An Illustrated History of Colour

David Coles


Reveals the origin stories behind over fifty of history’s most vivid colour pigments


Did you know that the Egyptians created the first synthetic colour; or that the noblest purple comes from a predatory sea snail? Throughout history, artist pigments have been made from deadly metals, poisonous minerals, urine, cow dung, and even crushed insects.

From grinding down beetles and burning animal bones to alchemy and pure luck, Chromatopia reveals the origin stories behind over fifty of history’s most vivid colour pigments. Spanning the ancient world to modern leaps in technology, this is the book for the artist, the history buff, the science lover and the design fanatic.

Longlisted for the 2019 Australian Book Industry Awards.

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'A visual feast … sumptuous illustrations that make you want to rub your face in the plate and absorb the delicious goodness before you'
Art Book Review

'David Coles delves into the historic and scientific background of some of our favourite hues'
Homes & Antiques

'The surprisingly beautiful science behind how paint is made'
CNN News

'A fascinating and absorbing read that's genuinely hard to put down'
The Artist

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Further Details


Format: Hardback

Size: 22.0 x 16.5 cm

Extent: 240 pp

Publication date: 14 February 2019

ISBN: 9780500501351

Contents List

Introduction: A Life Lived in Colour • 1. The First Colours • 2. Colour in the Time of the Ancients • 3. Colour and the Classical World • 4. Medieval Colours • 5. Writing Inks 6. Dyes, Lakes and Pinkes • 7. Mysterious Colours • 8. The Explosion of Colour • 9. A Brave New World of Colour • 10. The Science of Modern Colour

About the Author

David Coles is the founder and head paint-maker of Langridge Artist Colours, one of the world’s most respected makers of artists’ oil paints. He is widely respected within the artist community and regularly lectures at leading art colleges.

List of Contributors

Adrian Lander