The Easel

17th May 2022

Why it took us thousands of years to see the colour violet

The colour violet, it seems, carries a mystery. An analysis of 14 large art museums reveals that, before the 1860’s, less than 4% of paintings used violet. For the rest of the 19th century, it appears in 37% of paintings and, in twentieth century paintings, 43%. The explanation offered is, in part, that violet rarely appears in nature.  The Impressionists, looking for colours to contrast with the yellow sunshine they loved to paint, discovered that violet worked well. “Violettomania” howled the critics.