Colour
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Colour : Travels Through the Paintbox

By (author) Victoria Finlay

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Part travelogue, part narrative history, 'Colour' unlocks the history of the colours of the rainbow, and reveals how paints came to be invented, discovered, traded and used. This remarkable and beautifully written book remembers a time when red paint was really the colour of blood, when orange was the poison pigment, blue as expensive as gold, and yellow made from the urine of cows force-fed with mangoes. It looks at how green was carried by yaks along the silk road, and how an entire nation was founded on the colour purple. Exciting, richly informative, and always surprising, 'Colour' lifts the lid on the historical palette and unearths an astonishing wealth of stories about the quest for colours, and our efforts to understand them.

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  • Paperback | 512 pages
  • 128 x 194 x 30mm | 458.13g
  • 26 May 2003
  • Hodder & Stoughton General Division
  • Sceptre
  • London
  • English
  • Maps and integrated illustrations
  • 0340733292
  • 9780340733295
  • 8,783

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Author Information

Victoria Finlay studied social anthropology at St Andrews University, specialising in Asian culture. She worked as a journalist in Hong Kong for eleven years, five of which were spent as arts editor for the South China Morning Post. She has recently moved back to England and is busy researching her second book - a biography of precious stones.

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Review quote

[Victoria Finlay's] curiosity is inexhaustible, her reading wide, and her writing style a delight Sunday Telegraph It's pure pleasure to join this gutsy arts reporter-cum-scholar on her quest for historical pigments and dyes around the world Independent A highly companionable guide, adventurous and romantic Independent on Sunday A treasure trove of human history and obsession...the breadth of research and insight is dazzling. The Glasgow Herald This is a rare and wonderful book - a model of erudition and charm, the writing elegant and precise, and with at least one new and fascinating revelation on every single page. I could not be more enthusiastic. Simon Winchester, author of THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN Packed with stories, anecdotes and adventures. A full rainbow ... as vivid as the colours themselves Express You get your money's worth and change to spare ... Both picaresque and picturesque, it's a rich read. Evening Standard It's hard to criticise her spirit of cultural exploration and easy to share her intelligent enthusiasm ...Packed with pertinent trivia ... informative and fun South China Morning Post An utterly unique and fascinating read Publishers Weekly Full of forgotten facts and beguiling anecdotes ... it would be hard to confront a painting ever again without seeing in it a kind of coded map of the world Telegraph An irresistible cornucopia ...Her travels are Marco Polish; her research vast but lightly worn. The whole book is an infectious delight. RTE Guide Packed with facts, fables and anecdotes ... Finlay's detailed and brilliantly researched account makes for a fascinating read Australian Interior Trends Victoria Finlay has unlocked the history of colour in this trawl through some little-known history Courier Mail ( Australia) A welcome reminder of the epic stories beneath the surface of everyday life Telegraph

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Review text

Victoria Finlay became fascinated with colour after a childhood visit to Chartres cathedral, when she was mesmerised not by the architecture but by the blues and reds of the stained glass windows dancing on the stone floors. It was a fascination that was to lay dormant for many years until, as a newspaper arts editor, she happened upon a book about colour which made her realize that while art history is usually about those producing the art, there is much to be learned about the raw materials: the paints and the dyes. Her search for a book which would satisfy her thirst for knowledge was fruitless and so she decided to write one herself. She set out on a voyage of discovery which would take her from the graphite mines of the Lakeland fells to the ultramarine mines of Afghanistan, from caves in the Dordogne with their ancient charcoal paintings to the saffron fields of Iran. Whilst the book documents in fascinating and well-researched detail the origins and production methods of numerous pigments, with intriguing facts about everything from cochineal beetles to the lethal arsenic present in green wallpaper which may have been responsible for the death of Napoleon, the book does much more besides. As Finlay immerses herself in the different cultures of the world, she dips into folk legend, anthropology and politics as she writes of the aboriginal people of Australia and the change, or lack thereof, in Afghanistan since September 11 2001. Finlay writes with an obvious enthusiasm for her subject and although a little restraint might have made for a shorter and more manageable book, the reader cannot fail to be impressed by the scope of her enterprise. (Kirkus UK)

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Customer reviews

Entertaining read for dilettantes

This is a great read for people who like generalist history merged with travelogue - dilettantes like myself. It's got some fascinating stories in it about the origin of paints and their colours and skips back and forth between famous painters and sea slugs, beetles and Australia. It's not an in-depth history of a subject but an entertaining overview illustrated with interesting items from the past.show more
by Melissa