Making Colour at the National Gallery
Examining the journey and development of pigment from the Middle Ages to the present day, Making Colour is a collision of art and science. For anyone with an interest in painting, the National Gallery has provided an unmissable lesson in the natural origins of paint in Western art and the key turning points in alchemic and technological evolution that still have an impact on contemporary art.
The exhibition is neatly segmented into rooms devoted to individual colour groups, from lapis lazuli blue and vermillion red through the spectrum, ending in the gold and silver room. The problems with initial beauty and then longevity that artists have struggled to master in their creations is explained with fascinating technique. Curated by director of collections Ashok Roy, and curator of Italian paintings before 1500 Caroline Campbell, the theoretical content has been beautifully exemplified with a satisfyingly broad range of works in age and in “ism”. Relics, paintings, ceramics, natural specimens and Petri dishes of pure pigment make for a rich and engaging display. The easy-to-use audio accompaniment offers succinct additional information from which one may choose highlights or be directed through the whole show. Video clips of egg tempura paint being made and Roger Hiorns’ account of making his Seizure installation of copper sulphate crystal are certainly worth a watch.
With iconic artwork from across the history of Western painting, pieces by Thomas Gainsborough, Georges Seurat, Claude Monet and Paul Cezanne illustrate the range of emotional potential artists have found in the evolution of colour. Breaking down the origins of four types of red pigment used in Degas’ Combing the Hair (La Coiffure), the curators offer real specialist and in-depth conversation about the importance of colour and its symbolism in painting. In the current Postmodern painting landscape exclusive love of colour is not unusual, but the exhibition draws attention to the commitment and sacrifice pursuing colour once entailed.
Highly comprehensive and almost magical in its content, Making Colour is a great example of a multimedia exhibition that informs and enthuses the viewer about art with art.
Photos: Natalia Friedman
Making Colour is at the National Gallery from 18th June until 7th September 2014. For further information visit the gallery’s website here.