japonisme: 5/11/08 - 5/18/08

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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