japonisme: birth of the blues

13 May 2008

birth of the blues

how does a color palette sweep the world? why, in the early fifties, did multiple china companies put out sets in grey, chartreuse, maroon, and forest green? and why, after the first world war, was there such a wondrous explosion of, with its complementary colors, cobalt blue?

cobalt blue. it's a color so intense you can hear it. (to me it sounds like a mixture of this and this.)

"Over the last two millennia, there have been blues available to the artist that offer rich hue, good tinting strength and covering power. But they’ve come at a high price, both in terms of cost and in effort to produce.

From 'smalt,' the first-ever compound of cobalt, used by the Egyptians in a ground glass form, to 'Lapis lazuli,' the natural form of ultramarine dug from mines in present-day Afghanistan. Blues were considered a symbol of high status, not only for the painter that could afford to use them, but for the patron that could afford to own a painting that included the colour.

Beginning in 1704, with the synthesis of Prussian Blue, and then in 1806, with the development of Cobalt Blue, and finally, in 1826, with the introduction of a laboratory-produced ultramarine that was identical to the natural lapis, blues became more affordable." 1

some writers on the subject say it was being in the aftermath of WWI itself which dictated that bold colors were needed. the doldrums needed to be over. others suggest it was the influence of the arts from other parts of the world that had begun to have this influence: prints from japan, bakst costume designs for the ballet russe.

"Maxfield Parrish studied the techniques of the Old Masters and then, using pure bold colors, particularly lapis lazuli (cobalt blue is frequently called 'Parrish Blue'), achieved an unsurpassed radiant quality in his work. His idealized women adorned in classical gowns with backgrounds of electric violets, radiant reds and rich earthy pigments, created an idyllic world indeed." (Magazine Antiques, Nov, 1995)

europeans (poiret, the amazingly prolific silver studio, to be covered more fully soon) and americans (gustave baumann, maynard dixon) alike embraced the color scheme as it reached it's most popular moment following the depression. as the popularity of 'art deco' increased, manufacturers in all industries rushed to keep up.

"Designed by Fredrick Rhead for Homer Laughlin, Fiestaware was introduced in first half of 1936. The simplicity and elegance of Fiesta's design, a set of concentric rings near the edge, and bright colors made Fiestaware popular in the 1930's. This response may have been a result of the difficult and bleak times following the beginning of the Great Depression." 2 we have met fredrick rhead before; he is louis rhead's brother!

"Homer Laughlin’s styles shrewdly changed with the fashions of the time, gradually becoming less formal and more clean and stylized. That trend reached its apex in 1936, thanks to the art director Frederick Rhead. After experimenting with various shapes and glazes, Rhead combined the streamlined style of Art Deco with the look of handmade pottery and glazed his new designs with solid, vibrant colors.

(Advertisements claimed that the hues were inspired by “the colorful festivals of Mexico.”) Most of all, the new dishware seemed relaxed and fun. “The layman,” Rhead said, 'likes to mix his colors.'" 3 (note on the posters; they all mention not carnivals but fiestas!)

we have seen this blue before, it's prevalence in promotions for paradise -- california, and in celebrations of and invitations to beauty around the world. and we will see it again (i've been collecting). in the meantime, if you have any thoughts on this, or come across any sites which add light, please let me know. thanks.

and please forgive my recent 'hiatus.' i lost my spacebar!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

well, yes, of course i love blue and all that it can signify ... i look at your lovely illustrations here, paintings, fiesta ware and i wonder how did such a brilliant colour become associated with sadness, despair, with 'having the blues.'??

i think of 50's movies: Grace Kelly whipping down the Mediterranean coastline in her roadster with a cerulean blue sky surrounding her ... i think of the indigo plant and how women of my people so long ago learned how do die cloth that deep blue of the earth ....

interesting choice, dear lotus ... much to ponder

lady blue

15 May, 2008 07:56  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

hey blue--i hadn't noticed it till this second, but we've inadvertantly offered you another appropriate post!

wiki sez: In the English language, blue may refer to the feeling of sadness. "He was feeling blue". This is because blue was related to rain, or storms, and in Greek mythology, the god Zeus would make rain when he was sad (crying), and a storm when he was angry.

15 May, 2008 10:08  
Anonymous Liza Cowan said...

It's my favorite color,too. And I'm so excited that you are going to post on Poiret. Mostly we see his work in black and white, but I know from reading about him that his work was a riot of color and I can't wait to see what images you come up with.

and don't forget Nancy Drew's blue roadster!

15 May, 2008 19:15  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

yeah--i had to wear a cobalt-colored necklace today along with an orangy-salmon-coral one. and a cobalt blouse!

i'm afraid i've been misunderstood! sorry! i want to do more on the silver studio, whose works blow me away. they designed a lot for liberty & co. and many more.

poiret has been mentioned here a bit: check it out.

and i'm so impressed you have a visual memory of nancy drew's roadster! i think i read them all (i especially liked the secret of the ivory charm), but no roadster placed itself in my memory.

but you know what i did today? I've always remembered an ad i saw as a child--somewhere between 3 & 12, because i can remember seeing it in the backyard of the house i lived in through those ages.

i remembered elizabeth taylor was in it, and i remembered it being an ad for prell. that rich green. i just remember sitting there staring at her face and thinking she was the most beautiful woman i had ever seen.

well of course about a dozen or so people are selling it on ebay, and it wasn't for prell, but she's sitting on a satin couch the color of prell!

and i was five years old! i remember seeing it as me, the awareness i have continuing. now i don't still feel that way about the picture, though her beauty is very powerful, but it teaches me something about children and consciousness.

15 May, 2008 20:03  
Blogger Roxana said...

some years ago I was so crazy about blue that I painted all the doors in my house a deep and vibrant blue. I love cobalt blue too, and it's so interesting to find out more about it. loved the music connection!

16 May, 2008 12:54  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

i cannot believe you did that because i did that too!!!!

when i bought this house, about 16 years ago, it had a narrow white slab of a front door. it wouldn't do.

i shopped everywhere for "the right door" though i didn't know what it was yet. but i couldn't find it. i finally settled for the closest thing i could find.

we hung it and i was mortified. even though i didn't know them yet, i couldn't stand for my new neighbors to think i had chosen that door. so i painted it cobalt blue!!!

actually i painted the top half--just the part that could be seen from the street! (and to finish the story--my eye was getting trained by that time, and i was noticing that some houses in my neighborhood had the kinds of door that i wanted (it's a very craftsman area).

i actually went up to the doors and asked if i could buy their doors. one woman made me tea and gave me figs off her tree, but nobody would sell me their door.

and then, right then, lo and behold, omega too (omegatoo.com) started making them!! i got a redwood one (and it was about 15% of what they cost now!). and the 1/4 blue door still sits in my basement.

i used the paint to paint over the asbestos on my furnace whatever-they-ares in my basement, and to paint the outer wall of my bathroom.

16 May, 2008 19:21  
Blogger here today, gone tomorrow said...

Blue, blue, blue. My favorite color. I painted one wall in my living room that blue. Often I sit and just gaze at it, imagining the ocean.

17 May, 2008 13:44  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

that is so wonderful, and this is all so fascinating. so many of us have painted doors or (one) walls cobalt blue!

17 May, 2008 14:33  

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hi, and thanks so much for stopping by. i spend all too much time thinking my own thoughts about this stuff, so please tell me yours. i thrive on the exchange!

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