orange, Yellow, Green,
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Nancy McClure
Aug 16, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: any artistic soul
LOVE me a book where I can pick a chapter and read up on what's been taunting my mind - thus I love anthologies and various other collections.

in Color, I found a fantastic historical recounting of the who/where/why/what of much of our commonly accepted color palette. And that alone means something, because there is a surprisingly low ratio of 'general citizens' who knows REALLY what color is about, how it's made, how we wrestled/negotiated/bullied our ways into being enjoyers/purveyors of it. Lo
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LuAnn
Apr 15, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I’d call this a travelogue on the origin of pigments and dyes of each rainbow color, and, I believe, the only book to really tackle the history of color. This book had been on my radar a while, but I had decided not to read it, yet a class on color finally compelled me to read it. Through it I’ve come to appreciate just how complex getting pigment mix with a medium of the right consistency and translucency to stick to a surface and dry without fading or changing color over time or to dissolve in ...more
Tracey
In an impressive mix of history, science and travelogue. Ms. Finlay shares with her readers the results of her worldwide search for the pigments and dyes and that humankind has used over the ages. Each color (including black and white) is represented in a separate section, where she weaves stories of fictional and real-life people into her research with entertaining results.

From Australian sacred ochers to Phoenician royal purple; from Incan reds to Chinese imperial greens - this book literally
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Kiersten
Oct 21, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Oh, this book had so much promise! And yet, it fell flat...
I was expecting to read more of a history book, but it turned out to be a travelogue/memoir, and a tad too self-involved for my tastes. Moreover, the author does a lot of "imagining" for a work of non-fiction. Damn.
Miles
Oct 22, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an enjoyable book to read, but ultimately more of a travel book than a book about color. The adventures of the author tend to be given rather more weight than the subject.
Velvetink
Be seduced by the history of pigments. Basically about the author's travels while seeking out the origins of ancient colours. I loved this and gladdened by the extensive notes and bibliography.
Alex
Jan 18, 2016 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Doesn't this look cool? JG is into it. She says it's a fun and engaging read.
Fredrika
Apr 06, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really liked this book, and I checked it out from the library but I'm going to buy it. I didn't mind the format or the fact that she spoke about her modern-day expeditions for the colors.

According to the Torah, Gold told Moses to tell the Israelites to make "fringes on the borders of their garments and put upon the fringe of each corner a thread of blue." The Talmud went farther to specify that the blue had to come from a sea creature that had a shell. The tsitsit shawl and fringe remind Jewi
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Tracey Allen at Carpe Librum
I've always been fascinated about the origins of colour, and in Color - A Natural History of the Palette, author Victoria Finlay travels the world in her search for the origin and birthplace of colors and dyes.

I wasn't interested in the author's personal travelogue, so I initially had the intention of skipping over any boring parts and jumping straight to the facts about the colours which are conveniently broken down into the following chapter headings:

1. Ochre
2. Black and Brown
3. White
4. Red
5.
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Rachel
Jan 08, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love color. I've often said that I get the same pleasure out of looking at color that my friends seem to get from listening to music. It's a visceral feeling of joy that I can't describe particularly well with words. Also, since I'm a painter, this book has all the makings of a seven star review. Yet you notice it's only four stars, what gives?

Okay here's the deal. When the subtitle of your book is "A Natural History of the Palette," that implies history, as in truth (or the best we can make o
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Bandit
Mar 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book too me an inordinate amount of time to get through. And although I'm not primarily a nonfiction reader, this time it had nothing to do with the book itself or really nothing to do with the quality of the book. The quality was awesome. Finlay's writing was engaging and humorous and her journeys around the world to some of the most random and strange in an out of the way sort of places to discover the history of color were enlightening, educating and very entertaining. The reason it took ...more
Gigi
Jul 29, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This was an interesting book, but it was more a travel memoir than "a natural history of the palette." Another book by the author, THE BRILLIANT HISTORY OF COLOR IN ART, is a far more informative book for learning about the history of color in art.
Amy Beth
Finlay travels all around the world trying to find out the history of colors (she travels so much you wonder how her publisher could have afforded all that airfare and travel expenses). The funny thing is, much of the history is lost or inaccessible. She goes to Australia and decides not to try to find out more about the Aboriginal spiritual meanings of ochre out of respect for the culture. Many times she goes to a place only to be disappointed to find nothing left or even--as in the case of Ind ...more
Cathy
Jun 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: full-deck
A mass of information about the natural dyes and pigments used for the seven colours of the rainbow, plus black, white and ochre. Finlay journeys around the world to find the origins of the colours, tracing them through myth, art and history to find out how and where the colours were produced. Each story is fascinating, and she writes in a lively and accessible style. Her research is presented as a quest or adventure, and while this sometimes comes across as slightly overdone, in the chapter on ...more
Andrew
May 04, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an impressive book with an innocuous title. The folio edition is as you would expect impressively bound and comes with its own box sleeve. However the contents are the same as the other editions just in a more impressive binding (I was lucky to pick this us second hand, there is no way I could afford such a book brand new ) the book after a short introduction to colours how they were incentivised and discovered then breaks up in to a number of chapters ingeniously named after a specific ...more
Gale
Jun 18, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've always been interested in color and have previous read The Anthropology of Turquoise: Reflections on Desert, Sea, Stone, and Sky (****) by Ellen Meloy and Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World (*****) by Simon Garfield. Those books are very different, one being about natural history and the other about chemistry influencing fashion and ultimately changing a national industry.

Finlay's book is also unique; it's a travelogue where she searches for the historical origin of
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Sarah
Mar 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I learned so much from this book, like . . . the formula for Red is relatively unchanged from the beginning of its existance, searching for the origin of Orange can teach you a lot about violins, Yellow and White are the deadlyest colors, and Green, although the most prevelent in nature, is the hardest color to replicate in paint. This book is also a travel journal, so I felt like I was getting to visit a lot of unusual places as I read. Unusual places, unusual facts, and a broud scope of inform ...more
Stacey
Nov 08, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have read this book cover to cover TWICE, and recommended it not only to art students but to friends and family as well. Anyone interested in art materials and their origins will truly enjoy. Also, the reading of this book drove m to want to learn even more and so I have read certain books in the bibliography as well (most notable, "The Art Forger's Handbook" by the late great forger Eric Hebborn).
T
May 01, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: did-not-finish
If I were a history buff, I'm sure I'd have found it at least a little bit lovely. But a history buff I am not, and the first 28 pages were some pretty dry reading and gives non-fiction a bad name.
Karyl
I picked this up on a whim at my local library, as it sat on a display of rainbow colors. (I have to plug my amazing local library here for a moment -- they always have the most engaging displays, some books chosen for their subject matter and others for their aesthetic.) I made sure that it was okay that I was "ruining" the librarian's display, and she of course told me I was welcome to check out the book. On her very first page, she recounts the story of when she was taken to Chartres Cathedra ...more
Deborah Ideiosepius
Mar 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who likes colour and real stories.
I found this book fascinating, absorbing and exquisitely researched.

In it the author takes us on a journey of discovery to look at dyes and pigments from before our current aniline dyes were invented.

The chapters are named after the colour, and in each one we look at the historical basis of the colour, where it came from, what it was used for how it was described in the past. So a great deal of many of the things I love best feature in this book:

The great artists and their artwork are characte
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Rebecca
Jul 07, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pop-science
A meditation on the origins of different dyes and paints through human history, this book seems mostly to be an excuse for the author to travel to exotic lands and harass the people living there.

It's interesting, for the most part. She talks to Aborigines about ochre, Mexican fishermen about purple, experts in Chinese pottery and Incan textiles and Spanish crocus growing. There's a lot of painful history, including poisonous paints and slave-grown indigo. A lot of cool factoids, as well.

But at
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Ape
Jan 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
2009 bookcrossing review

I started reading this sometime last year. I got half way through then put it down for some reason. It got piled over other bits and I kind of forgot about it. I was tidying up last week and found it again and decided I needed to finish it.

This was a really interesting read. It's a mix of history, culture, travel, geology etc etc - a lot of interesting anecdotes and facts, so you travel the world with her discovering the story of colour. The last few chapters that I read
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Amy
Jun 02, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is not just a history of color, but a bustling travelogue of the world; Victoria Finlay is just my type of traveler-- she has a plan but she doesn't. She hears of a place where a color was developed and she goes, and hopefully, just hopefully, she meets the right people and finds what she is looking for. It's all very serendipitous. The book is categorized by colors; beginning with the earth tones (which, oddly enough, come from the earth) and moves on to my favorites of green, blues, and v ...more
Artur Coelho
Um dos aspectos mais interessantes da teoria da cor é a história dos pigmentos, como são obtidos os materiais que nos dão as cores que nos fascinam. Hoje, representados virtualmente em pixeis ou produtos da indústria química, mas ao longo da história um sinal de profunda sabedoria de técnicas e materiais inusitados, bem como de relações comerciais intercontinentais. Hoje, é fácil e acessível obter as cores mais esotéricas numa qualquer superfície comercial, mas houve tempos que os pigmentos obri ...more
Jen
First off, I want this woman's travel budget. She's off to Australia, Hawaii, France, Iran (okay we can skip that one), India, and Spain.

I want to go to there.

Paints have never been a huge interest of mine, but the study of how colors were found (in a plant stamen, in the sludge of a snail, and in the smoosh of a bug) is just really fascinating. The only possible failing of this book is what she makes up in a stunning travelogue, she omits science. I honestly don't know what some of these color
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  • The Letters of Vincent van Gogh
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Victoria Finlay is a writer and journalist, known for her books on colour and jewels. Her most famous book is Colour: Travels Through The Paint Box.

(from Wikipedia)
More about Victoria Finlay...
“Years later the Romantic poet John Keats would complain that on that fateful day Newton had “destroyed all the poetry of the rainbow by reducing it to prismatic colors.” But color—like sound and scent—is just an invention of the human mind responding to waves and particles that are moving in particular patterns through the universe—and poets should not thank nature but themselves for the beauty and the rainbows they see around them.” 4 likes
“What they signified was precious, but what they were was not.” 2 likes
More quotes…