Apr 26, 2018 – Nov 3, 2018

Exhibition 'Colour: The Art of Powerful Pigments' in Astley Cheetham Art Gallery

An exhibition at Astley Cheetham Art Gallery in Stalybridge looks at how artists have used colour throughout history. What do certain colours mean to us? Why were particular colours used?

Until the nineteenth century paints didn’t come in tubes or any other ready-made format. Instead artists ground, mixed and experimented with natural dyes and technically created pigments to create their colours.

Becoming an artist in the fifteenth century meant spending years as an apprentice grinding rocks to powder, burning and scratching wood, or even crushing insects to create pigments for paints.

Only upon mastering the chemistry and technical knowhow would they be allowed to put paint on canvas. Large areas such as backgrounds and clothing were prepared while the master artist completed the painting and focused on the finer details.

Before about 1500 coloured pigments were mixed with egg yolk to produce a paint known as tempera. This paint was long-lasting but dried very quickly, meaning artists had to work fast. It needed a hard surface such as wooden board and artists couldn’t blend or alter the paint with a brush once it had been applied.

During the Renaissance the use of linseed oil as a carrier for pigment became popular. Oil paint dries slowly meaning artists could work on a painting over longer periods. They could make alterations easily, blend paint to produce subtle variations of tone and build up layers of colour.

The first pre-mixed paints came in pig’s bladders and glass syringes. This allowed the Romantic painters of the early-nineteenth century to explore their emotional response to the natural world by painting outdoors. But it wasn’t until the invention of the portable paint tube in 1841 that artists could truly embrace painting from nature.

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Astley Cheetham Art Gallery Bron