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The Invention of Colour

Arpeggi | REZ | silvered by Chuck Elliott

Arpeggi | REZ | silvered by Chuck Elliott

Press release issued: 25 February 2011

Where did artists get their colours from, and how have changes in the repertoire of colours over the ages affected the way that artists paint? Science writer Philip Ball will address these questions in a public lecture at the University of Bristol on Tuesday 1 March.

One of the often neglected components in the study of art is what it is made from: paint.  Today, when there are masses of colours available off the shelf in art shops, we tend to take them from granted, and it is easy to forget that these colours had to be invented, one by one, in what was sometimes a painstaking process.

Artists of earlier times had a much more limited palette, and some of their colours were immensely expensive, while some were unstable and tended to fade or darken.  In order to make their materials and put them to the best use, painters once had to be chemically literate.

This lecture will trace the chemical history of the pigments on the artist’s palette, and show how the invention of new colour has constantly transformed art.

Philip Ball studied chemistry at Oxford and holds a doctorate in physics from the University of Bristol.  He worked for over 20 years for Nature, first as an editor for physical sciences and then as a consultant editor.

He writes regularly in the scientific and popular media, and his many books on scientific subjects include The Self-Made Tapestry: Pattern Formation in Nature, H2O: A Biography of Water, The Devil’s Doctor: Paracelsus and the World of Renaissance Magic and Science, and Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads To Another, which won the 2005 Aventis Prize for Science Books.  He was awarded the 2006 James T. Grady–James H. Stack award by the American Chemical Society for interpreting chemistry for the public.  His latest book is The Music Instinct (Bodley Head, 2010).

The lecture takes place in the Reception Room, Wills Memorial Building, Queens Road, Bristol on Tuesday 1 March at 6pm.  Entry is free, and everyone is welcome.  Please email to book a place.

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