Chromatopia – review

An Illustrated History of Colour

By David Coles

Published by Thames & Hudson ISBN 1760760021

Reviewed by Simon Whittaker

Chromatopia is a beautifully packaged book, small but hefty, covering the history of colour development from prehistoric times, right up to new pigments being developed in these early years of the 21st century. Many of the colours it covers you’ll be familiar with, but there are plenty of less well-known names included in its 240 pages. Each one is accompanied with a short history covering its creation or discovery and methods of production, and almost every page features a stunning photograph by Adrian Lander, illustrating the different colours and substances being described.

And the history is fascinating: a deadly, poisonous, sometimes disgusting history. Whether it’s making pigments from animals, fruits, minerals or mummified bodies, it’s covered in there somewhere. Chromatopia is a great coffee table type book to dip in and out of at your leisure.

To round off the package there’s also a handy glossary towards the front, together with an overview of some colour basics, touching on some colour theory and cultural meanings/significances. One of the most intriguing sections is a selection of pigment recipes towards the back of the book, in case you fancy trying your hand at a bit of chemistry.

And in keeping with the rest of the histories featured in the book, at least one of the recipes is potentially poisonous.

16th September 2019

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