Revisiting colour problems: Emily Vanderpoel, Hilma af Klint, Becca Albee, Clare Milledge

In 1902 American artist, scholar and historian Emily Noyes Vanderpoel published Colour Problems: A Practical Manual for the Lay Student of Color, an extensive analysis of the proportions and harmonies of colour. Her study derived from objects, many of which were from her own collection, including Persian rugs, pottery, and enamelware. Marketed to dressmakers, interior designers and watercolourists, Colour Problems advised its readers to look to nature to find essential harmonies between complementary colours. Many pages of Vanderpoel’s book are devoted to hand-drawn rectilinear grids of harmonious coloured squares with captions such as Colour Analysis from a Butterfly and Colour Analysis from a Rose-Coloured Vase. These exercises in the methodical cataloguing of the colours found in objects are accompanied by her “colour notes”; a fleeting capture of colour and light in moments of terrene transitions, such as Colour Note from a Shadow on White Ground.

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