A Short Essay on the Colour Blue

Posted by Kim Soep on

 Image: Fiona MacRae's Pear Shadow oil on paper

Our love affair with blue stretches back for millennia. It started with the Ancient Egyptians who used semi-precious stones like turquoise and lapis lazuli with gold to adorn tombs of pharaohs. However, these minerals were extremely rare and very hard to come by, which led the Egyptians to start manufacturing their own blue. By melting a mixture of silica, lime, copper and alkalai, they produced the first synthetic pigment, now known as Egyptian blue or cuprorivaite, which became prolific in colouring glass, stoneware and other forms of decorative art. Since then, blue has continued to evolve with the latest shade YlnMn being discovered just a decade ago!


Gordy Livingstone's 'Big Blue'

 Image: Gordy Livingstone's Big Blue mixed media

Associated with the sea and the sky, and all things related, it is not surprising how universally popular blue is. It is significant in many cultures and religions, and so holds multiple meanings. In Hinduism, blue symbolises immortality and the infinite, and like the sky, vast and beyond our perception. It is for this reason why gods like Vishnu, Rama and Krishna are all depicted as blue-skinned. Similarly, in Christianity, blue is representative of the heavens and of god himself and it is this connection to the divine and preeminent that led to blue becoming the colour of kings and queens in Europe. At one time, pigments like ultramarine were more valuable than gold, and even the dyeing of blue cloth was subject to a royal license so no-one but the wealthy and powerful were permitted to wear the colour. To this day, while considerably more accessible, blue is seen as an authoritative colour, used commonly by businesses to denote safety and security.

Above all, it is blue's association with nature that makes it the most popular in the colour wheel. Conjuring ideas of clear water and summer skies, blue and its many shades tend to sooth and calm. In Buddhism, blue signifies healing and harmony, and it is believed that by meditating on this colour, anger can be turned into wisdom. 


Patricia Cain's 'Blue Hill'

 Image: Patricia Cain's Blue Hill pastel and paint on paper

Used as a background colour to represent the sky in the large mosaics decorating the Byzantine churches, as well as the shade chosen to render the distant hills and mountains in Raphael's Madonna del Prato (aka Madonna in the Meadow), blue has been and still is an intrinsic tool for depicting the world we live in. But aside from being an essential colour in portraying what is actually seen, artists also use blue to convey emotion. Pablo Picasso's Blue Period is one such example. In the wake of his friend Carles Casagemas's suicide, Picasso sunk into a deep depression which he channelled into his painting. Portraying social outcasts, prostitutes, drunks and beggars in cool hues, he pervades the overwhelming sadness, solitude and struggle that he felt while grieving for his friend. Artists like Wassily Kandinsky and Henri Matisse were also known to use blue to rouse feeling and emotion. In their eyes, blue was almost transcendental and had the power, in Matisse's words, to "penetrate the soul". 

Browse all the beautiful blue works by Broth's artists by clicking here, or by clicking on the button at the bottom of the page. 

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